By Rebecca Martin
Last year, I received a phone call from a fairly new resident to Kingston named Sean Griffin who wished to discuss a great idea. He called it the “Hudson Valley Currency” back then – a local currency he and his group hoped to design to work in the area.
How would a local currency be implemented into our current system you ask? KingstonCitizens.org was able to get the lowdown from David McCarthy, one of the three partners (the others are Sean and Chris Fenichel-Hewitt who we hope to catch up with at a later date) to explain.
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself? When did you arrive to the area, and how did you come to this project?
David McCarthy: I moved to this area in 1995 to be near my Tibetan teachers at KTD Monastery in Woodstock. In the late 1990s I got into an intensive personal study of environmental issues, sustainability, and increasingly, economics. Toward the end of the decade I became involved with Hudson Valley Sustainable Communities Network (now it’s called Sustainable Hudson Valley), and served on the board for several years, including two years as chairman. Though I’m not directly involved with SHV now, I deeply respect their work and the cause in general. One of the important factors for sustainability generally is indeed the health of local economies. At this point I consider myself an economic activist, and that’s my way of making a contribution to the sustainability movement. I attended a conference on alternative currencies at Bard several years ago and have been interested in the subject ever since. When I found out that Sean Griffin, who lives right in my neighborhood in Kingston, was working on creating one for our region, I joined in with him to make that happen. I have been writing on my own ideas about economics for some time on a blog, Trickle-In Economics.
Most are not aware as to how the federal reserve works, and some even believe that it is a function of our federal government. Can you describe the Federal Reserve system, and why it is problematic?
DM: The Hudson Valley Current is a civil society project to bring about a greater flourishing of our local and regional economy here in the Hudson Valley. As such it is non-political in nature, nor is it a for-profit initiative. I would like to emphasize that fact before getting into discussion about the bigger picture of monetary topics. The Federal Reserve system was in fact chartered by Congress in 1913 to handle the management of the US Dollar. Unfortunately the way this was done was, in my opinion, a prime example of the unhealthy relationship between business and government in our country, since it in effect created an exclusive profit center for the member banks, which are private, for-profit companies. Though the Fed is the subject of a lot of debate and polemic these days, which is in many ways a good thing, many of the alternatives that are being proposed really won’t help things much, and from a political point of view real reform of the Fed is not very likely any time soon. If readers wish the study the subject, I recommend William Greider’s book on the Fed, Secrets of the Temple. But even if we did have a healthy national currency system, local currencies would still be a good idea.
When do you feel this local currency project will be up and running?
DM: We are working to get most of the groundwork laid down this summer, with a launch in late 2010. The determining factors in that timeline will be, (in no particular order), the design process for the bills, financial support to print the bills and adminsister the project, and volunteer help in all areas of the project.
How would a citizen transfer currency to the Hudson Valley Current system? Do you imagine one or more storefronts or banks?
DM: The simplest way to get “into the system” is actually just to accept the Current in payment for goods and services. Anyone will be able to do that, either individuals or businesses. The Current will come into circulation by exchanging Federal Dollars for it at a local bank. We plan on an exchange rate of 10 Currents for 9 Federal Dollars, which will create a discount effect when it is used. The Berkshare, on which the Current is largely based, has many bank exchange points in the Berkshire region, and hundreds of businesses accept it.
What plans are in the works to get Hudson Valley businesses to accept a local currency?
DM: We plan to make a pretty extensive effort to let businesses know about it and communicate the advantages and benefits it will bring. Our website (hudsonvalleycurrent.org) has an article called “The Business Case for Local Currency” which discusses that in detail. It is important to note that accepting the Current is entirely voluntary, and we’re not going to twist anyone’s arm to join in, or shame people in some way if they don’t want to participate.
What can citizens or investors do now to help support the project?
DM: We are very open to volunteer help to move the project ahead. Especially we’re interested in people who are willing to actually do some work, as opposed to just telling us what we need to do! It would be very helpful if we could find an attorney to do a little pro bono research on the regulatory considerations of the banking connection, for example. We have an open call out to artists and graphic designers who would like to be involved with the design process. Help in the realm of marketing and communications would also be greatly appreciated. On the financial side, we would greatly appreciate expressions of support by making donations of any size to the project through our fiscal sponsor, The Phoenix Action Network. Donations are tax-deductible. Checks can be made out to Phoenix Action Network, with a note that it’s for the Current. The address is PO Box 444, Accord, NY 12404.
Further Reading: HV Currency in the Times Herald Record