This page is meant as a sort of instruction manual for participants in hOURS.  In order to use hOURS you first have to sign-up.  If you need more information upon which to decide, click here.

 

Day-to-day mechanics

1.      Your member number and password

Everyone who signs up for hOURS is issued a unique member number and a password.  Use these to sign-in to the members’ area of the website.  There you can handle day to day administrative matters.

2.   Contacting others

One feature available in the members’ area of the website is the search.  Use this to find other participants with whom to have hOURS transactions.  Their contact information will appear in the search results.

While one can do a textless search that returns all members, searches generally scan what people have listed among their wants and offers.  It’s important to post listings for yourself.  (Do this in the members’ area of the site.)  Otherwise you won’t show up in the searches other people do, and you are unlikely to ever be contacted.  If you’re inclined to think that’s just as well, that you’d rather take the initiative, please reconsider.  With multiple people doing it, it leads to what game theorists would call a problem of collective rationality.  Being not readily found by others makes it hard for you to find others yourself.

3.    List-serves

Philadelphia area hOURS members have a yahoogroup simply called hours and Boston folks have one called BostonhOURS.  Only hOURS participants are allowed to join.  The purpose is to notify everyone quickly about transient needs and offerings.  Postings about any hOURS related matter are acceptable, though non-hOURS stuff is frowned upon (at least on the Philadelphia one).  If you wish to join one of these, simply click the link and follow the directions there.  When you get added to the list-serve, yahoogroups (which provides the service) will send you an automated e-mail to let you know.

4.    All parties need to acknowledge exchanges.

This way it’s clear that there’s no discrepancy as to the who, what, when, and how much.  Any party, it doesn’t matter which, starts by signing in to the website and filling out the form to report the transaction.  When the other party (or parties) signs in the transaction will show up as awaiting their confirmation, which they can do by checking the box provided.  Please attend to transaction reporting promptly, lest anyone worry there’s a difficulty.

5.   Trading goods, rent, on-call services and the like

a.       Goods can be reconceived as services.  A relatively clear example would be homegrown produce.  If you spend 20 hours gardening, and give away a tenth of the yield, the appropriate price would be 2 Hours.  Don’t worry about precision.  Your best estimate will be fine.  Nothing’s ever perfect in that sense anyway.  The most important thing is that the parties are all in agreement.

b.       Goods can be considered separately, as a non-hOURS transaction.  Take a service like cooking, with store-bought ingredients.  Hours are earned for the cooking (and perhaps the shopping and delivery).  The ingredients (if not supplied beforehand by the recipient of the cooking services) would be considered an additional provision.  They can be paid for in dollars, in barter, they can be considered “a favor”, they can just come from the goodness of the chef’s heart, whatever.  They don’t necessarily have to be figured into the Hours per se.  The only thing that matters is agreement/consent.

c.       If option (a) is problematic, prices in Hours for goods may be negotiated.  Hours, obviously represent an hour of time, so people should have that in mind when arriving at a figure.  Buyers should think about how much of their time they’d be willing to spend in order to have the item.  And sellers should consider how much service, in terms of time, that they would want in exchange for the item.

d.       Rental of something seems more straightforward, as far as pricing is concerned, than trade in goods does.  After all, there’s a duration involved, and naturally it would seem, the longer that is, the higher the price.  But the only service here is the granting of permission for use.  It is not the case that there is continuous effort for the duration of the rental.  The price for renting a bike for 2 hours need not be 2 Hours.  This is up for negotiation in the same way the price for goods is.  Similar things can be said for a service like housesitting.

 

General principles

1.      Give hOURS the benefit of presumption.

hOURS is better than the main economy in the sense of being saner and having a better social impact.  In terms of scale and variety of opportunity of course, it still falls way short in comparison.  So people obviously still need to use the dollar economy.  But let that be your rationale – that you need to, even though it will constitute the lion’s share of your economic life.  The point is, don’t let force of habit or force of mindset channel you into using the dominant system.  Use hOURS whenever possible.

2.      The actual Hours are created by the participants.

The units of currency, Hours, do not exist in a paper form, nor are they doled out by any sort of central issuing authority.  They’re created simply by two or more participants getting together and performing services.  This is a democratic form of money.  You can think of the system as a sort of accountant/observer.  For each Hour credited to someone, another is debited.  The total amount of Hours (adding up everyone’s balance) is always zero.  So if you think about it, someone, in fact usually about half the participants, will be in the red.  There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s how it works.  If people weren’t willing to have negative balances we wouldn’t have hOURS.  So please don’t have any special aversion to that.  Don’t bring “dollar-think” into the system.  Dollar-debt and Hours-debt are not very comparable.  A negative hOURS balance isn’t even a debt at all.  It just means you haven’t yet accepted back Hours that you issued.  You need not earn Hours first in order to spend them.  Leaving the system in the red would be very uncool, but maintaining a negative balance, even for a long time, is fine.  No interest is charged.

Each Hour, the unit of currency, represents an hour of time.  The price of any service is the time spent performing the service.

3.   Reckon time spent from the perspective of the provider(s).

This is mentioned for the case of transactions with more than two people, where it’s not immediately obvious.  But it is obvious if you think about it for a minute.  Suppose someone does 6 hours of plumbing work for two hOURS participants who live together.  The total transaction amount is 6.  The provider gets credited 6 and each recipient debited 3.  It’s not that each recipient gets debited 6 and the provider credited 12.  Imagine then the provider discovered a third participant living there, could they insist on being paid 18?  No, why should that matter?  It makes more sense to split it three ways, each being debited 2, much as you probably would, had you hired a plumber with dollars.  Similarly if two people are performing a service together, they should both be paid in full.  The recipient is getting more in such a situation.  e.g. the plumbing is really difficult – it takes two people an hour to do.  They each get credited a full Hour, and the recipient(s) debited two.

4.   Count commuting time.

If someone has to travel to come provide you a service, that’s part of their effort.  That might normally be disregarded in the mainstream economy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.  The economy sweeps a lot of stuff under the rug.  That’s the main reason we have environmental destruction; the costs of it don’t show up on anyone’s balance sheet.  Let’s strive for an economy that brings things into the light of day.  Ivan Illich came up with the concept of shadow work, which is uncompensated labor at the service of the market economy.  Examples would be commuting and shopping.  They do nothing to promote subsistence and independence.  But they are demanded by the market system.  Their cost is borne silently by those who perform them.  hOURS has a “small is beautiful” streak.  It’s good to buy local in order to avoid various transportation costs.  When you can choose between providers, have a tendency to go with whomever’s closer.  Bringing transporatation costs into the light of day can help us come up with other ways to minimize them, say by combining trips for example.  An hOURS transaction with a long commute could be scheduled for when the provider would be making the trip anyway, for other reasons.  Then the cost can be split.  For simple services, (that most anyone can do) like plant sitting for example, you may wish to contact people who live nearby, even if they don’t specifically offer it, rather than someone who lives further away and does offer it.

5.   “Returns”/Complaints

So far there has been a strong spirit of generosity in hOURS.  Between that and open communication, most everything should be able to be resolved between the parties involved.  In troublesome cases, appeal to Fred for help/ideas/mediation.

6.   Consent is the primary value.

As long as all parties to a transaction are happy with the outcome, everything is fine.  Other concerns are secondary.  Were someone to get lost for 2 hours on their way to provide a service for someone else, it’s fine if they don’t want to include that in the transaction amount.  No one should say “Yeah, but we’re supposed to count commuting time.”  People should do what they want.  Talk it out.

7.   Share your knowledge and skills.

If in the process of performing a service you can teach the recipient to do it themselves so they need not call on you again, that would be an admirable thing.  hOURS isn’t a perfect economic system, just a big improvement, and a way out.  One weakness could be a tendency to be “territorial”.  But we can decide not to be like that.

8.   No 'faceless' organizational members

hOURS exists in order to forge a better economy.  While it's hardly our most important goal, we can take a bite out of the alienation caused by faceless corporations.  Groups and businesses are more than welcome to have an account, but they need to designate someone to be "in charge" of it and serve as a contact person.  Another reason for this is that hOURS will not be caught in the middle of any group that splits up and fights over the Hours.  These rules even apply to joint accounts for married couples. Note that you could have separate accounts without inhibiting any kind of sharing you may wish to do.  Hours may be given as a gift.  So, someone could work off their husband’s debt, for example, by earning Hours and gifting them over to him.

9.  Above all, ask questions.

How, who, what, why, when, where… nothing’s too silly.  Please don’t refrain from using hOURS because you weren’t sure of such and such.  215-551-1490, H_OURS@yahoo.com.




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