We live in a time of crisis, of danger and of opportunity. Our survival depends on seeing our interconnections, to each other and to the Earth. We must realize that we really are our sisters' and brothers' keepers, that whatever happens to any one of us really does happen to us all.
It's not enough any more just to feel compassion for the suffering. We must act to relieve the pain of our fellow humans, creatures, and the planet. We must act now, for our condition is grave, and time is short. And we must act together. None of us can bring about the necessary changes alone. But when we join hands in a Circle of Support, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.
Let's try a different approach. What if we got a Circle together of people who agree to help each other, without charge, whenever needed? If your plumbing springs a leak, you call the Circle's plumber; if you are an electrician, and somebody in the Circle has a short, you fix it. This sort of mutual support group was very common in the past; the Amish still get together to help each other with big jobs, like barn-raisings, today. It is an American tradition that needs to be revived.
What happens when we start helping each other out this way? First, everybody in the Circle saves money, and gets to have help that they might not be able to afford otherwise. Even more important, we start breaking down the barriers of fear and distrust that so often separate us from each other. We begin to build a real economic community.
What are the risks? The big one is that somebody in the Circle might be lazy, or dishonest, and not do their fair share of the work. They might take, but not give. This imbalance would become a burden for everyone else, and the Circle could soon fall apart.
Fortunately, this is easy to avoid. All we need to do is keep track of each person's contributions to others in the Circle, and only allow them to take from the group as much as they have already given to it. So a new member would have to start by helping others before they could get help for themselves. Nobody can ever take more than they give.
What if you need help that nobody in your Circle can provide? If a member of another Circle can provide it, and both Circles are connected to the Circle Network (C-NET), you can get what you need just as though you were both members of the same Circle. You aren't limited to sharing only within your own Circle; you are linked with the world.
Of course, if you can't find any member of any Circle who can help you, you can always use the "regular" cash economy instead. And, if you need the cash to do that with, you can often get it from another Circle member; cash is just another way to help each other, and can be shared like any other goods or services. While you don't have to do everything through your Circle, you will find it easier and much more rewarding to do whatever you can through it.
You may think that a Circle sounds like a barter system, but it really isn't one. The idea is not to accumulate more and more credits, but to live in balance with the others in your community. Circles are meant to encourage community self-sufficiency and mutual support, rather than greed. So a Circle can credit its members not only for what they give each other, but also for what they give to the community as a whole. Members get concrete recognition, in the form of credits they can use for whatever they need, for their public service.
Similarly, a Circle can make grants of credits to its members to help them cope with illness and catastrophes. Since adding credits to an account without deducting them from another account is something like printing more money in the cash economy, it must be approved by all the Circle's members. The membership may choose to set policies for such transactions, then delegate the case-by-case decisions to one member or to a small committee.
Although the members of a Circle are free to give, lend, and borrow their account credits, as a way of helping each other, they agree not to charge any form of interest for such aid. In the "cash" economy, charging interest has proved itself to be a major disaster for almost everybody; it makes the people who have more money richer, and those who have less poorer. In the end, it puts all the money into a very few hands, reducing the rest of us to near-slavery. We cannot allow this sickness to infect our support Circles.
Since Circles are not a barter system, the support that members give each other is not subject to taxation, either income tax or sales tax. Circle account credits are not money; they are simply a way of making sure that giving and taking stays in reasonable balance. Your credits cannot be seized by any government agency or cash creditor. Only you can cause a transfer of your credits to someone else.
To protect Circle members' privacy, account records do not identify the individual who owns the account. All Circle accounts are anonymous; the account password is known only to the owning member. To protect against loss of account information (as in a fire or earthquake), the credit balances are routinely stored in several different locations.
What if you need something large, like a house, where you don't have the credits to cover it all at once? You arrange with the member giving you the help to transfer the credits on future dates, and record this agreement with your Circle. Then the Circle automatically makes the transfers on the dates you have specified. If you don't have the credits that day, the Circle makes the transfer as soon as you do. There are never "late charges", because they, like interest, penalize those who can least afford it. However, the Circle keeps records of your performance on "future transfers", and the helping member (with your approval) may want to check those records before agreeing to the arrangement.
The bulletin board can also be on computer, accessible on-line to the Circle's members and to C-NET. This allows C-NET to integrate the resources and requirements of a great many Circles, so that members can find the support they need world-wide. C-NET also provides public forums where people can discuss problems and share solutions.
This raises the question of how the first Circle members get credits; obviously, if nobody has credits, they can't get them from each other. Where do the first credits come from? One possibility is that you could help the Circle itself, by donating money or labor; then the Circle would issue you credits. This too depends on the individual circumstances of each Circle.
Some early barter systems restricted their membership to professionals and owners of businesses, as though nobody else had anything of value to contribute. This is not what Circles are about. The idea behind Circles is that everyone can contribute something of value to our community. When anyone is "thrown away", all of us become poorer. But when we honor the natural human dignity we all have, and help each other to find our unique skills and talents, we gain far more than we ever imagined.
Then, when a Circle member receives from someone in another Circle, and wants to transfer credits to them, the receiver's Circle deducts the credit from the account of the receiving member and adds it to C-NET's local account. Next, C-NET deducts the same credit from the receiving Circle's account, and adds it to the giving Circle's account. Last, the giving Circle deducts the credit from C-NET's local account and adds it to the giver's account.
What if the Circle's members are giving other Circles more than they are taking? If C-NET's local account on a Circle reaches zero, that means that the Circle has given C-NET as much credit as it has agreed to give; other Circles have no more credit to give the Circle's members via C-NET. Then the Circle's members can still receive, but not give, unless the Circle grants more credit to C-NET.
If instead the Circle is taking from other Circles more than it is giving, the Circle's account on C-NET will reach zero. This means C-NET has given the Circle as much credit as it has agreed to give; the Circle has no more credit to give to other Circles via C-NET. In that case, the Circle's members can give, but not receive, unless C-NET grants more credit to the Circle.
In either case, the Circle and C-NET can agree to increase their credit balances in each other's accounts to permit continued flow. This might be necessary if a few large transactions temporarily imbalanced the Circle's "balance of payments" with the rest of the world via C-NET.
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