Time Is Currency in Spain's Cities

With plenty of time, and no Euros, some Spaniards are putting hours in the bank.

Image
Bert Kaufmann/Flickr

In hundreds of Spanish cities, time is money.

The Guardian reported last week that there are tens of thousands of people in Spain participating in over 300 “time banks and alternative currency systems.” Locals rack up labor hours, deposit them with community organizations online or in person, and trade them to others for goods and services.

Time banks started in the United States in the early 1980s to help people supplement social services eliminated by neoliberal reforms. (Here’s a TedTalk from the founder of TimeBanks USA, Edgar Cahn.) In Spain, they’re not exactly new: the Barcelona Banco del tiempo dates from 1998. But since 2008, with unemployment high and credit tight, a shortage of cash has popularized the practice in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. There are already well-developed networks of time banks in Italy and England.

Despite their growing popularity, time banks remain local affairs, tied to cities and often, within them, small communities of people. Contrary to the perception of time-banking as a non-governmental activity, many of Spain’s time banks – like the Barcelona bank, the country’s first – are started by city halls. A Barcelona-based organization called Salud y Familia (Health and Family) helps manage the network, coordinating conferences and dialogue between the banks. For now, an hour of labor in Valencia may only get you an hour of service in Valencia. But Salud y Familia wants those hours to become national, if not international currency.

On the ground, it’s a fairly simple barter system, the kind that often emerges in crisis situations like the Great Depression. (Thanks to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for pointing that out.) The Wall Street Journal recounts how 22-year-old Valladolid resident Silvia Martin uses the local time bank:

"Ms. Martín, who doesn't own a car and can't afford taxis, has relied on other time-bank members to give her lifts around town for her odd jobs and errands, as well as to help with house repairs. In return, she has cared for members' elderly relatives, organized children's parties and even hauled boxes for a member moving to a new house."

Below, a map of Spain’s time banks:


View Bancos de Tiempo y Monedas Sociales en España in a larger map

Top image: Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.