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Symbiotic Economics by Sarah Noyes

We work for the weekend. We work to achieve, to acquire, to assimilate. We’re in a system, and how the system typically functions is: work = income = ability to buy. In my estimation, other than the natural and biological systems of which we all partake, there is no system more fundamental to what it means to be human than our ability to work and participate in the exchange of goods and services. We are our work. For the vast majority, pure labor is the modality—and money, the medium.

The Passion
While living in San Francisco, I studied Organizational Development with an emphasis in Systems Thinking and Human Resources. Basically, these disciplines are all about helping people get along better at work. And systems thinking is specifically about seeing a systems’ interactions with itself and other systems. A favorite quote from Ollhoff & Walcheski1: “The pattern of interactions, not the interactions themselves, is the main thing.” In other words, see the forest for the trees; the big picture; the whole, despite the parts.

San Francisco: I was in love—the academics, the best salsa dancing on the planet, living for free in a mansion near the beach, dreams of being an Organizational Development Consultant with progressive California NPOs and LLCs, and a constant geographical vibrancy that fed my bones. I almost brush over the salsa, but let’s be straight about it: to voluntarily hand over the juice for my soul is no small sacrifice! Yet I left it all. Traded it in. Took a chance.

Migration to Portland, Oregon, was inevitable due to a burgeoning and promising project underway here, designed and implemented to make a significant impact on the monetary system. I was hooked. I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to chip away at the idiocy of our illogical and greed-driven monetary system. Better still, what this project offered was an opportunity to leverage off of the current system’s strengths—build upon what works rather than reinvent the wheel. As Olljoff & Walcheski like to say, you can fight a systems’s tendencies, or you can take advantage of its tendencies. Thus, we have our symbiotic economics.

The Rationale
Alternative economic models focus on actual monetary reform, not on a change in value attribution. For example, theory and philosophy advocating for an ample living wage for the caregivers and social workers in society is more focused on a cultural shift than a change in the economics (the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services).

Therefore, talk of diversifying monetary offerings (not just alternative paper currencies) along with the tracking and administration of transactions are the hot ticket items to improve a local economy—in all sectors. This is a more viable way to ensure those caregivers, teachers, and social workers receive the wages they deserve for advancing our species. So, when you can offer the concrete tools for change—such as mutual credit clearing—to make a significant change in the economic climate, a cultural shift will surely follow.

And it’s beginning to happen. We are soon to launch Xchange Stewards (XS), LLC, a new trade exchange in Portland, Oregon, offering mutual credit clearing to local and regional businesses.

What is Mutual Credit Clearing?
Mutual credit clearing is a measurement of account for direct seller and buyer relationships. It’s used to track the exchange of money or trade credits—whatever your medium. Your banks use it. So do trade exchanges. Trade exchanges have brokers, and brokers determine how to allocate credit to facilitate transactions amongst members. Unlike barter, trade exchange participants may trade with anyone in the network. The bookkeeping system has two types of balances: 1) positive, i.e. credit for the seller; 2) negative, i.e. the buyer’s account is debited.

For the past forty years, trade exchanges have proved to be a useful complimentary (not replacement) system of exchange. It can be local or regional, and it can network with other exchanges across the continent. Today, there are over 500 exchanges nationwide helping business members increase sales, conserve cash, turn unproductive assets into valuable products and services, and reduce unit costs. As a result, trade exchanges now partake in an international, $650 Billion dollar industry.

You Are Your Own Renegade So Just Do Something
As a result of all this, I am in awe of systematic design and profoundly disappointed in my fellow human beings. Can you, dear reader, not relate? I suspect so and remind you all that you are your own renegade. Those who want to be a part of the solution need to take the information and make an impact by doing one or all of the following:

  1. Move all your money to a local bank or credit union. Is it a coincidence that North Dakota has 4.5% unemployment, down from 9% of pre-recession? I think not. Just do it. Really, do it. It’ll take you an hour. I strongly support Advantis Credit Union.
  2. Start a barter community, no matter how small. Build it up later. Babysit each other’s kids or come over and mow my lawn. Get the ladies together for a clothes swap. I’ll bring the wine.
  3. Now for the rocket science: BUY LOCAL. Do it even when you don’t want to. For every $1 spent locally, 45% stays in the local economy. For every $1 spent at a corporate chain, we only keep 15%. Don’t you want your other 30%2?

And the Beat Goes On
A local, viable example is PDX Timebank. Founded in 2006, PDX Timebank has 275 members, has exchanged over 2,500 hours focused mainly on soft services such as acupuncture, childcare, pet sitting, and landscaping. Recommended start-up resources includes online accounting, which offers a marketplace as well as individual and in-kind donations.

Additionally, joining a local trade exchange is a definite possibility. Xchange Stewards invites you to contact us for additional information to determine if a business-to-business trade exchange is a strategic choice for your business. Please go to www.cenpdx.net for additional information.

Lastly, if you’re a multi-millionaire with seasoned business sense who longs to cure what ails the world, take me out for a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you all about the B2C model. You’ll love it.

Sarah Noyes is an experienced Social Entrepreneur and has worked within the Non-Profit Sector for over a decade. She has a BA in Education and Family & Human Services from the University of Oregon, and an MA in Organizational Development from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She has extensive experience in facilitation, negotiation, and systems thinking. Sarah has studied and worked in Mexico, Germany, and China. When Sarah isn’t working for the good of humanity, you will most likely find her at a salsa club or on a tropical beach.

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