The LETSystem Design Manual

5.1 LETSystem Development Strategy

Summary

The LETSystem is now clearly demonstrated, but it has a much wider application than has been achieved so far. This section outlines proposals for systems development, emphasising the following points.

* Further organisation is necessary for systems to realise their full potential. We propose organisation for development on a regional basis. Organisation needs to ensure that efforts are co-ordinated and that those who do the work share equitably in the rewards.

* We need to bring business into LETSystems so that individuals, businesses and the entire community can share the benefits.

* Business donations provide a source of finance

This section is based on material written by Michael Linton and published in Australia during the summer of 1993. It was prefaced with the following comments on LETSystem development:

"On the one hand, there are all sorts of developments in place. However, there is still as yet not much financing, and so not many people able to devote a great deal of time or other resources to this, and thus, regrettably, not as much real result is emerging as we really need to see. Hence we presently face a serious risk of being overrun by others with perhaps less purpose and/or ethical scruples, but more money and organisation."

A matter of organisation

All the pieces are more or less in place. The LETSystem itself is clearly demonstrated. It functions in many different forms - small scale and large, community based or commercial, accounted in sterling or hours, with competent and even with incompetent administration, it works, it survives. Sometimes it even pays its way.

So now what? So now the next level.

Given that the appeal, and indeed the need, is universal, and that the system is stable within any reasonable limits, there is a clear opportunity. And a responsibility.

If the social and ecological components of our planetary process were to hold together long enough, LETSystems in various forms would eventually become commonplace, without much significant effort from any of us. Just because the process is powerfully contagious, and largely irresistible.

However there is little hope that the social and ecological context can hold together that long. The very pattern of conventional money trading is destroying our world, and far faster than all the efforts of all those dedicated to arresting or modifying the process.

LETSystems must become mainstream very soon if we are to have any hope of leaving to future generations a world in which they can even survive, much less thrive.

So what do we have to do? Basically, we have to get our acts together; we have to start behaving as though this were a matter of life or death, which it very probably is. That doesn't so much mean working harder - some of us are already putting everything we have into this. It does mean is that we have to work smarter - and that more of us have to get to work.

We have to start applying the lessons of the LETSystem to our work on the LETSystem. And the most important lesson is simply this - that organization matters. LETSystems don't depend primarily on how people are, as individual actors; they depend on how people connect and interact.

It will not serve us to continue to suppose that, and act as though, the manner in which we manage our LETSystems is merely a matter of local style and preference. Clearly, some arrangements are effective, some are not - and some are entirely detrimental. It is proof of the extraordinary resilience of the LETSystem concept that it survives almost all of our often misguided efforts on its behalf. To rephrase an old line - the operation was a failure, but the patient lives.

Let's get organised so that our development programs are aimed at realistic ends.

Organising for development

It seems obvious that multi-system registries are the inevitable outcome in the long term, and that communities will typically be supported by several independent and yet co-operative registries. Certainly cities will have at least as many registries as there are defineable localities, and rural bioregions will be similarly differentated.

Yet clearly the efforts that people apply in one locality to establish their LETSystems will directly affect growth and development in those of their neighbours. Thus there is a clear need to organise so that there is some degree of group co-ordination of efforts throughout the region; and equally that there is a clearly defined process whereby those who do the work share equitably in the financial rewards that will emerge in time.

A further consideration is the need to form organizations of an appropriate local scale, large enough to be effective and well funded, and small enough to avoid becoming centralised and disconnected from their source - the local community.

While we must also take careful account of all ethical factors, and the normal considerations of prudence, there is little justification for acting slowly and every reason to act quickly. In this case the old adage applies - if you don't do it, somebody else will. We must act promptly and effectively to protect ourselves against the short term schemers who will very soon be attracted to the ideas of personal money and local currencies as means of making lots of money for themselves.

Commercial activity

LETS get down to business. LETSystems for small subsets of society may be warm and cosy, but they won't do much to protect us when the great economic meltdown comes along. We need changes in the mainstream economy if we are to survive at all. And we are only going to make the necessary difference in how the economy works when a major proportion of the local population is involved. The general public will only take interest when they can buy groceries, clothes, dental services, restaurant meals etc in the local money.

So we need to bring business into LETSystems. There is really little impediment to this. After all, money that comes back when you spend it is as attractive to any business as to any individual.

Notice how commercial "barter" organizations are growing - despite their exorbitant costs and the internal restrictions. The success of these networks is an indication of how well LETSystems will do when they enter the same market. Nor should we be in the least concerned that "commercial" networks will overrun LETSystems; on the contrary, we need expect little or no difficulty in assuming their business.

Administration costs and development funds

No free lunches here. Most of the systems (that I heard of) have trouble supporting any system development through administration charges. Which is good; this is how it should be.

Administration and development need to be clearly separated. In any case, operating costs must be kept low, by efficient procedures, to avoid any excessive drag on the system. People are discouraged from trading if service costs are perhaps 5 per cent of their trading - it can feel just like a tax. And for people who trade about 20 per month, a charge of just a few pounds is a high percentage of trading. So, particularly in the beginning, when trading voluimes are low, it is essential that operating costs are kept low.

Although administration is an unavoidable cost for any system, it's also a small cost when the system itself is small. Unfortunately, this is also the time when design, organization, development, promotion, etc., etc. is most needed, and when the system can least bear the load of paying for that work.

All such development is a long term process, and should be related to long term revenues and sources of funding. If we can establish what it is we are aiming at, the scale that LETSystems might have in, say, 5 years, then we can design an approach based on the end result rather than the situation at the beginning. We can be looking at 100,000 ideas rather than penny pinching for 100 here and 50 there.

Also, recompense, to those noble adventurers who put their resources - energy, time or money - into this effort, should be paid from results. If development is succesful, those who do it should be paid; if unsuccessful, it further compounds the problem to pay for those efforts out of administration budgets.

Since multiple systems in any area all contribute to each others' development, the organization should be a regionally based group process, using a system of group incentives and/or rewards.

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Landsman Community Services Ltd Paper No. 5.1 Version No 1.3 17 August 94
Written by Michael Linton of Landsman Community Services Ltd. and Angus Soutar of Robert Soutar Ltd.
Compiled 10-01-95 by Andy Blunt and Adrian Steele of LETSgo Manchester