BerkShares is successful regional currency that is widely used in the largely rural Berkshire region of Massachusetts, USA (population, 130,000). The chief purpose of the currency is to strength the circulation of goods, services and capital within the Berkshires, and thereby strengthen the local economy and community self-reliance.
“We welcome BerkShares, and were very early adopters because we believe that using local currency is an excellent way to cultivate and nurture our region’s businesses and resources, which then makes it more attractive for people to live here and move here and work here.” Sarah Eustis, Red Lion Inn (Stockbridge, Massachusetts)
BerkShares are a complementary currency that is meant to be used in tandem with US currency. Anyone can exchange $100 of US currency for $105 worth of BerkShares at any of four banks with a total of 16 branches in the region. By spending the currency at 400 participating businesses, consumers in effect get a 5 percent bump in purchasing power from this buy-local strategy. The point of the currency is to rally citizens and businesses in the region to mutually support each other and the region by using BerkShares.
The currency notes feature a number of prominent historical figures from the region, including a portrait of a Stockbridge Mahican, an original inhabitant of the area ($1); abolitionist W.E.B. DuBois ($5); Robyn Van En, a pioneer of community land trusts ($10); Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick $20); and illustrator/painter Norman Rockwell ($50).
Some $135,000 worth of BerkShares are currently in circulation, which turns over several times each year. The currency emulates the use of widespread use of local currencies in the United States in the early 1900s as a means of community economic empowerment.
# Dimensions of Commoning
BerkShares clearly embodies many of the core dimensions of commoning. The currency seeks to cultivate shared purpose & values and ensure fair abundance by strengthening local market activity and community development. By attempting to development a greater community consciousness and commitment, BerkShares seeks to strengthen the nested-I.
In trying to introduce community concerns into market exchange, BerkShares could be said to practice gentle reciprocity. The currency's backers seek to make people more conscious about how and where they spend their money, and in that sense, validate local spending and investment instead of spending with e-retailers or big box stores. Trust situated knowing.
However, BerkShares does not move into the extra-market zone of decouple giving & taking seen in many commons. To the extent that BerkShares emancipate local markets from outside capital, or at least valorize them, it helps people in the region mitigate the power of capital as an extractive force. It may also help people become more mindful of the beauty of the local landscape and community, and thereby deepen interdependency on nature. - Trust Situated Knowing (and Be Creatively Adaptive) - Preserve Relationships in Addressing Conflicts - Reflect on Your Peer Governance
# Peer Governance in the Commons
The BerkShares currency is managed by BerkShares, Inc., a democratically structured nonprofit organization that works in collaboration with local banks, businesses and nonprofits to strengthen the local economy. Any resident of the region can join the organization with a membership fee and enjoy an equal vote on policies and board members with other members. BerkShares is clearly a hybrid that does not separate commons & commerce, but rather blends them in an attempt to make the regional economy more socially and ecologically responsible.
The BerkShares, Inc., bylaws state its commitment to regional economic self-reliance, adding:
By pooling capital and human resources, BerkShares, Inc. seeks to facilitate the formation of small businesses, cottage industries, farms and cooperatives that would enable local communities to develop greater self-reliance. Basic human needs in the areas of food, shelter, energy, environment, employment, transportation, health care, education, cultural activities and social services could thus be increasingly met through local efforts. It is intended that such a program would encourage use of land in harmony with ecological principles. It would also encourage the development of alternative exchange instruments and of community associations that would foster and support initiative in these areas.
BerkShares, Inc., does not provision for needs as such; it manages and promotes use of the BerkShares currency to serve general community needs.
That said, BerkShares does embody many of the principles of mutual support in provisioning. The hundreds of businesses and four banks who participate in the program share the risks of provisioning, as it were. The positive benefits from the currency spill over to everyone in the region, which could be said to be a kind of pool & share. Through such widespread participation, the currency seeks to cocreate generative change and protect & extend value sovereignty on a regionwide basis.
- Develop Shared Purpose & Values - Assure Commoners' Consent in Decisionmaking - Set Semi-Permeable Boundaries - Relationalize Property - Ritualize Togetherness - Share Knowledge Often & Widely - Honor Transparency in a Sphere of Trust - [Respect Human Dimensions] - Direct Capital to Commons Provisioning - Self-Monitor, Mediate & Sanction
ontological ground and political culture
# Inner Kernel
# Realms of Commoning
BerkShares website html