In Tough Times, A Move Towards Local Currencies

Americans may hoard cash as recession fears grow. But in Riverwest, an enclave of Milwaukee, residents have another answer to money trouble: they'll print their own. The proposed River Currency would be used like cash at local businesses, keeping the area economy robust whatever the health of the country at large.

It's an attractive idea in tight times. Communities print bills with serial numbers, anti-counterfeiting details and images of local landmarks. Residents benefit through an exchange system: 10 traditional dollars, for instance, nets them $20 worth of local currency. When businesses agree to value the funny money like real greenbacks, they also get a free stack to kick-start spending. It's all perfectly legal (except coins) as long as it's not for profit and the fake dinero doesn't resemble the real thing. Dozens of such systems arose during the Great Depression. In the 1990s, they resurfaced as a way to fight globalization and keep wealth in local hands. Now the idea of homespun cash is back because it keeps people liquid even if they are short on traditional dollars. (The U.S. Treasury declined to comment on the rising interest in local currency systems.) The biggest downside? Taxes. Even in the parallel world of earning and spending, Uncle Sam gets his cut.