Over thirty years ago William Spademan, a software engineer living in Ashfield, MA, grew weary of ineffectual political campaigns and lackluster leaders. It struck him that our government is so persistently bad, we might have to simply start an alternative government dedicated to the common good, and start ruling. "Hey, kids, let's start our own country!"
It was a daydream, a whim, a passing fancy. The idea slept soundly for the next 20 years.
Meanwhile, he could never forget that 15,000 children die every day of hunger. Quite a few grown-ups, too. The world is in an awful mess. He felt responsible for working to set it right.
In 2002, the idea came back insistently. William experienced this as a spiritual calling. He spent some time imagining yet again a world where everyone has plenty of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and fulfilling work. A world where land, air, water, the beauty of nature and the wealth we have created are protected and used carefully for our common good. A world where community and cooperation are at the center of our lives, where we care about and take care of each and every one of us, delighting in our diversity. A world where decisions are made by everyone, for everyone's benefit. A world at peace.
It was an impossible task, of course—except in William’s dreams. But he decided, what the heck, he'd give it a shot. As a software engineer for 30 years, he was used to designing impossibly complex abstract machines for social and economic purposes. He was smart enough to know, beyond a doubt, that he couldn’t do it by himself. That's how it nearly always is with engineering. You design something ugly and lifeless, then tinker it up, as an individual or as a team, until it is beautiful and it works. This design of a seed for an ideal society clearly would need a whole lot of tinkering, so it had to be self-adjusting.
In November 2003, William and others planted the seed in Ashfield, Massachusetts, as the "Society to Benefit Everyone" (S2BE) and tested it for a year. At first, they pursued all parts of the design at once: healthcare, car-sharing, tool cooperatives, et cetera. It was way too much, so they decided to focus on only the most basic infrastructure: economics, governance, and dedication to the common good. They would trust in the wisdom of the people to invent the rest later.
About 50 individuals, including 30 business owners, signed up to participate. Everyone made an initial deposit and received a cute S2BE checkbook with checks printed on William’s laser printer. Checks were accepted only by member merchants. Merchants agreed to contribute a small percentage of each transaction as a rebate, to be split between the customer and the community. William acted as the bank and wrote software to manage the transactions. It was a formalized local currency, with voluntary taxation. Members decided how the "taxes" were spent, initially to help those in need in the community.
It worked, sort of. They had, in fact, created an alternative economic system and government dedicated to serving the common good. But it was too confusing and too disconnected from the real world, and there was too much paperwork. All those problems would be solved if only the alternative could be a real bank.
That's when William started studying microeconomics, risk-management, real-estate investment, automated check-processing technology, and bank management. Drafting an elegant business plan with help from experts all over the United States, the team began promoting the plan under the name “Common Good Finance” and prepared to give birth to a Common Good Bank.
As the plan developed, the team kept discovering more potential benefits for everyone. For example, the annual financial benefit to the community was projected to be as much as $100,000 by the end of the first year. This could provide additional funding for public education, social services, the arts, public gardens, emergency services, community development, food pantries, and many other worthwhile purposes.
For five years, the Common Good Finance team diligently promoted the plan, “the revolution with a bank,” trying to get enough people to pledge money so that they could apply for a bank charter. By the summer of 2011, the team had raised half a million dollars along with quite a lot of interest and in some cases fervor. But the plan required over $11 million in commitments to invest and progress was simply too slow. People needed a little extra push.
In a moment of inspiration, William suggested the team revisit the possibility of starting with a community credit system, but with larger financial incentives for participants. The team tossed the idea around for a few months and got more and more excited about it as the pieces kept falling into place.
You’ve heard the saying, “third time’s the charm”? Well, this is it, the culmination of years of research, discussions, surveys, trial runs, and lots of frustration and heartache. This idea is inexpensive and simple.
What the team invented is a revolutionary sustainable money system called rCredits™. Like thermal insulation, rCredits can insulate us from downturns in the economy. The rCredits design combines features from successful alternative credit systems, adding a few technology innovations and procedures to ensure a secure and very profitable experience for everyone.
While several staff members have been developing the system software, others have been signing up businesses, employees, and community leaders in the model town of Greenfield, Massachusetts. rCredits launched its pilot in Greenfield on May 30, 2013. The dream is on its way to becoming a reality!