This article was published on our German site in September 2020. Now, in January 2022, we mourn the passing of Edgar Cahn, father of timebanking across the US, distinguished professor of law in Washington D.C. and most-valued and tireless advocate for social justice globally. Since this article calls for the idea of timebanking in times of crisis, we republish it in English now, as a tribute to Edgar Cahn’s work. Find his latest publication with his own take on timebanking in times of pandemics here.

Since March 2020 we have just witnessed such an astounding turn of events. Suddenly, a virus made health seem more important than the economy (at least for a while), even at government levels. Suddenly many of us had plenty of time at our hand, but were alone in our four walls. For many the questions was: What do I want to do with my time? How would I prefer to spend it? If it weren’t for the economic uncertainty, there would be something liberating about it. I can make good use of my time. No more traveling to work in rush-hour traffic. No time pressure from the work-schedule. No conforming to workplace conventions. Instead, the circle of friends and the neighborhood become more important – albeit restricted by the new distancing rules. Who can cut my hair when the hairdresser is closed? Who will care for the sick at home when hospitals are overloaded and visits risky? Who will help the elderly with shopping?

The corona crisis has taught us how important care services are as a foundation of our society. In families, it is usually taken for granted and raising children and caring for each other is hardly considered work. Parents give their children a lot of time – without expecting anything in return. This can also be called the gift economy. In any case, it is a basis of our society that deserves recognition, because without this donated time, there would be no people to do economics. Instead, the parents who worked at home during the corona lock-down are among the most disadvantaged, because they were alone and naturally overburdened with childcare “on the side”. Their experience shows that “home office” and “home schooling” cannot happen at the same time. How lucky were those who could ask grandparents for help, who have a garden. The closure of children’s playgrounds exacerbated social inequality.

One of the reasons the corona crisis has hit us so hard is because health care services are priced so poorly. And because working conditions have deteriorated for decades under the dictate of “economic efficiency” through austerity measures. Care needs more appreciation and better conditions – for children, the elderly and the sick – in other words, for all of us.

A good way to improve social exchanges in cities, communities and neighborhoods is through so-called timebanking or time-exchange systems. In these systems, people exchange their time on the basis of volunteered hours. One hour from me equals one hour from you. Everyone can volunteer hours and we all need people to help us – not only when we are sick. In time-exchange systems, voluntary work such as helping with homework, caring for the sick and elderly, giving somebody a life, repair work, cooking and childcare can be made visible and rewarded – without deepening the reaches of the monetised economy. And an increase in time being exchanged this way can document how the community is growing along with the trust between its members. In the end, its about more conviviality for all participants.

Of course, I would have done those hundreds of volunteer hours at my children’s schools anyway. But the possibility of an extra recognition through time-credits on my time-exchange account would have been an added benefit if I could redeem them later, when I require help myself and my children have moved to another city. For example, when carrying the groceries home or getting to my doctor’s appointment. With a time-exchange system it would be easier to ask for help, because I have “earned” it.

Who would ever thinks the corona epidemic was the last crises? We are probably only at the beginning of a longer economic crisis that will bring us many more financial crashes. The current crisis should make us aware that it is not the Euro, gold and Bitcoins that are the real source of wealth, but friends, family and a strong personal network.

Time-exchanges are not about the economisation of voluntary work or about charging for our precious time. No, it is about better collaboration, personal relationships and taking better care of our fellow human beings – together. Because the wealth of time is about quality – not quantity and not financial growth. A win-win for all – without profits.

Now is the right time to start such exchange systems, to demand government programmes in their favor and the adequate levels of data protection. This would promote social cohesion and community building, which are particularly difficult to achieve in times of corona-induced impositions of social distancing and contact restrictions. Exchange systems can perpetuate our willingness to help each other and cooperate peer-to-peer, nurture its potential and expand it into the future. For humanity. Time’s worth more when it is shared. And time-sharing systems show us that time is ultimately much more important than money. So let’s use our time better together!

More information about time-exchange systems on our website:

  • In-depth article on timebanking (CCIA 2015), and one about similar systems as part of our online course.
  • Monneta expert Stephanie Rearick has developed an integrated time exchange system “Human Aid Networks“. New groups anywhere are welcome!
  • More links to timebanking experts in the UK, the US and elsewhere (amongst other examples of complementary currency and monetary reform) can be found on our website under Examples and Initiatives.