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September 1, 2010

Money Soup! Part 1 of 3 of Janelle's legal guide to barter and gift economies

Read it on How to Barter Give and Get Stuff: Attorney Janelle Orsi Explains the Legal Nuts and Bolts of a Sharing Economy 


February 3, 2010

Trend Toward Car-Sharing Expected to Continue

Research firm Frost & Sullivan just issued a new report that says car-sharing is on the rise and expected to grow exponentially over the next five years. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of drivers using car-sharing networks increased 117% in North America. That number is expected to triple in the next five years, to a total of about 4.4 million individual users.

My favorite number in all these statistics: every shared vehicle replaces 15 individually owned vehicles. Another cool number: An average ZipCar user can save up to $435 per month by driving shared vehicles.

The numbers don't lie! Car-sharing is here to stay.
September 27, 2009

Sharing the Task of Nurturing Our Local Economies

Yesterday, I moderated a panel discussion and had many great conversations at the Festival for Grassroots Economies, where brilliant ideas seemed to be generated, on average, every 2 seconds. My mind is still spinning from it all, but I thought I'd stop and try to capture at least a tidbit.

A memorable moment was when attorney Jenny Kassan boldly suggested that we need a local stock exchange to serve as a source of finance for small local businesses and to keep our investments in the community (as opposed to putting our savings into mutual funds and financing who-knows-what kind of companies). It's really a genius idea - it could create a simple way for each of us to share in owning and nurturing the businesses that serve us. We would choose to finance the businesses we feel could successfully enhance the character of our neighborhoods, provide a needed local service or product, create local jobs, and be accountable to the community. Most folks trading on the New York Stock Exchange don't take any of this into consideration.

Jenny Kassan cited Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution. Shuman recently blogged about the concept of local stock exchanges. A major reason we don't have local stock exchanges now, Shuman points out, is that securities laws have made it prohibitively expensive for small businesses to make a public offering. Shuman writes:

"The regulations prohibit the average American from investing in any small business, unless the firm is willing to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on lawyers to prepare private placement memorandum or public offering--thick documents with microscopic, ALL CAPS PRINT that no human being has ever been observed actually reading."

But Shuman suggests some simple changes to the securities laws, that could make it a lot easier for small businesses to seek investors. For example, he suggests that we could exempt from securities regulation any small businesses that issues $250,000 or less in total stock, offers the stock only to people living in the state, and allow each investor to purchase no more than $100 worth of stock.

In the same way that many of us have made micro-loans through organizations such as Kiva, we could make investments of a comparable size in businesses locally. We'll see the returns in many ways - not only in the growth of our investment money, but in the growth of flourishing businesses all around us.

May 25, 2009

Coming Together at the Seams (or "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine or More People from Having to Buy Sewing Machines")

sewing.jpgA friend of mine who is a landscaper recently told me about his plans to spend an afternoon at a local sewing center, patching up his denim work pants and mending various articles of clothing. His line of work subjects his clothes to a lot of wear and tear, but without his own sewing machine, he has a hard time giving them the durable repairs they need. He was on his way to Waterside Workshops, a nonprofit in Berkeley, CA, that has a Sewing Program open to the public. During their drop-in hours, anyone can come and use an array of sewing machines or other equipment, get sewing advice, and chat with others about sewing for $5 per hour.

It would be wonderful for every community to have a public sewing workshop. It would encourage people to repair damaged clothing rather than throw it away. It would also help us all develop our skills, give us a space to socialize with others, and save many resources -- both personally and for the planet.

Along the same lines, it would also be great if every community had:
  • A public woodworking shop
  • A welding center where anyone can go to repair broken metal items
  • A bike repair station where we can use specialized tools to repair our own bikes, like the Missing Link in Berkeley, where I once replaced my brakes
  • A place where we can go learn about and change our own car oil, transmission fluid, and so on
  • A tool lending library
  • Large commercial-scale kitchens that people could use for the day if they are helping to cater a one-time event or do a fundraising bake sale. Shared kitchens, such as Kitchen Chicago are also great for small-scale food enterprises.
There are probably plenty of other great ideas along these same lines. If you have any ideas or would like to tell us about a cool community program of this sort, please email us at sharing (at) janelleorsi (dot) com. Thanks!
May 21, 2009

Sophisticated Stuff Sharing

Sharing can be a simple as lending a book to a friend, but opportunities are arising on the Internet to share more things, more often, and with more people, including those you don't know. There are at least two new websites which provide an interface for more sophisticated sharing of "stuff."

First, there's SwapTree, where you can obtain free books, DVDs, music, and video games from others by offering things of your own to swap. And while the word "swap" may conjure up an image of a two-way exchange, a more sophisticated "swap" might look more like this: Bradley receives a book from Max, who receives a CD from Reggie, who receives a DVD from Susan, who receives a video game from Bradley, and so on. With SwapTree, you enter information about items you have to offer, and click on items you'd like to receive, and you are then presented with a list of all the items you could potentially receive in exchange. When a swap is confirmed, SwapTree sends you a mailing label with the recipient's address and pre-calculated postage (which can be quite cheap using the media mail rate). You don't even have to go to the Post Office. In the meantime, you wait for your new goodies to arrive.

Another potentially useful website, in beta stages of development, is Lend Around. This is a system to allow you to lend items to friends, keep track of where they are, and easily find out what your friends have that you can borrow. Right now, LendAround members can lend and borrow DVDs, but it sounds like there's plan for expanding the categories of borrowed items.

What I'd love to see is a website where neighbors or friends can create a network and post all types of household items they own and are willing loan to others. This could include tools, appliances, electronics, sporting equipment, and so on. It could even include immobile items, such as a hot tub. The owner of the hot tub could indicate when they are willing to let others use the tub, and people could schedule use of it with the website. If you know of such a site or are planning on starting one of your own, I'd love to hear about it: you can email me at sharing (at) janelleorsi (dot) com.
May 15, 2009

Sharing Nourishes Local Living Economies

It's no fun to focus on bad news, so I won't for more than just a second. One piece of news literally drove home for me the importance of building local economies. I used to live near and work in Wilmington, OH, where the shipping company DHL has recently proceeded with the layoff of over 7,000 employees. The town itself barely has 12,000 people, which makes the number 7,000 sound unfathomable. It's scary that small towns all over the U.S. are so dependent on an economic system that's way bigger than us, and that's seemingly out of our control. We've all heard the encouragement to "buy local," "eat local," become "locavores," and so on. But creating vital local economies is not just a nice-sounding idea, it's crucial to preventing devastation of our communities, and current events are making action feel increasingly urgent.

But now for some positive thoughts -- here are just a few of the ways that sharing can help strengthen our local economies:

  • Carsharing and ridesharing encourage people to reduce driving and shop locally.
  • Sharing facilitates a barter economy, especially when shared services and goods become a type of currency, exchangeable for other shared services and goods.
  • Sharing ownership and purchase of goods reduces costs and makes it possible to purchase quality goods from local producers and artisans.
  • Creation of consumer-owned or employee-owned businesses provides local economic opportunity.
  • Sharing can help small business owners -- allowing entrepreneurs to share office or retail space, equipment, trucks, and so on.
  • Sharing the purchase of services makes it more affordable to hire house cleaners, gardeners, home care workers, child care workers, and so on, thereby providing work to people locally.
  • Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs create a direct link between consumers and local farmers, and provide security for the farms that grow our food.

For more resources and information about creating sustainable local economies, visit the website for BALLE -- the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Their vision is to create "living economies" which "ensure that economic power resides locally to the greatest extent possible, sustaining vibrant, livable communities and healthy ecosystems in the process." There, I'm ending on a positive note.

April 23, 2009

Time Banking (in a Time of Banking Meltdowns)

Here's a cool sharing concept: Time Banks. The idea is that you give an hour of your time performing a service for someone -- say, mending some clothing -- and you accumulate an hour in your time bank, which you can then redeem for an hour of bike repair by someone else, for example. This appears to be a growing phenomenon, with Time Bank groups sprouting up here and there. It's not a new idea, because it's closely related to the idea of local currency systems, such as the Ithaca Hours currency.

I love the idea of Time Banks, first, because it provides an opportunity for people to experiment with new skills or activities -- i.e., do something other than our day job. If I were to join a time bank, I'd probably offer to pull weeds or walk someone's big adorable dog -- or some other healthy break from my usual days spent in front of the computer.

In addition, as the website states, time banking "unleashes untapped community capacity." It is so true that we live in communities of people rich with skills, abilities, and knowledge. Yet, many of us have a job where we put to use only one or a few of our skills. Time banking could help us tap into that great potential, and encourage us all to grow and develop.

Then there are those people without jobs, which, unfortunately, was a large number last time I checked. Time banking provides new opportunities for the unemployed, people with disabilities, or stay-at-home parents, for example, to get some of their needs met, while feeling like they are making a useful contribution -- even without having a job.

The Time Bank website doesn't say much about taxes, but that's an important thing to keep in mind. As far as I can tell, the same tax rules apply to time banking as they do to bartering. Even in exchanges where no money changes hands, you may still have to pay taxes on the value of what you receive. In general, casual, one-time, and noncommercial exchanges are not taxed. But if one or both of the exchangers are in the business of providing the services exchanged, you'll probably owe tax on the fair market value of the service you receive. In other words, if I accumulated 10 hours in my time bank by performing legal services, and I redeemed them for 10 hours of work by a professional accountant, I should pay taxes on the value of the accounting I received. On the other hand, if I accumulate hours by walking dogs and pulling weeds, and receive a little help with bike repair and tree pruning, taxes wouldn't apply. But it can get complicated, so if you plan to do a lot of Time Banking, make sure you talk to a tax expert to find out what is taxed and what isn't.
April 16, 2009

Some Benefits of Sharing

The benefits of sharing are many, and I'm always discovering new ones. Sharing can benefit us personally and financially, and it can make the world a much better place. Here is a listing of some of the benefits:

Social and Personal Benefits.
These are some of the ways that your life, and society as a whole, will be better because of sharing. For example, sharing can help everyone:
  • get to know our neighbors and make neighborhoods safer
  • make friends
  • find resources and referrals more easily
  • find new ways to relate to friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors
  • lighten our load of responsibilities
  • create more free time
  • meet the needs of seniors and people with disabilities
  • increase resources and opportunities for low-income households
  • support small businesses and buy locally
  • access better nutrition, and
  • access higher-quality goods.
Environmental Benefits. Sharing is kind to the planet, because it:
  • uses space, energy, and resources more efficiently
  • reduces consumption
  • reduces waste
  • reduces energy use
  • helps us invest in green products, alternative energy, and durable goods
  • shrinks your carbon footprint
  • sets a green example for others, and
  • helps take cars off the road.
Financial Benefits. The financial benefits of sharing really add up. Through sharing, you can:
  • spread the cost of owning high-quality and durable goods
  • reduce the cost of caring for a child or other family member
  • reduce the cost of food, fuel, and supplies
  • accomplish home repairs without paying for labor
  • spread the risk of loss, damage, and depreciation
  • share homeownership and build equity
  • save money through collective buying, and
  • get access to luxury items you couldn't afford alone.
April 13, 2009

Sharing in Every Realm of Life

There are ways to incorporate sharing into almost every realm of life. Here's a sampling of ways to share:

  • Find a friend or a neighbor who would like to share a car and make a schedule to take turns.
  • Join an established car-sharing program, such as City CarShare or ZipCar.
  • Buy a home with a friend.
  • Consider living in cohousing.
  • Retrofit a large house to accommodate two households.
  • Live cooperatively in a group house.
  • Share a vacation home.

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