LETS: a community based economy

I recently met with Sue Andrews, Julie Webb and Kylie Willison, the co-ordinators of the Adelaide LETS system, to chat about what makes them so passionate about LETS. The local exchange trading scheme (LETS) is a system that has developed over the years to allow disparate goods and services to be traded outside of the dominant monetary system.

The basic premise of LETS is that instead of buying and selling goods and services with money, members use  LETS units (or shells  or bartles and so on depending on the LETS system. Basically though each unit of currency is roughly equivalent to one dollar. Crucially unlike our current monetary system, LETS units do not accumulate interest. So there is no benefit in hoarding the units. Instead the units simply facilitate the trading of goods and services. Additionally having an organised system where transactions are recorded removes the need for an immediate exchange of goods. So in this way I can, for instance, provide IT support to one person and at another time and place use those units earned to get my bicycle serviced.

What struck me in my conversation was the emphasis  Sue, Julie and Kylie all placed on the community nature of LETS. Despite having a computer system to record units and email network to send out members offers and wants the majority of transactions happen with people living fairly close to you. In this way it supports the generation of community links which are strengthened by regular local LETs markets and gatherings held once a month in a members home. It brings the personal dimension back into the way we attain the goods and services we need.

What was also clear from my conversation and subsequently attending the LETS Christmas market at the Joinery is the supportive nature of this system. Members are given the necessary space to offer and develop their talents. For instance one LETS member used to offer yoga classes while she was learning to be a yoga teacher. She is now successfully running classes in the city. In this way the system encourages you to find things you love doing and supports you in developing those talents. It is also very much in keeping with Sustainable Communities ethos of reducing waste, reskilling and learning to make do with what we have.

While LETS tends to be a local affair there are also now platforms that enable LETs member to link with members across Australia and globally. This allows members to continue trading while on holiday. A good example of this is when Sue went to Western Australia and needed to hire a car. She posted her “want” on the online trading board and was rewarded with a response from a women in WA who was willing to hire her car out. Sue recalls how she was waiting at the station for the car to arrive, expecting an old beaten up vehicle. Instead she was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly new Toyota drive up and be handed over the keys without any fuss or complicated contracts. While Sue is still surprised at just how trusting the women was, this trust  in the fundamental goodness of our fellow human beings, is another component of the network that is missing from the monetary system.  Of course this does not always work out, but the majority of the time the systems works.

The LETS concept started in 1983 in the USA. It wasn’t then and still isn’t seen as a complete replacement for the monetary system. Members can offer goods and services for a mix of units and money if they want. Rather it seems to be one way to develop a localised community of people who are trying to reduce their dependence of the global financial system and so gain a bit more resilience and freedom in the way they live.

There are a number of LETS networks in SA:

And the Community Exchange System Australia (CES) platform is used by all the Australian LETS groups to record all offers and wants.

Its easy to join and you don’t have to be computer savvy to use the system and the administrators are always happy to help. So why not join your local LETS. I certainly was inspired by my conversation to join and was quite thrilled to earn come units helping Sue with her new tablet.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.