What is service exchange?
Service exchange is a form of mutual aid, where people offer and receive services from each other without using money or other intermediaries. Service exchange can take place within a network of friends, neighbors, or acquaintances, or through a formal platform or organization that facilitates the matching of supply and demand. Some examples of service exchange are:
Time banking: a system where people exchange hours of work for each other, using time as a unit of account. For example, one hour of gardening can be exchanged for one hour of tutoring, or one hour of carpentry. Time banking is based on the principle of reciprocity and equality, where everyone’s time is valued equally
Local exchange trading system (LETS): a locally initiated, democratically organized, not-for-profit community enterprise that provides a community information service and records transactions of members exchanging goods and services by using a local currency. For example, one unit of local currency can be earned by providing a service to another member, and then spent on receiving a service from another member. LETS is based on the principle of mutual credit, where members create money by issuing IOUs to each other
Skill sharing: a practice where people share their skills, knowledge, or talents with others, either for free or for a non-monetary reward. For example, one person can teach another person how to play an instrument, or how to cook a dish, or how to fix a bike. Skill sharing is based on the principle of generosity and learning, where people enrich themselves and others by sharing their abilities and passions
Why is service exchange an alternative to consumer society?
Consumer society is a term that describes a social and economic system where people’s identity, status, and happiness are largely determined by what they consume, rather than what they produce or create. Consumer society is driven by the logic of capitalism, where profit is the main goal and growth is the main measure of success. Consumer society is also dependent on the exploitation of natural resources and human labor, which leads to environmental degradation and social inequality
Service exchange is an alternative to consumer society because it challenges the assumptions and values of capitalism and consumerism. Service exchange:
Reduces the need for money and the dependence on the market. By exchanging services directly with others, people can meet their needs and wants without relying on money or buying products from corporations. This also reduces the environmental impact of production and consumption, as less resources and energy are used and wasted
Promotes the development of social capital and community. By exchanging services with others, people can build trust, reciprocity, and solidarity among themselves. This also fosters a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose, as people feel part of a network of mutual support and cooperation
Enhances the recognition and appreciation of human diversity and creativity. By exchanging services with others, people can discover and value the different skills, talents, and passions that each person has. This also encourages the expression and cultivation of one’s own abilities and interests, as well as the learning and sharing of new ones.
How is service exchange a path towards degrowth?
Degrowth is a political and economic theory that advocates for the deliberate shrinking of the economy, in order to reduce the use of natural resources and the emission of greenhouse gases, and to improve the quality of life and well-being of people. Degrowth challenges the idea that economic growth is necessary and desirable, and proposes a radical transformation of society based on ecological sustainability, social justice, and human flourishing.
Service exchange is a path towards degrowth because it contributes to the goals and principles of degrowth. Service exchange:
Decouples human development from economic growth. By exchanging services with others, people can achieve higher levels of satisfaction and happiness, without increasing their income or consumption. This also reduces the pressure and stress of working long hours and earning more money, and allows more time and space for leisure, care, and culture.
Reorients the economy towards the common good and the common wealth. By exchanging services with others, people can create and distribute value among themselves, rather than for the benefit of corporations or the state. This also strengthens the role and power of civil society and the commons, as people organize and manage their own resources and activities, rather than depending on external authorities or institutions.
Respects the limits and cycles of nature and life. By exchanging services with others, people can reduce their ecological footprint and their impact on the environment, as they use less materials and energy, and produce less waste and pollution. This also aligns the economy with the rhythms and needs of nature and life, as people adapt their consumption and production to the availability and quality of resources, and to the seasons and stages of life.
Service exchange is a new trend that is gaining popularity and relevance in the context of the current social and environmental crisis. It is a form of mutual aid that offers an alternative to consumer society and a path towards degrowth. It is based on the principles of reciprocity, mutual credit, generosity, learning, trust, solidarity, diversity, creativity, satisfaction, happiness, common good, common wealth, and respect for nature and life. It is a way of living that is more sustainable, equitable, and meaningful.
If you are interested in learning more about service exchange, you can check out some of the following resources:
TimeBanks USA: a national nonprofit organization that supports and promotes time banking in the US and around the world.
LETSlink UK: a network of local exchange trading systems in the UK and Ireland, providing information, advice, and support.
Shareable: a nonprofit media outlet and action network that empowers people to share for a more resilient, equitable, and joyful world.
[Degrowth.info]: an online platform that provides information and resources on degrowth, and connects activists, researchers, and practitioners.