bread hours
March 15, 2003 1:14 PM   Subscribe A group of over 300 residents and merchants in California’s Bay Area has established a local currency called BREAD (a rough acronym for Bay Area Regional Exchange and Development), based on hours of work valued at $12 an hour. Through the BREAD network, which now has over $20,000 worth of currency in circulation, members can pay for dinner, carpentry, childcare, tutoring, clerical assistance or organic produce. Tired of traditional activism, founder Miyoko Sakashita wanted to create a positive local economy and “stop our resources from supporting global corporations that are not accountable to people and the environment.” Check it out at
posted by bureaustyle (28 comments total)
Sounds like a underground economy income tax dodge scam to me.

God bless them.
posted by pjdoland at 1:25 PM on March 15, 2003

This is a really nice idea, but what does the IRS have to say on the subject of making an end-run around money?
posted by Space Coyote at 1:26 PM on March 15, 2003

according to bread's website it's legal

Is BREAD lawful?

YES! Local currencies are constitutionally legal and have a long history. It is
taxable as barter income based on its ãfair market valueä in U.S. currency. And it
is subject to federal anti-counterfeiting laws.

Is BREAD income taxable?

Often, barter exchanges are considered taxable income by the IRS. Use schedule
C or Schedule C-EZ of Form 1040 to report Barter Income. You can use a generic
invoice to keep track of your trades. Examples of bartering and information on how
to report the income are described in IRS Publication 525 Table and Nontaxable
Income. Participants are responsible for their own tax liabilities and reporting.
BREAD has no obligation or ability to report exchanges or to collect any taxes.
posted by bureaustyle at 1:27 PM on March 15, 2003

hmm. best idea ever perhaps? other than this idea I got today for garbage bags with a built int deodorizing liner.
posted by mcsweetie at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2003

A friend of mine was just on the road and mentioned that in Ithica, there's a similar local currency thing going on ("Ithica bucks")... Interesting. I wonder how common this is.
posted by mdn at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2003

mdn -

They're called Ithaca Hours. This currency has been around since 1991. Check out their website here.
posted by Stynxno at 1:47 PM on March 15, 2003

This is really fantastic; I'm generally cynical, but if this was gonna work anywhere, you'd imagine the Bay Area would be the place.
posted by jonson at 1:48 PM on March 15, 2003

Funniest thing ever would be if the local McDonald's started taking the BREAD money.

In my little Canadian town there are cabbies who take Canadian Tire Money.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:48 PM on March 15, 2003

according to bread's website it's legal

And according to lots of people (*coughscammerscough*) out there, Americans don't have to pay income tax because it's illegal for the government to tax them like that.

Doesn't mean they don't get taxed, charged, and jailed for it.
posted by grum@work at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2003

They aren't trying to scam anybody, they're just helping out the local businesses, and they do mention that you will have to pay some income tax based on well-established precedants. I still think this is a great idea, but I'm saddened that it has become necessary as a way to save the last shred of local business in many centres.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:57 PM on March 15, 2003

um; when I was living in the East Bay (where BREAD is based out of, from what i understand) I looked into this (because I was a student, and thought that i could find a way to turn my spare time into food).

mostly, however, real goods are not offered. there's a lot of people, for example, willing to trade massage, or yoga lessons, or like personal training, or maybe walk your dog, but the lack of actual goods made it pretty unattractive to me. I mean, hey, I'm sure massages are great and all, but I like my money to be able to buy things I actually need (like, say, toilet paper).

whining aside, I think this is a great freaking idea. i think folks in the US should become more independent. i like what they're doing, I just wish a way could be found to make it more practical.

and the program wasn't conceived as a tax dodge, but as a means for building community and encouraging bartering.

(there's a lot of other cool programs that are unique -- well, i think, there's probably other places that have them too -- like the tool library, for example, which kicks ass: and which I unfortunately wasn't able to use because I lived two blocks into oakland. bastards.)
posted by fishfucker at 2:06 PM on March 15, 2003

When I lived in Berkeley, "Moe's money" — credit slips from the great used bookstore on Telegraph — had something of the same status of underground currency, the way cigarettes function in prisons. Thanks to the chunk for those links. I've been interested in e-Dinar and the like for a while now, and one of my clients pays me in evos. So far, so good.
posted by hairyeyeball at 2:07 PM on March 15, 2003

uh, that should read "unique to berkeley" but as my grammar is fairly atrocious in that message i guess i'm not going to sweat it.
posted by fishfucker at 2:07 PM on March 15, 2003

(oh, and moe's is the best bookstore ever. i will never buy paperbacks for more than half the cover price ever again)
posted by fishfucker at 2:08 PM on March 15, 2003

Fishfucker (by the time I read that site and got back here) expressed exactly my thoughts. Rent, groceries, a car...etc...
I wish/hope the idea could expand. But banks would have to get involved. You know what I mean, for this to really take off.

I liked this part, the disclaimer on a few of the pages:
"Disclaimer: BREAD is in no way affiliated or associated with, or sponsored by, the Bread & Roses Benefit Agency. Your support of the BREAD and Roses Party does not in any way benefit Bread & Roses, the organization, founded by Mimi Farina, which brings live entertainment to audiences isolated in Bay Area institutions."

For some reason that gave me gigglepants.
posted by Cedric at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2003

We've got them in Calgary as well.. I've accidentally wandered into stores that accept them, but have never had the opportunity to earn any.
posted by some chick at 3:03 PM on March 15, 2003

grum, the BREAD site is correct: barter income is legal as long as properly reported; Schedule C-EZ should be sufficient for most people, unless they have cash income for their service business as well. Many barter exchanges formalize reporting with end-of-year 1099-B forms.

I don't doubt that some may see this as a potential tax dodge, but there's plenty of people out there who operate cash-only businesses using Uncle Sam's legal tender, to avoid record-keeping and permit them to underreport income. It's not a problem (or benefit) inherent to barter exchange systems. Barter always will have limitations because it isn't a full-fledged currency, such as the concentration toward personal services (goods merchants have suppliers who require money, you see), and banking services are unavailable as a way to build capital (though some systems attempt to simulate this in various ways). The systems need to be properly managed to avoid problems of inflation (or deflation). With all labor pegged at the same price [in many systems], there are going to be restrictions on what services people are willing to supply (I'd be willing to do some tech support for an "hour", but not fix a PC or install a network.) But as long as people use this knowing it's a firmly and permanently limited system, I don't see a problem.
posted by dhartung at 4:14 PM on March 15, 2003

Barter currency is all over the place. See and its root for examples.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:38 PM on March 15, 2003

kliuless had a very good FPP last year about open money systems. His blog has also some very interesting links (bottom of the page, feb 1 2002) - long read, but it makes you think about what might be next.
posted by MzB at 5:03 PM on March 15, 2003

What about using frequent-flyer miles as barter? Aren't they transferable?
posted by alumshubby at 5:19 PM on March 15, 2003

Isn't $12 an hour below the poverty line?
posted by four panels at 5:24 PM on March 15, 2003

We've had them in Madison, WI for awhile, too.
posted by kayjay at 6:29 PM on March 15, 2003

Um, no. That's just over $20K a year. Here's a page showing what the poverty guidelines are (scroll to the bottom to see a chart showing household size and income). Those are the federal guidelines used to determine eligibility for any number of programs, including WIC, CHIP, Head Start, and the school lunch program.
posted by eilatan at 6:30 PM on March 15, 2003

Frequent-flier miles are actually a really good example of an emerging currency, almshubby. There's also a good bit of info out there about the economics of everquest, another emerging economy of sorts.

In some ways, though, I don't really understand what it is people like bread and the ithica hours folks are trying to do. I suppose there's some value in trapping currency locally, but currency only really has value when its put into use. One might think that anything which limits its use (and thus limits its desirability) would have a fairly strong impact on its effectiveness. In short, you have to know that someone out there will take your money (or whatever) if you want to use it.

Another bit of weirdness -- bread is supposed to represent barter, but no actually physical objects are passing from one person to another -- like a person trading tomatoes for milk or whatever. Instead they're just trading a representation... which gets you back to the way that our current monetary system works.

One supposes that there might be some gain in taking control of the money system out of the control of the central federal bank...

Here's another question for the economists out there -- bread claims that "there's no interest on bread so there's no reason to hoard it." However, would bread be subject to regular inflation/deflation? For instance, people who sign up for bread are given a certain number of hours. Let's say that they change that number of hours -- wouldn't that end up affecting the bread economy in serious way?

On their news page, they have an upcoming event.... with prices in dollars.
posted by ph00dz at 7:43 PM on March 15, 2003

In Ithaca (home of the Ithaca Hours) you can also get goods as well as services with alternate can buy things at the local supermarket-sized health food co-op, pay library fines. The vendors at the Farmer's Market and at 2 dozen plus restaurants and delis take Hours and you can buy used books, art supplies, etc. Some local doctors take Hours as well.
posted by Modgoddess at 7:19 AM on March 16, 2003

I actually think this is a very cynical kind of "activism." They're upset that global corporations aren't accountable to people and the environment, so they invent a new currency to ensure that "resources stay within the community." It seems fairly childish. Wouldn't a more constructive place to start be within local government?
posted by mbt at 10:29 PM on March 16, 2003

This goes around and comes around on MeFi (my own thread on barter/time dollars/etc). but it's still a good notion worth accumulating knowledge on. (How many other people use MeFi as a kind of ideas blog this way?) You might also like to check out, a soft launch of a new service for ethical organisations that offers an off-the-peg electronic barter system, plus lots of info on alternative economics.
posted by theplayethic at 3:09 AM on March 17, 2003

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