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St. Lawrence University project could bring Canton a local currency

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CANTON — The dollar. The euro. The pound. The yen. And now — the north country hour.

St. Lawrence University is supporting a project to develop a local currency for the Canton area, one that would be based on the amount of time worked.

One north country hour would be equal to one hour’s worth of labor, according to John M. Collins, chairman of SLU’s department of global studies.

“It allows people to exchange currency based on the equivalency of all forms of labor,” he said. “It treats one hour of labor equal to one hour of any other labor.”

The project, an idea by global studies sophomore Thomas B. Matt, received a $3,000 2012 Innovation Grant from the office of SLU President William L. Fox.

Mr. Collins said the money will go to printing costs, but didn’t know when the currency would be rolled out.

“This is in the super-early stages,” he said. “It will take awhile to implement.”

It was inspired by a program in Ithaca, which has used Ithaca hours as a local currency since 1991. Mr. Collins said cities and villages in Europe have used local currencies during depressed economic times, and areas of the U.S. used local currencies during the Great Depression.

“We know it can work,” Mr. Collins said. “It requires a lot of community outreach — it’s ambitious, in that sense.”

A local currency can encourage people to shop at local small businesses and farmers’ markets, Mr. Collins said.

“We’re going to print a paper directory of participants,” he said. “At the farmers’ market, we have a lot of vendors interested in the idea, but it is too early to say how many will support the currency.”

It also inspires debate over the value of work, he said.

“People won’t always agree on what type of labor will get paid more,” he said. “It is interesting because it is also insulated from inflation. The currency will represent one hour of labor now or 10 years from now.”

Due to federal law, the hours will not be legal tender and participation in the program will be voluntary.

Innovation grants were started by Mr. Fox to encourage initiatives that improve the quality of life on campus and in the surrounding area. Successful projects receive up to $5,000.

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