BUYING AND SELLING WITH GREEN BUCKS
Offered: I will
fix anything that's broken.
Wanted: Editor for doctoral thesis on Ghandhi, non-violence &
Offered: Desktop publishing services.
Wanted: Leads for junior accounting job.
These are a few of the 672 ads in the April issue of the LETS
Toronto Trader, "the Newsletter of the Local Employment Trading
For its advocates, LETS promises escape, someday, from the
dictates of the global economy. "We should be able to meet our needs
locally," says Michael Schreinder, staff co-ordinator for LETS, but
multi-nationals prevent it by undercutting local prices.
LETS tips the balance in favor of communities, he says, by
allowing people to buy or sell in "Greendollars." With Greendollars,
they can trade on the LETS system.
In effect, LETS operates as an alternative to the formal economy
represented by the Canadian dollar. The value of Greendollars is
pegged at par to the Canadian dollar. The difference is that
Greendollars exist only in the LETS computer. There is nothing that
passes physically from one hand to another. No Greendollar bills, no
After a transaction is made, the parties phone the LETS office in
an old University of toronto house that is also home to the Varsity
newspaper and a computer entry is made. The entry adds Greendollars to
the seller's account and subtracts Greendollars from the buyer's. The
ideal is to have an account that hovers near zero -- purchases
Among the advertisers in the April Trader are lawyers,
bookkeepers, computer technicians, a cabinetmaker, an actor offering
assistance in preparing for auditions, tutors, home renovation,
contractors, graphic designers, a tennis instructor, a local radio
station seeking a full time station co-ordinator, editors, an Internet
researcher, and people offering used goods that range from maternity
clothes to refrigerators.
there are also calligraphers, jewelry makers, a spiritual healer,
nutrition counsellors, and people offering herbal tinctures,
aromatherapy, Shiat-su Tai-Chi, yoga, reflexology and homemade
vegetarian foods. Some will take "100 percent Green" in payment, some
50% with the balance in federal dollars, some simply say paying in
Green is negotiable.
According to Schreiner, federal authorities have approved LETS on
the basis that Green transactions must be reported for income tax and
GST in the same way as transactions in federal dollars.
LETS has 700 members, two full-time and four part-time, and
operates on a budget of $40,000, in combined federal and Greendollars,
raised through membership fees and levies on transactions and
advertising. In the five years LETS has existed, green transactions
have totalled $493,536.
So, how much of an alternative is it? To get a feel, I spoke with
Paul LeBlanc, one of three partners in total Office Professional
Services (TOPS) with 11 ads in the LETS Trader, is the newsletter's
heaviest advertiser. A little more than 2 percent of TOPS revenues are
TOPS supplies small businesses with a wide range of services. If
it hasn't got the equipment or expertise needed, it will act as a
broker to obtain them. LeBlanc wouldn't divulge TOPS annual revenue
but said it was in the middle third of the range for small business
For him, the question has been, "How much was LETS going to
represent a fuzzy-dice economy (the new age stuff) and how much a
The question still isn't answered. But LeBlanc says, "For the
meat and potatoes of business, it's getting better." The problem is
that so far there aren't enough businesses on LETS to provide the
goods and services he wants. "We're having trouble burning off our
Greendollars." Recognizing this, LETS is developing a strategic plan
to pull in more businesses.
In the meantime, LETS has fostered a sense of community. And
maybe the person who can fix anything can hook up with the woman who
advertised: "Can you repair my ancient Kirby vacuum cleaner? Picked up
second hand. Doesn't run."
a comment to John Turmel