History

The Private Currency and Swap Shop of Yellow Springs, Ohio

Recovered history from the Depression.

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Philip Scranton's latest Bloomberg column looks back at barter during the Great Depression, a time that saw several experiments like this one:

Yellow Springs Eternal

Yellow Springs, Ohio, issued a substitute currency, called scrip, and a goods-and-services exchange to ease barter deals. Through this mechanism, a farmer with 100 bushels of potatoes who needed barn repairs didn't have to find an unemployed carpenter wanting potatoes, but could sell them to the exchange for scrip notes. The carpenter, paid in scrip, could purchase food and other products at the exchange. The exchange was doing about $1,000 worth of business a week, the New York Times reported in December [1932]. A similar exchange soon opened in Manhattan.

I've been curious about that Yellow Springs money ever since I saw a passing reference to it in the Illuminatus! trilogy. A trip to Google News produced this informative account of the arrangement in the St. Petersburg Times, dated March 6, 1933, and this briefer AP dispatch from the previous year. For a pamphlet describing the details of the system, go here. And to see the effort come to an end, read the August 1933 article here. Apparently, the guy who was running it was tapped to take over the Tennessee Valley Authority, and it folded when he left. I'll let the commenters debate whether that counts as an example of a federal agency squeezing out grassroots mutual aid.

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  1. “Apparently, the guy who was running it was tapped to take over the Tennessee Valley Authority, and it folded when he left. I’ll let the commenters debate whether that counts as an example of a federal agency squeezing out grassroots mutual aid.”

    It certainly does count. I would not be surprised if the real reason he was tapped was to shut down this example of mutual trade. When private individuals can find a way to trade with one another in a bad economy this threatens the existance of Great-Society like programs. The position may have been a bribe to have him shut it down.

    1. New Deal-like programs?

  2. Generally speaking, it’s a mistake to leave anything to the commenters to decide.

    1. “Hey, I have an idea!”

      *foreboding creepy music begins playing in the background*

  3. UNDERGROUND ECONOMY! If the regular economy is tanking then every economy is tanking.

  4. Today, Yellow Springs is the most liberal spot in Ohio, and maybe the country. The people there frighten me. Makes Boulder CO look like a bastion of conservatism.

    1. Can’t be… It would have to compete with Cleveland, and the near west suburbs for that.

      1. I see you have never been to Yellow Springs then. Its the home to Antioch College, though the undergrad portion folded several years back. Google who they like to choose for commencement speakers or their policy on heterosexual dating. They also didn’t have exams. When my friend, who completed their undergrad, got to med school, she was in for quite a shock. Allegedly, its also where Charles Manson wants to visit should he ever get out of prison.

        Its only about 90 minutes from Oxford. Make Gillespie do a road trip!

  5. Interesting story. Now everything is much easier, you just go to the currency converter https://usd.mconvert.net / you learn any rate and exchange money before it was all different

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