Brixton launches its own local currency

12:01 am - September 17th 2009

by Chris Barnyard    

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London’s Brixton has become the first urban town to launch its own local currency. The B£ will be unveiled at Brixton Town Hall tonight, the fourth complementary currency to emerge in the UK since the launch of the Totnes pound in 2007.

The Brixton Pound (B£) will support local shops, encourage local trade and production and keep money working for Brixton for longer.

It follows hot on the heels of the Stroud ‘teasle’ launched on 12th September 2009, and rumours that Canterbury may also issue its own currency.

Because the B£ can’t leave the area, nor be ‘banked’ to earn interest, customers using it know they will be putting money in to circulation, supporting local shops and jobs.

The aim of the scheme is to maintain the diversity of the Brixton high street and preventing it becoming just another ‘clone town’ in the face of the credit crunch and fierce competition from chain stores.

Josh Ryan-Collins, expert in local currencies at nef (the new economics foundation) and one of the team who has helped to develop the B£, says:

The Brixton Pound is a community currency that will enable local people to vote with their wallets for a strong and diverse Brixton economy. If you spend with a large chain retailer, over 80 per cent of your money leaves the area almost immediately. With the B£ we know that our money will stay working for Brixton. This puts Brixton at the heart of a powerful local renaissance that is fast gathering pace around the world.

So far:

• 60 Brixton businesses and 700 local people had signed up to the currency
• Over £10,000 pounds had been pledged to be converted in to B£s
• Morleys of Brixton, a family owned high street department store, will issue B£s and accept B£s at 20 of its tills

Each of the new Brixton notes will commemorate a local hero, voted on by the people of Brixton and celebrating the diversity of the South London suburb:

• B£1 – Olive Morris, a radical political activist and community organiser who established the Brixton Black Women’s Group, and played a pivotal role in the squatters’ rights campaigns of the 1970s; Olive was born in Jamaica in 1952 and moved with her family to Britain aged 9. She was a Brixton resident from 1961-1975 and died at the age of 27 from cancer

• B£5 – James Lovelock, the independent scientist and environmentalist who, whilst working for NASA, first developed the ‘Gaia’ theory, that the earth is in a delicate but dynamic steady-state that human activity is disturbing, in particular through global warming. James was a Brixton resident from 1925-1933

• B£10 – C L R James, the Trinidadian journalist, historian, socialist thinker and anti-colonialist who chose to spend his final years on the ‘front line’ of Brixton

• B£20 – Vincent Van Gogh, who moved to Brixton aged 20, reportedly returning to Holland a changed man, having seen first hand, the impacts of poverty on his daily walk from Brixton to Covent Garden

The B£ team hope that the currency will mirror the success of a growing number of local currencies around the world that are proving that local home-grown solutions are powerful antidotes to the corrosive impacts of big-chain retailers and profit-hungry banks that have become ‘too big to fail’.

Taken from a press release

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About the author
Chris is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is an aspiring journalist and reports stories for LC.
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Reader comments

Are there strict restrictions imposed on currency exchange? In other words, what’s to stop a shop taking B£ for a ‘Brixton’ good, but then importing the goods from anywhere using the B£ converted back into sterling?

This idea is xenophobic .

Instead of a genuinely liberal policy of joining the euro , these people are creating a currency for a single tiny area in London .

Do people in Brixton hate people in Streatham ? What about people in Stockwell ?!

The sooner we move to a single global currency the sooner the evil that is purchasing power parity will become meaningless and we can really tackle global inequality . Joining the euro would be a great start .

If we insist on being selfish and parochial , then joining the euro now or in the near future would give Britain a huge competitive advantage . The favourably low exchange rate would lock in a permanent boost for British manufacturing and tourism .

3. Denim Justice

As Kate says – this is local parochialism at its worst.

Why are these middle class white lefties (and I’ve been to Transition meetings, they are full of middle class white lefties) asking hard off, working class black people in Brixton to need another currency just to buy their basics?

It’s ironic they’ve put a black man on the “note” and plan other black people to be on future notes – this is the sort of shit that white trendy wankers who have gentrified swathes of Brixton have come up with in their spare time, when not trying on skinny jeans or going to the trendy wine bars that have popped up around the place.

Do something to fight poverty first.

And how many people in Brixton do you think know how James Lovelock is, or care that Van Gogh used to go there to judge the poor people? These are heroes voted on by local people? More like, voted on by over-educated poncy white middle class trendsters.

@kate makes an interesting point.

What’s wrong with using a commodity currency such as silver? In this manner the sovereignty over the currency will rest with the individual rather than the collective: the “middle class white lefties“, as @Denim Justice calls them.

I also wonder whether or not the scheme is lawful bearing in mind Davies’ Case of Mixed Money.

I think this is a great idea and it would be great to see more of it, so long as the conversion between pounds and B£ is set by the market rather than a central agency. If enough of these currencies emerged, it could give the Government a greater incentive to keep a lid on sterling’s inflation.

Incidentally, there is NOTHING intrinsically parochial or xenophobic about a local currency. Even under these circumstances, there is no way that the B£ could be artificially limited to one area if it proved popular. If people want to accept it for whatever reason, they will accept it.

Why isn’t John Major on their notes?

Why are these middle class white lefties (and I’ve been to Transition meetings, they are full of middle class white lefties) asking hard off, working class black people in Brixton to need another currency just to buy their basics?

As far as I can see, they’re not, unless you can see an otherwise invisble part of the story that says shops accepting the Brixton currency will no longer accept sterling.

@Praguetory. It’s very rare I’ll actually type this, but lol.

1. Is there some law by which the New Economics Foundation can be forced to remove the word ‘economics’ from its name?
2. Why are so many left wingers attracted to bullshit like this?
3. How many people who like this scheme also support joining the Euro and why aren’t their heads exploding?

This press released give the impression that large chain retailers, and one imagines other large companies, suck the money out of Brixton. As if Brixtonians hold a stock of money which will one day be depleted by face sucking multinationals. In fact, if large retailers are continually taking money out of Brixton, somebody else must be continuallly be putting money in otherwise the chain retailers would run out of money to suck. Do NEF imagine this scheme can stop the flows out without stopping the flows in?

If people wish to support local producers, they are already free to do so using pounds sterling. Why does the NEF think people aren’t already supporting the producers they wish to support? I guess you could tell some story about people being consumer drones lured by the siren song of Primark, and this currency is a means of tying oneself to the mast. A change in the pattern of trade away from Primark and towards Joe Bloggs Clothing Emporium would appear to help Joe Bloggs, but what can Joe spend his new Brixton Pounds income on? A new electric car manufacturered in Brixton? Some solar panels for his house? Can Joe buy stock for his Emporium with Brixton Pounds? How much would the clothes in his Emporium cost if he was constrained only to buying stock manufactured in Brixton? Constraining exchange to take place within Brixton means that the real wage (wage/prices) will be a function of productivity within Brixton, and I’m guessing that the variety of goods and services produced in Brixton is lesser than that produced worldwide and prices will be higher. Less choice and higher prices! Another victory for the working people of the world, brought to you by the left wing!

Increase the prosperity of the people of Brixton would be a fine idea, but I think these involve increasing the money flowing into Brixton, not trying to trap it there.

Given that money is a medium of exchange it really does seem a tad silly to artificially restrict who you can exchange with.

“The sooner we move to a single global currency the sooner the evil that is purchasing power parity will become meaningless….”

Err, you seem not to know what PPP actually is.

Umm, one way of looking at PPP is that it’s an attempt to examine the world as if we do already have a single global currency…..

I share doubts with Luis Enrique about how effective this can be in increasing the prosperity of Brixton. I’m not sure how much of an impact retail-led solutions to poverty can have.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t in itself mean this is a bad thing – I’m fairly neutral about it. If people choose to trade in potatoes that’s up to them, as long as there are other options too. In a sense this is little different from Scottish money.

What is most interesting to me about this thread is the division between a consistent localist & libertarian like Nick – I can absolutely see from his perspective why he’d welcome this – and someone like Tim Worstall, who’s a libertarian when it suits the interests of the ruling class.

Nick – I understand why in theory you’d want to let the market set the value of the Brixton pound, but don’t you think that in practice as soon as a Brixton pound stopped being equivalent to a GBP, its market value would immediately collapse? Surely the use of the Brixton pound depends on it being tied to British currency? I’m not sure you could ever float the Brixton pound.

“and someone like Tim Worstall, who’s a libertarian when it suits the interests of the ruling class.”

Eh? What on earth have I said there that “suits the interests of the ruling class”?

Further, I’m not a libertarian, rather a classical liberal. The point about a medium of exchange is straight from Adam Smith….

Sorry, I thought you described yourself as a liberatarian. In which case supporting a unified and exclusive currency could be seen as statist.

The ruling class bit is obviously my judgement rather than something you’ve said directly.

I’d sort of assumed that a “Brixton pound” was a quantity of cannabis.

As far as I can see, nobody is obliged to use this currency or to accept it, which renders a number of objections on this thread as null and void as they are heatedly expressed.

Personally, I don’t have a view for or against the scheme, but I do have the advantages

(a) of bothering to try and see what the scheme is and what it is not ;
(b) of having lived in Brixton for a period and therefore having some idea as to what the scheme is trying to protect and accomplish.

On the general point of privately-issued and competing currencies, as opposed to this specific scheme, I also have the advantage of experience in working in markets and fairs, unlike, I’ll venture, most of the teenage libertarians who think that a plethora of privately-issued currencies is a good thing. Because I actually have this experience – as do, for instance, the people who work at Brixton market – I know that at times during the day when business is brisk, and you are busy givig change with one hand and displaying goods to a customer with another, the last thing you actually want is to be trying to calculate whether today the Zonk is circulating at 1.25 to the Wodget or whether the Hayek is worth fourteen or fifteen Rands. Where actual paper cash transactions in the street are concerned, having just one currency to deal with is really quite a good idea.

I recall seeing that hilarious movie: Passport to Pimlico, shortly after it was first released in 1949:

I commend it to all Brixtonians.

Btw practically every week during my boyhood, we did our family shopping in Brixton but then I was born in Lambeth a long time ago and still wax nostalgic over the Lambeth Walk:

But I’m not supporting an exclusive currency.

“If people choose to trade in potatoes that’s up to them, as long as there are other options too.”

I agree with you entirely. I’m not saying that the Brixton Pounds should be banned or closed down at all: I just don’t see the point of it.

Just because a bunch of somewhat confused lefties also seem to be supporting this idea doesn’t make it a bad one for perfectly good left liberal/classical liberal/libertarian reasons:

Anything that might eventually take central control of trade away from central banks and government is worth giving serious considerion in my opinion. The growth in voluntary currencies might introduce people to this idea.

Surely it will have the opposite effect if the experiment fails, which it will do if it isn’t pegged to the British pound?

I don’t imagine many of the Brixton retailers pay VAT on transactions carried out in Brixton pounds. Nor do profits created trickle down to the ledger and become subject to corporation tax.

Cash transactions in sterling already operate at an effective 10% discount to bank based transactions for the same reasons and I have no problem with anyone attempting to deny Gordon his booty.

But Brixton pounds will never be used to contribute to the benefit payments paid to it’s residents.

I dunno, I reckon it could do rather a lot better if it was pegged to something else, like gold or silver:)

Jct: It’s about time they start a community currency that’s not a dinky toy.
They’re going to have 20 Greenpound notes. That’s about the same $40 they start everyone with in Ithaca in one note!
When the local currency is pegged to the Time Standard of Money (how many dollars per hour of volunteer labor) Hours earned locally can be intertraded with other timebanks globally! In 1999, I paid for 39/40 nights in Europe with an IOU for a night back in Canada worth 5 Hours. You can too.
U.N. Millennium Declaration UNILETS Resolution C6 to governments is for a time-based currency to restructure the global financial architecture.
See on growth of the international time-trading network.

I see that hilarious film: Passport to Pimlico (1949) has been posted up on YouTube in 12 episodes starting with:

The plot hinges on the consequences of the discovery of an ancient charter on a bombsite confirming that Pimlico is really Burgundian territory, beyond the legal control of Whitehall and central government. The implications are hugely significant for local residents when war-time rationing and identity cards still applied across Britain.

It’s worth watching for the glimpses into everyday life in Britain just four years after WW2 ended.

24. Teabag smoker

@14 “I’d sort of assumed that a “Brixton pound” was a quantity of cannabis.”

How many ounces to the Brixton pound?

But out of touch, but I’m guessing not much more than 1/64th.

If you want to buy something in Brixton Pounds and the cost is less than 1, how do you pay, and what format do you get your change in? Because if your change comes in GBpence, that £10,000 of Brixton Pounds is going to evaporate pretty quickly.

For connections try Paul Krugman on the Baby-sitting coop (1998):

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