Editor’s Note: Run by Michael Smith, The Ithacast is a weekly podcast featuring interviews with interesting Ithacans. You can stream the full interview below, or subscribe on iTunes.

Visit www.theithacast.com for show notes, downloads, upcoming guests and more!

Why I shop downtown — Naomi

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Scott Morris – Ithacash

Scott Morris is the driving force behind Ithacash, a new community currency being launched in Ithaca and Tompkins County this year. Make sure you check out the Presents on the Commons promotion to earn some free Ithaca dollars just by doing your holiday shopping locally!

We start by talking with Morris about his upbringing and experiences living and traveling in Asia. Then we dive deep into what Ithacash is and how it may serve as a flagship for other community currencies the world over.

Ithacash has the potential to radically alter how we do business in Tompkins County. For more background on how the program works, see here.

Below are 5 interesting snippets from the interview:

1 – Why should we care about alternative / local / community currency?

It’s a complex question. Morris explains that the problem with how we’ve been doing things is that because we only have one “type” of money; it drastically limits, he says, our options and the ways in which we can do business with one another.

Morris invokes a metaphor to get to the heart of it: “Imagine it in terms of art. We’ve been trying to paint this big mural all in one color. It’s going to make for a very drab mural, and some parts aren’t even going to get colored at all because we’re going to run out of paint. What we’re doing [with alternative currency] is unlocking the other colors on the palette, and we’re going to end up with a more beautiful mural.”

2 – Okay, that all sounds nice. But what does that mean for the Ithaca community?

Ithacash is all about community. Some of the benefits are obvious. For example, for every $100 you put into the system, an additional 25 Ithaca dollars (that’s the actual unit under the Ithacash brand) is donated to a cause of your choice. Beyond that, it keeps money local, and helps connect buyers and sellers to facilitate – and even accelerate – business in the community.

Morris explains how: “[American] Dollars have a ‘velocity,’ let’s say it’s 1. Because of the regional restrictions and some of these other design features, [Ithaca dollars] can have a velocity of, like, 20. So we can provide 20 times as much economic value per unit when compared to [American] dollars.”

3 – Why is Morris so passionate about the community currency concept?

Morris said he is frustrated with the way that the economic system works and sees alternative currencies as a way to take back some of the economic power that’s been stolen away from the average citizen.

He says, “I’m in this because this is truly an idea whose time has come. I view it as an evolutionary imperative. We literally cannot continue to do what we’ve been doing, operating inside this market-dominated, hyper-competitive, hyper-capitalist society.”

However, Morris isn’t out to topple the system. On the contrary, he’s using the free market with the belief that, given the choice and proper incentives, people will invest in their communities: “I’m not trying to demonize [capitalistic society] – all we’re going to do is put an alternative money system on the menu and let the free market work it’s magic.”

4 – Presents on the Commons: How you can earn up to i$250 by doing your holiday shopping locally

“Presents on the Commons is a scavenger hunt where everyone wins,” explains Morris. It starts on November 29th (Small Business Saturday) and goes through Christmas Eve. To participate, visit one of the over 50 participating local retailers during that time to get a map – then the search is on! Each shop has a hidden gift – for each one you find you’ll earn a sticker that’s worth i$6 – i$1 for charity and i$5 for you, plus a raffle entry for a chance at more great prizes.

It’s a great little introduction to what Ithacash is looking to bring to the community: you get more purchasing power, local retailers get more business and exposure, and the whole community benefits through charitable contribution.

5 – How Morris disarmed* a train of Chinese soldiers with the power of Mario Kart
* as in “charmed” not “relieved of weapons”

Ending on a lighter note, Morris shared a story from his backpacking trip through China: “We get onto this train, look around and it’s nothing but Chinese soldiers… we sat down, and there’s definitely some tension.” Fortunately (as it turned out), Morris had brought a Nintendo DS, in part because of a Japanese translation program, but mostly because he was obsessed with Mario Kart.

“I said to my friend, ‘Yo, we gotta play Mario Kart like right now’” – his traveling companion wasn’t as keen on the idea, but they did it anyway – “sure enough, half a race later I’m passing the DS to one of the Chinese soldiers.” So began a very brief friendship across cultures and languages. One of the soldiers even asked for help on his English homework, before a friendly train attendant recognized the awkward situation and move Morris and his friends to another car.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.