The roots of Time Banking extend back to the creation of Time Credits in 1980 when Dr. Edgar S. Cahn, co-founder of the National Legal Services Program, author of “Our Brother’s Keeper,” and founder of the Antioch School of Law, suffered a massive heart attack. He was 46 years old. Recuperating in the hospital and “feeling useless,” he dreamed up Time Credits as a new currency to provide a solution to massive cuts in government spending on social welfare. If there was not going to be enough of the old money to fix all the problems facing our country and our society, Edgar reasoned, why not make a new kind of money to pay people for what needs to be done? Time Credits value everyone’s contributions equally. One hour equals one service credit. Seven years later (in 1987) at the London School of Economics, Edgar developed his theoretical explanation for why the currency should work. He came back to the U.S. and started putting service credits (not yet called Time Credits) into operation.
In the years since, the currency has traveled a journey of twist and turns. After initial enthusiasm by foundations, funding for Time Credit Exchanges dried up in the mid-1990s, and a period of struggle to keep afloat followed. This struggle turned into a time to dig in and to determine what made Time Credits and Time Banking unique tools for social change. In 1997, a Time Credit convention helped new and surviving groups identify “what works.” Time Credits become the backbone of a successful crossage peer tutoring program in Chicago, a Maine Time Bank Network, and a Time Credit Youth Court in Washington D.C. TimeBanks USA become the hub of a small network of independent Time Bank Exchanges around the country.
The deepened understanding that evolved in the following years led to new ways of using and speaking about Time Credits and Time Banking as a tool for social change. Perhaps the most important shift involved the development of the theory of Co-Production outlined in Edgar’s book, No More Throw Away People (published in 2000 and re-issued in 2004), which emerged as the overarching framework for Time Credits.