TimeBanks have recently hit the news. Their mission statement says:

For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you. It’s that simple.

Sounds great. I think it is great. But I doubt the IRS thinks the same way. If I cut my massage therapist’s lawn and she massages my injured hamstring in return, then we have conducted a commercial transaction without using money. Since we didn’t use money, the IRS can’t collect any tax. Timebank takes the idea further, using the web to track transactions. That means that the time I spent on my massage therapist’s lawn could be traded for an ice cream sundae at the local deli.

Timebank is a leftist organization. I don’t think they realize how libertarian the concept is. So, let’s take a look back at Eric Frank Russell’s story. A spaceship from Earth has landed on an obscure planet colonized by an earlier wave of people. The crew try to interact with the population and get ignored, brushed off or told to “MYOB”. Eventually, some the crew gets introduced to the local economy. Here’s the scene:

Desperately, Harrison asked, ‘For heaven’s sake, what’s an ob?’

‘He doesn’t know,’ commented Jeff Baines, looking prayerfully at the ceiling. ‘He doesn’t even know that!’ For a short while he contemplated the ignoramus with condescending pity before he said, ‘You hungry by any chance?’

‘Going on that way.’

‘All right. I could tell you what an ob is. But I’ll do something better—I’ll show you.’ Heaving himself off the stool, he waddled to the door at back. ‘God alone knows why I should bother to educate a uniform. It’s just that I’m bored. C’mon, follow me.’

Obediently, Harrison, went behind the counter, paused to give his bicycle a reassuring nod, trailed the other through a passage and into a yard.

Jeff Baines pointed to a stack of cases. ‘Canned goods.’ He indicated an adjacent store. ‘Bust them open and pile the stuff in there. Stack the empties outside. Please yourself whether you do it or not. That’s freedom, isn’t it?’ He lumbered back into the shop.

Left to himself, Harrison scratched his large ears and thought it over. Somewhere, he felt, there was an obscure sort of confidence trick. A candidate named Harrison was being tempted to qualify for his sucker certificate. But if the play was beneficial to its organizer it might be worth learning because it could then be passed on to other victims. One must speculate in order to accumulate.

So he dealt with the cases as required. It cost him twenty minutes of hard, slogging work after which he returned to the shop.

‘Now,’ explained Baines, ‘you’ve done something for me. That means you’ve planted an ob on me. I don’t thank you for what you have done. There’s no need to. All I have to do is get rid of the ob.’

‘Ob?’

‘Obligation. Why use a long word when a short one is plenty good enough? An obligation is an ob. I shift it this way: Seth Warburton, next door but one, has got half a dozen of my obs saddled on him. So I get rid of mine to you and relieve him of one of his to me by sending you around for a meal.’ He scribbled briefly on a slip of paper. ‘Give him this.’

Harrison stared at it. In casual scrawl it read, ‘Feed this bum.’

The “obs” or “obligations” in Russell’s story correspond perfectly with Time Dollars.

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