Mint Your Own
Money: Bucking the System
A small town in Kansas makes money the old-fashioned way: They print it.
The citizens of Lawrence, Kansas (pop. 80,000), recently looked down the
interstate and saw big chain stores coming—Wal-Marts, Home Depots, Gaps. In an
attempt to stave off the invasion, local residents took control of their
economic future: They printed their own money—money that no national franchise
So far nearly 100 Lawrence businesses accept the locally minted currency,
called R.E.A.L. money (for Realizing Economic Alternatives in Lawrence).
Shoppers can exchange real dollars for R.E.A.L. dollars one-to-one at the
local credit union and then use them at the small businesses that have joined
the crusade. "If you're walking around with 10 R.E.A.L. dollars in your
pocket, there are only certain places you can shop, and Wal-Mart's not one of
them," says Boog Highberger, a representative of the Lawrence Trade
Organization and a R.E.A.L. proponent. "We want people to realize where their
money goes—which places are local and which are global."
It's all very Robin Hood, but is it legal? "They're like Disney Dollars," says
Betsy Holahan, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department. "There is no
requirement that businesses must accept U.S. currency." Even Highberger
concedes that the effort may be more quixotic than Keynesian. Of the $70,000
printed, only about 8 grand is in circulation. "We're not going to drive
Wal-Mart out of business," he says. How about out of Lawrence? "Anything's
This article originally appeared in the December
2001/January 2002 issue of MBA Jungle.