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New Left Review I/232, November-December 1998


Finn Bowring

LETS:AN ECO-SOCIALIST INITIATIVE

Local Exchange Trading Systems (lets) have been welcomed by many as a possible solution to the poverty, disempowerment and social exclusion suffered by the unemployed, as a practical and inexpensive stimulus for local economic regeneration, as the basis for stable, sustainable, and self-reliant community economies, and as a valuable complement to an increasingly over-stretched welfare state. [1] Clause Offe and Rolf G. Heinze’s view, expressed in their book Beyond Employment: Time, Work and the Informal Economy, Cambridge 1992, is fairly typical: ‘We believe that it is not unrealistic to suppose that such developments toward a non-monetary but exchange-led parallel economy can make a very positive contribution to the solution of many social and economic problems characteristic of societies suffering from high unemployment, from much personal isolation and from a poorly functioning welfare state.’ (p. viii.) Given better publicity, financial backing, and government and local authority support, it is thought that lets could significantly improve the quality of life for the residents of low-income neighbourhoods. [2] As argued in the study by Helen Barnes et al. for the New Economics Foundation, lets on Low Income, London 1996; and in two papers by Colin C. Williams, one based on a study of Calderdale lets (‘Informal Sector Responses to Unemployment: An Evaluation of the Potential of Local Exchange Trading Systems (lets)’, Work Employment and Society, vol. 10. no. 2, June 1996, and the other on Manchester lets (‘Local Exchange and Trading Systems: A New Source of Work and Credit for the Poor and Unemployed’, Environment and Planning A, vol. 28, no. 8, 1996). This essay evaluates the economic, social and ecological merits of lets, assesses the theoretical positions that have been developed in their defence, and proposes a path for their future development.

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