Maharishi’s town puts its own mark on money

The Des Moines Register, via the Seattle Times, Sep. 15, 2002
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/
By Chad Graham

FAIRFIELD, Iowa — A fistful of Raam Mudra buys the world at the Maharishi University of Management’s student bookstore.

The brightly colored money developed by the first new town in Iowa in 19 years also will get you sweat shirts, stadium cushions with backs, rejuvenation massage oil, slumber-time tea or gourmet potato chips.

Off campus, the restaurant in the basement of Vedic City’s luxury spa offers a One Raam Special — all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet, drink and dessert. Residents who live in apartments at the nearby Rakmapura Park Hotel can pay rent in Raam.

“They can even pay for their classes with it if they want,” said bookstore manager Andy Cozzens. “At this point, I’d say only about 5 percent of customers are using it.”

Soon after Transcendental Meditation movement, officials began discussing the need for a new form of money that would symbolize their efforts toward world peace and the eradication of poverty.

So Vedic City, a small town 60 miles south of Iowa City, introduced its own currency about seven months ago. The cheery-looking money comes in three denominations: the green one, worth $10; the blue five, worth $50; and the yellow 10, worth $100.

“This isn’t uncommon,” said Vedic City mayor Bob Wynne, citing Disney Dollars that count as money at Walt Disney World, or the “Ithaca Hours” used in the small New York town to keep locals spending locally.

“Cities and chambers of commerce around the U.S. and the world have their own local currency. It is a tourist attraction, and it stimulates economic growth.”

And, by the way, it makes a great souvenir.

Nonetheless, most merchants in Fairfield — the largest community in Jefferson County, where Vedic City is located — think the Raam is as financially solid as Monopoly money. The town’s banks won’t honor it.

Not for utility bills

In March, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors voted to accept only U.S. currency, just in case Vedic City residents wanted to pay their utility bills or taxes in Raam.

“We just didn’t know enough about it to be accepting it,” said Tim Dille, Jefferson County attorney. “This was completely new, as are many things around here.”

Yes, the Raam is legal. States cannot issue their own legal tender and only the U.S. Mint can distribute coinage for circulation. In other words, paper money is fine. Coins used for something other than commemorative mementos can spark a visit from the feds.

“If a merchant wants to accept the Raam, it’s within their right to do so,” said Claudia Dickens, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. “It’s not illegal for merchants as long as it’s not classified as being lawful money or legal tender of this country.”

Before distributing the currency, Vedic City officials consulted lawyers, the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Federal Reserve. A Secret Service agent even visited Vedic City to ensure the money wasn’t being used illegally.

Maharishi Global Financing, the treasury arm of the Netherlands-based Global Country of World Peace (the organization founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which sponsors the Iowa college), issues the money. The currency is printed by Joh. Enschedé, a Dutch company that has been printing money since 1814. Vedic City distributes it after receiving it via FedEx.

At participating businesses, a customer who pays in Raam receives change in U.S. dollars. Merchants take the Raam they’ve collected to Vedic City to exchange for U.S. dollars. Wynne estimates that about $40,000 worth of Raam is in circulation.

“The Raam is always backed 100 percent,” Wynne said. “If you give us $10 for one Raam, you always get $10 (in U.S. currency) back.”

In support of world peace

Cindy Whitney, manager of Health&Wholeness in Fairfield, has always accepted Raam and plans to continue. At least one customer a week uses Raam.

“It’s because of all that Raam stands for,” she said. “It helps support the Global Country of World Peace. We handle it just like regular currency. I think it’ll grow in popularity once it’s easier for people to use.”

Wynne one day predicts a town where the Raam is used everywhere, even inside ATMs and on credit cards. Businesses would post “Raam Accepted Here” signs on their doors.

“We’re working on trying to think through the convenience factor for everyone,” he said. “If you accept it, it shouldn’t be a burden for the store.”

Still, Raam could be one tough sell.

“It would be totally impractical for me as a businessperson,” said Kim Pitts, owner of Grace Books and More, a Christian bookstore in Fairfield. “We don’t know how it is backed. I mean, I guess that means I could print up Kim money if I wanted to.”

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