IPS Closed-Door Discussion on Time-Banking: A Potential Game-Changer for Singapore Society


There is little question about the assertion that Singapore today is a highly successful market economy. However, standard economic measures fail to capture the full range of socially valuable but unpaid work in care-giving, household production and volunteerism — critical elements of the returns generated by the nation’s human and social capital. The dominance of the market economy can also erode altruism as a motivating force for people to help one another. As Michael Sandel notes in his 2012 book What Money Can’t Buy, there are moral limits to the market economy, and in order to decide the domains in which the market economy not prevail, it is critical that society comes up with a way to value those goods that are best not treated as commodities.

The time economy can be used to encompass all goods and services of social value that today’s measures of the market economy fail to adequately capture. It currently co-exists uneasily with and is dominated by the market economy — with many socially valuable activities that contribute to our well-being going unrecorded, and therefore undervalued in the economy. Such socially valuable activities that the market economy finds difficult to value — and therefore compensate — include building strong families and communities, and civic duties such as National Service and advancing social objectives such as caring for those disadvantaged in the market economy.

Time banks and associated time exchanges are mechanisms that would permit non-monetary values for these goods to be measured and recognised. They are also means by which un- or under-utilised capacity in society (i.e., spare time, skills and capabilities) can be harnessed, allowing the assets that currently exist in society to be better matched with need in a model of co-production. For instance, elderly citizens could be mobilised via time-banks and time exchanges to care for others, young or old, rather than be categorised as unproductive and dependent. Young volunteers could have their experience and capabilities developed through unpaid work in the community and recognised in the time bank.

Over time, the records in this time bank could represent a real-time resume or record of the skills and experience of each citizen in providing these societally valuable services. The time bank concept could enhance traditional methods of delivery for public services: clients, beneficiaries, recipients of public services are enlisted as partners in the provision of those services, accessing society’s hitherto untapped capacity to help itself. The successful implementation of time banks and time exchanges could significantly reduce the burden that could increasingly be placed on traditional public service delivery models and complement the country’s successful ageing strategies.

Time banks exist all around the world (see here for a listing of time banks in the United States, New Zealand, South Korea and France, amongst others). Most operate at a local level, embedded and deeply connected with small communities (e.g., the 91 time-banks listed by TimeBanks USA that were active in the last 12 months have an average of 141 members each, and an average of 9,223 hours exchanged). Although, to date, none are operating in Singapore, two local time-banking initiatives are now being developed and are at various stages of roll-out (i.e., kuiddle.com and Hourvillage).


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Friday, 26 May 2017
2.00 pm – 5.00 pm (Registration starts at 1.45 pm)

Seminar Room 2-2, Level 2, Manasseh Meyer Building, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore (Bukit Timah Campus)