The roots of time banking extend back to the creation of Time Dollars™ in 1980 when Dr. Edgar S. Cahn, co-founder of the National Legal Services Program, author of “Our Brother’s Keeper,” and founder of the Antioch School of Law, suffered a massive heart attack. He was 46. Recuperating in the hospital and “feeling useless,” he dreamed up Time Dollars as a new currency to provide a solution to massive cuts in government spending on social welfare.
If there was not going to be enough of the old money to fix all the problems facing our country and our society, Edgar reasoned, why not make a new kind of money to pay people for what needs to be done? Time Dollars value everyone’s contributions equally. One hour equals one service credit.
Seven years later (in 1987) at the London School of Economics, Edgar developed his theoretical explanation for why the currency should work. He came back to the U.S. and started putting service credits (not yet called Time Dollars) into operation.
In the 19 years since, the currency has traveled a journey of twists and turns. After initial enthusiasm by foundations, funding for Time Dollar Exchanges dried up in the mid-1990s, and a period of struggle to keep afloat followed. This struggle turned into a time to dig in and to determine what made Time Dollars and time banking unique tools for social change.
In 1997, a Time Dollar convention helped new and surviving groups identify “what works.” Time Dollars became the backbone of a successful cross-age peer tutoring program in Chicago, a Maine Time Banks Network and a Time Dollar Youth Court in Washington, D.C. TimeBanks USA became the hub of a small network of independent Time Bank Exchanges around the country.
The deepened understanding that evolved in the following years led to new ways of using and speaking about Time Dollars and time banking as a tool for social change. Perhaps the most important shift involved the development of the theory of co-production outlined in Edgar’s book, “No More Throw Away People,” which emerged as the overarching framework for Time Dollars.
In January 2006, the board of TimeBanks USA rewrote the TimeBanks USA mission to reflect the real progress that has been made on the ground with time banking over recent years. The mission now includes two main elements. One is to support and nurture a network of member time banks located across the United States (currently standing at around 50 members.) The other is to foster a social movement that seeks social justice and systems change through time banking and co-production. These two core elements are interdependent, but each has its own characteristics.