BRATTLEBORO >> Creating an economy around new currency and the concept of community is no easy task. But it's not impossible, says John Root Jr.
"It's a long haul. It's going to be very difficult to get enough people in business working together to do this," he said.
His Climate Cafe presentation on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro at 6 p.m. will focus on rCredits, described in a press release as a "democratically controlled payment system that runs on an advanced, secure, digital technology using a debit-like card." A website can be found at rcredits.org.
Root's background has more to do with community than money. But he was exposed to alternative ideas early on, reading "The Threefold Social Order" by Rudolf Steiner, "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx and Adam Smith's "Capital" while taking classes in New York City.
Root, used to taking care of people with disabilities, began to question human nature in 1999 or 2000.
"We don't make people with disabilities earn a living. Why should anyone have to earn a living?" Root said. "I did a lot of research."
He found communities were experimenting with currencies they were creating. He went to a conference with monetary reformers. He got a pile of books on money and its history. But most importantly, he began to believe "whoever is issuing the money is in total control."
"It became very clear, we need a bank," he said.
The idea of a "common good bank" attracted Root. He joined founder William Spademan in developing fundraising efforts to raise $10 million to create a sustainable system and take back control.
Having only raised $250,000 within two years, they decided the bank wouldn't work. But what would?
"The common good bank always included a mutual credit system," said Root. "The reason for not doing mutual credit from the beginning is because people have such a hard time understanding it."
Spademan, described by Root as "a brilliant genius and programmer," got to work on making the system which they originally called Rebels. A board of directors eventually told the duo the name was a no-go. That's when they came up with rCredits. Since 2011, they've been perfecting it.
Some success was found in Greenfield, Mass., where 25 businesses and over 200 individuals have participated.
"It's designed right from the beginning to be as robust an accounting system that banks use. It's a complete alternative banking system," said Root. "You can transfer dollars from your bank account into your rCredits. We keep the money and issue the credits."
So $100 creates 100 credits and the $100 is put into an escrow account not being used. When the credits are used and the business needs cash, they can get it out from the escrow account.
"The less that happens the more the rCredits can keep circulating. That's more dollars we have available for the community," said Root. "The entire thing is based on when people can sit down together and decide what to issue money for, everything changes."
The challenge is getting enough businesses and people involved. Then a local economy can be created based on "our values, the things we think are important," said Root, pointing out that there are hundreds of local currencies across the United States.
Critics say such systems will never get to a place where enough participation makes it legitimate. But Root disagrees, comparing the issue to cell phones and the way they have evolved.
"Everyone has to have one. It's the same thing," he said. "It's got to be sophisticated enough and simple enough and straightforward enough so that it can work."
Currently, the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market is the only place in the area where rCredits are accepted. But Root hopes to change that.
"We have to get over the hump," he said. "That's what we hope Climate Cafe will do."
If nearly all the locally owned or controlled businesses and some franchises participated, Root said an economic circle would be created.
An extra 10 percent of credits are given to businesses and people as a bonus for signing up. They must be invited first, however.
The system provides feedback. Root said the website shows where money is "getting stuck" or how much of it is not being circulated.
Once off the ground, participants will need to get together and decide how they want to use the money that was traded for the credits. Root envisions the process to include rank choice voting and face to face meetings.
"Do we want to incentivize something else or do we want to promote something? Do we want to raise minimum wage? Put solar on all the roofs?" Root said. "The idea is, 'Let's create an alternative to the existing monetary system. One based on what we value and therefore issue money for. We'll just create a new system.' It's totally integrated in the existing system."
Banks, he said, don't have money to lend. They monetize their customers' credit, meaning customers provide "absolutely everything of value." Credit checks indicate whether potential borrowers are worth the risk.
"They just create money. They actually pretend they have money," said Root. "The bank provides nothing except its control of the economy, legal system, etc."
Another pilot project in Ann Arbor, Mich., is struggling while a smart phone application is being reworked. But it's a shoestring operation, said Root.
"We function pretty much on nothing at all," he said. "We ask for donations when people join."
The goal is to get a few thousand participants in southeastern Vermont. Root is looking for businesses and people based in Bellows Falls, Brattleboro and Putney.
In one scenario, landlords could eventually be bought out and cooperatives would replace their units.
"If 4,000 or 5,000 people and 400 or 500 businesses join, we're in a position to buy a bank," Root said. "Then the issue isn't, 'Do you understand?' It's, 'What are you trying to do?'"
Post Oil Solutions Director Tim Stevenson said his non-profit organization is about building sustainable communities. One of the ways they do that is by supporting promising projects started by others. And rCredits fits into that category.
Stevenson said he hopes to see the "whole phenomenon grows in Brattleboro" after the Climate Cafe presentation. His group holds the event every fourth Tuesday of the month except for November and December.