Friday, October 21, 2011

The Brixton Pound and Localism

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in localism in the foodie and environmentalist communities in the US, with farmers markets and specialty grocers the beneficiaries of those looking for locally-grown produce sold outside of Wal-Mart and its ilk, which typically favor the cheapest possible foreign fare. The trend makes sense for health reasons – not a shock that peaches from an orchard five miles away are more nutrient-dense and typically less pesticide-afflicted than those shipped from Central America – and for the local economy. Traders such as independent book stores and one-off coffee shops have also benefited from those who’d prefer to patron small businesses with whom they can build long-term relationships, rather than store #7680 of a huge multinational.

However, there is no doubt that “Main Street” as it’s often called here and “The High Street” in the UK has failed to halt the overall decline in number of stores and business volume that arguably began since the advent of the big box stores that accompanied the expansion of suburbia in the 1950s and 1960s.

To help turn the tide, some towns are introducing local currencies that encourage residents and merchants to spend their money with neighboring small businesses. In the US, these and other forms of financial exchange media that became known as “scrip” – including Larkin Merchandise Bonds and Caslow Recovery Certificates – were introduced during the Great Depression to alleviate the challenges caused by lack of cash flow. As many as 5,000 were in circulation by the mid-1930s. More recently, local currencies such as San Francisco’s Bernal Bucks, Great Barrington (Mass.)’sBerkshares and the Ithaca (NY) HOUR (also a payment system for labor there) have promoted local trading. These are typically introduced by groups of business owners and/or private citizens, and are not backed by city, state or federal government.

The latest area-specific currency in the UK is the Brixton Pound (B£) re-launched earlier this month after a more limited first issue in 2009.

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