It’s About Time

What’s popular in the United States and Japan but only just
catching on in the United Kingdom? Forget baseball: The answer is
time banks, an innovative barter system that allows
participants to trade skills and services with others in their

First developed in the United States more than a decade ago by
Edgar Cahn, a former John F. Kennedy speechwriter and current law
professor, time banks work on the premise that people in need of
one sort of skill or service will trade time (in the form of a
skill they possess or a service they can perform) with another
person who offers the skill they desire. For example, a person who
knows how to prepare taxes might offer an hour’s worth of tax
preparation in exchange for an hour’s worth of housecleaning. The
time bank manages transactions among a group of people. The idea is
simple but, in our mechanized world, revolutionary: Time is

Not long after the first American time banks were up and
running, the idea caught on in Japan. There are now some 1,000 time
banks established worldwide, the majority of them in Asia and North

Across the ocean in Britain, time bank fever is raging.
According to David Boyle writing in Green Futures
(Sept./Oct. 2000), there are now 14 time banks in the United
Kingdom, with many more in development. Seven British time
banks–all linked by computer–are operated by the
Gloucestershire-based organization Fair Shares. People interested
in depositing into–or withdrawing from–a Fair Shares time bank need
only log onto the organization’s network. The computer then
coordinates the exchanges.

‘Looking for big statistics to show that it’s working is hard at
the moment, but you can see that the quality of individual lives is
quite astounding,’ says Sue Friston, Fair Shares administrator.
‘It’s also cross-generational, which means we now almost have
surrogate grandparents. There are such amazing people out there,
and this gives you a chance to meet them.’

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