The other day I stumbled across a social experiment called “time banking,” at timebanks.org. Basically, Time Banking is a community improvement movement that revolves around the principle that every person’s time is worth the same (Yes, quasi-socialist). Each community creates a “Time Bank” where community members can make “deposits” by lending their time to others and “withdraws” by calling upon other community members for help. It facilitates a barter economy with currency denominated in hourly increments of service to your fellow man.
“For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you.”
An example. A lawyer helps a little old lady clean her yard for an hour. He ears a credit. Then he can turn around and get an hour of guitar lessons from another guy around the corner. The guitar player could then ask for cooking lessons, perhaps but not necessarily from the little old lady.
During boom times, when everyone has more business than they can handle (ie. plenty of money but no time), this idea seems silly. But in the midst of steep recession, when everyone has no money but plenty of free time, the concept might be once again applicable. A year ago, it might have seemed crazy for a lawyer to swap services hour for hour with a plumber whose market rate is 1/5 his own. But if the lawyer has nothing else to be doing and no way of generating business at his billable rate, is it so crazy for him to save the $50 needed to fix his sink by spending an hour helping his plumber resolve a legal dispute?
I think the concept of bartering services is particularly applicable to startups, a group that is always short on cash. In fact, a good bootstrapping entrepreneur will always barter services, whenever it is pragmatic, to preserve cash. This happens all the time, albeit informally.
Time Banking started almost 30 years ago and has spread to “22 countries in six continents” according to the official website. A quick google search for “time bank your zip code” will almost certainly produce a small community website. Unfortunately, the success of Time Banking appears to have been limited by the onerous setup costs. If your community doesn’t have an existing infrastructure, you are urged to set one up by buying a “Time Banking Start-up Kit for just $49! With the kit, you get a six month membership, access to the coordinator forum, and a 4.5 minute DVD from the founder of time banking!!!”
$49 to join a social network and get a DVD of some old dude talking about something he did three decades ago?
It sounds like a con scheme but no, this is actually a rather sizable nonprofit organization operating on a pre-internet infrastructure.
Check it out for yourselves. Is there anyone out there that would be interested in writing a Facebook application to bring this concept into the 20th century*? Seems like you could add a lot of value to startups that have complementary skills.
*Yes, they have a page, but I see no reason why the whole infrastructure shouldn’t be put up on the web.
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