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  • Ann Taylor

LETS support our own economic empowerment when money is scarce

Local energy trading systems (LETS) act as a safety net when money is scarce. Human energy isn’t usually scarce, and we can use our human energy in a formal system that enables people to thrive and experience abundance, regardless of how much currency they have.


Following is a summary of information and experiences of LETS described by Stina Kerans (Kerans, 2021), who with her daughter founded the second Australian LETS in 1985 and which ran for almost 30 years.

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LETS is a community-based exchange network for local goods and services, and is complementary to money. It offers significant advantages in providing for our basic needs of food and shelter. There are free on-line programs that display the directory of offers and needs and track trading with a system of credits and debits.


The ‘offers’ list is the things you like doing or are prepared to do for another, and/or things you produce. The ‘needs’ list is all the things you would like help with, done for you, or wish to have. Our experience in LETS suggests that everyone can be of some value to others. It just may just take time to earn credibility.


Over time the people using LETS realise that there’s enough energy to go around, and they can actually control how much of their energy they trade. Saving money becomes very easy to do when our requirement for it is substantially reduced. People can then keep their dollars for the things they require outside of their community, neighbourhood, village, or town. We may even come to realise that we only need money for things that we can’t produce within our own bioregion, such as cars, steel, timber, cloth, travel, and so on.


LETS needs a minimum of around 20 people who are not simply a group of friends as gifting works better between friends. LETS is best with a maximum of around 200 active open accounts.


LETS functions best in a walkable neighbourhood, and every neighbourhood or village would benefit from LETS markets.


Everyone has access to the directory and the idea is to ‘trade’, meaning to keep your account hovering around the zero balance. For LETS to function correctly, you need to trade because there has to be a two-way flow; this promotes shared abundance.


In LETS you can go into a negative balance. Say you find lots of things you want and you go into debit, you then need to earn or acquire some trading units, so you look up the ‘needs’ list to find something you wouldn’t mind doing for another. And herein is a big difference between this trading system, and money: here you can ‘spend’ before you ‘earn’.


Things on the ‘needs’ list are often very simple; things that people are not comfortable asking others to do for them, especially in these days when people are so short of time. It might be a pensioner who is short of money and needs things like their shopping done or their home vacuumed. People going away might need their pot plants or garden watered, a cat fed, or their dog walked or looked after while they go away.


Even those with plenty of money may require a service that’s no longer available to them from their family or trusted close friends. They are drawn into the enjoyable security of a social fabric that no amount of money can buy.


If you only offer your services or produce, thus giving you credits, and don’t trade these credits to make use of the goods and services available offered by others, or vice versa, then the system goes out of balance. In other words, you are not really wishing to trade. In either of these situations, you would be better off using money as your form of exchange; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if you have plenty of it; nobody rejects money. Simply participating in the local market makes you an equally important part of the social fabric.


We found it very interesting that most people felt incredible gratitude for what they received, thus making them very generous in their ‘gifting’ of LETS. For instance, how can you easily thank a ‘birth helper’ who considered a money offer as an insult?


If there were ever a case where the receiver of a service was mean or stingy with the gifting of LETS units, wouldn’t you think people would drop away from offering to fulfil the needs of these people? (we never had this issue to deal with). After all, LETS is about free choice.


Sometimes people would put a nominated price tag beside their need, or their offer, as it helped those who relied on LETS to maintain a quality of life that they would not otherwise have been able to attain. In some cases, to avoid an awkwardness from arising, we needed to know its price tag.


We started in line with the equivalent dollar value. Very soon differences emerged as people placed greater than market value on local garden produce, meals, music, art and crafts —things that were rich in time to produce.


Bargaining certainly happened in our market, but instead of people bargaining our food producers and artists down as is usual practice, you would hear arguments about how this produce, and these craft items, were worth more than what was being asked.


If one actually considered the time it took to produce the art, craft, cakes and garden produce, then this was definitely true. People actually found themselves in the position of being able to earn a living while at the same time as pursuing their passion. As the need for dollars reduced, some left their jobs and went into part-time work. And those on pensions found themselves with a surplus of money—enough to meet all their needs and thus reduce or even in some cases, eliminate their stress.


Home cooked meals and organic produce were incredibly popular.


Services such as childcare, or a little domestic assistance, alternative healing, and lessons of all sorts are other things that were popular


There were beautiful quality hand-crafted items including jewellery, pottery, hats made of hand-spun wool and hats made of raffia, beautifully embroidered hand-made baby clothes and baby blankets, handmade wooden toys and soaps, homemade pickles and jams - all labours of love.


The markets allowed people to not only see all that was on offer, but also to meet everyone and make meaningful connections. It stirred the desire in people to offer their services in gratitude for all they were able to obtain at the markets.


LETS changed the lives of single mums, the pensioners who joined up, and many others. Seeing people receiving alternative health therapies and being relieved of suffering, and often unnecessary pain, or the side effects of drugs, made us all so happy, especially the one suffering. Alternative health is not an option for some people to pay for in dollars. Suddenly all was possible. Single mums found they could afford music lessons for their kids, and were well rewarded when seeing their kid busk at the markets, or play music together with other kids or adults. Being able to afford childcare, and someone to help with the cleaning of their homes, allowed these single mums some freedom to do the things they loved to do, like taking a part-time job, or playing music with a band at functions.


LETS allows the giver of social capital, who’s often forgotten about in their time of need, to be able to benefit from their past service.


It didn’t take long at all to grow a feeling of appreciation and value for the things this diverse group of people offered. Most importantly, it also allowed us to really get to know one another.


Appreciation evolved into caring; everyone wanted to make sure that everyone was able to meet their needs. For me it was beautiful to see the best of human nature blossoming.


It was amazing to see how the quality of life can be so greatly improved upon when supporting people’s creations, gifts and passions. It creates an abundance that’s simply not that possible in the world of dollars.

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Would you like to participate in a LETS in your near community?


You can research online to discover if there is already a nearby group you can join, or how to start up a LETS; or contact me to start a conversation about helping ourselves set one up in our local neighborhoods.


This could help each of us survive or thrive in times ahead.


Reference


Kerans, S, 2021, "Great Financial Reset: Will you be caught unprepared? What you can do to protect yourself", ebook, https://sunvillages.com.au/