The idea behind Jackie Smith’s research spinoff is simple: “What happens in Michiana, stays in Michiana”—economically speaking. The Notre Dame associate professor of sociology, who studies world social movements, especially as they relate to economic globalization, recently started an ad hoc group to establish a “community currency” in northern Indiana.
In the course of her studies, the ND social scientist discovered the community currency movement and decided to try it locally. By fostering increased trade of local goods and services, community currencies help “to innoculate a community” against the deleterious effects of economic globalization, she says.
It’s a simple idea: Persuade enough people in your local community to accept the local currency, and it acquires value like “real” money. It may be even better than “real” money, Smith argues, because it is grounded in local relationships and local products.
The Notre Dame sociologist and her group hope to model the Michiana currency on the Ithaca, New York, system that trades “hours of labor.” One “Ithaca Hour” is equal to $10, which has been calculated as the regional mean hourly wage there.
Smith’s local effort is still in its initial stages. “We’re trying to get a grant to hire a full-time staff person to build a more formal organization, develop a stronger web presence and build the network of businesses anchoring the program,” she says. Downtown South Bend businesses and the Farmer’s Market are among those who have expressed interest.