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Some US communities have started printing their own currency in order to ease the economic pain inflicted by low cash flow across the country.
People in low-income American communities have formed networks in order to create, buy and sell local currencies that are partially below the US Dollar in value but strong enough to help them buy goods at their neighborhood stores. The 1930's Great Depression, the largest economic contraction to hit America in history, prompted the idea of generating new local currencies like 'Ithaca Hours' in New York, 'Plenty' in North Carolina, 'Berk Shares' in Massachusetts and 'Detroit Cheers', amongst 75 other types of local money mushrooming across the States. Economists say that cash-strapped people have, through tough financial times, come up with their own solutions for ailing economies via injecting local money into their markets in an attempt to put more food in their family basket.
"The world is just now reeling from economic chaos; in Detroit, that's how we always roll," a Detroit Cheers user commented. US communities and local governments printed a special currency known as the 'Scrip' during the Great Depression to keep trades afloat. "We're a wiped-out small town in America," USA Today quoted a Plenty user in North Carolina as saying. "This will strengthen the local economy... The nice thing about the Plenty is that it can't leave here."
Americans are allowed to print their own local money provided that it does not look like federal banknotes, nor should it be used as legal tender. The United States was hit by its second hardest economic recession in 2007, which has so far caused the country to shed more than two million jobs and a budget deficit almost topping two trillion dollars in a matter of less than two years.
Communities across America are bypassing the dollar and creating their own currencies in an attempt to help both consumers and businesses struggling in the recession. The idea, borrowed from the Depression era when the currencies were known as "scrip", is designed to boost local spending and keep money circulating within the community.
Typically, a group of businesses print a new currency which shoppers can then buy at a discount – typically one dollar will cost 90 to 95 cents – and spend at full value with participating companies.
Some of the currencies have been around for years but the recent economic downturn has encouraged others to follow suit. According to some estimates, there are now more than 75 local currency systems across the country.
Others include the Ithaca Hours in upstate New York and the Plenty in North Carolina.
Under US law, small communities can produce their own currency so long as it does not include coins and does not resemble federally-issued money.
The currencies are not a tax dodge as the income to participating businesses is liable to tax.
In Traverse City, Michigan, more than 100 businesses accept Bay Backs, among them restaurants, B&Bs, a doctor, accountant and even a tarot card reader.
Around $2 million worth of BerkShares – the most established local currency – is circulating in the Berkshires, a rural area in southern Massachusetts.
The beautifully-illustrated notes portray local "heroes", including the author Herman Melville, the artist Norman Rockwell and a tribe of Mohicans.
"It reformed the way many business owners and residents think about their local economy and helped educate the community on why shopping locally matters," said Susan Witt, a member of the BerkShares board.
In Detroit, where unemployment stands at 22 per cent, three businessmen are distributing more than $4,500 worth of Detroit Cheers for customers to spend in any of a dozen shops.
"The world is just now reeling from economic chaos. In Detroit, that's how we always roll," Jerry Belanger, a local restaurateur and one of the trio, told the Detroit News.
"There's no question in my mind this has real value," said Billy West, co-owner of a furniture design company that accepts the Cheer.
"I can get a good meal, I can get a beer, I can help another Detroit business. That is money to me." Pittsboro, North Carolina, is reviving the Plenty, created in 2002 and now being exchanged by a local bank at the rate of $9 for $10 worth of Plenty.
"We're a wiped-out small town in America. This will strengthen the local economy," Lyle Estill, president of Piedmont Biofuels, which accepts the Plenty, told USA Today. "The nice thing about the Plenty is that it can't leave here."
Americans are not alone in creating their own currencies to cope with the credit crunch. Lewes, the famously independent-minded county town of East Sussex, created its own pound last year. There are now 31,000 Lewes pounds in circulation and more than 130 traders accepting them.
In the German city of Magdeburg, more than 200 businesses accept the Urstromtaler, one of an estimated 16 regional currencies in the country.
Economists disagree on the usefulness of local currencies but history shows that even the most bizarre can catch on.
Joshua Norton, a British-born San Francisco eccentric who proclaimed himself emperor of the US in 1859 and started issuing his own money to pay his debts.
Despite such dubious provenance, the notes became widely accepted currency in the city.