Sep 042009

I was standing at the counter in the chemists’ over the road this afternoon when my eye was drawn to a shiny leaflet displayed there. For a moment, I daydreamed, admiring the design and the pretty colours, the words ‘Brixton Pound’ turning my thoughts to a possible new club or home for rescue dogs.

Then, with an actual, physical start of surprise, I noticed what it was really advertising. The Brixton Pound.

Once I’d paid for my goods, I snatched up a copy of the leaflet and went out to the pavement to read it. Here is what it says:


The B£ is a local currency launching in autumn 2009. It’s a practical way for Brixton residents to support local traders and boost Brixton’s economy.

The B£ will work alongside pounds sterling – but can only be spent with independent local businesses within Brixton. Brixton will be the first urban centre in the UK to have its own currency.


Your money goes further:

  • Rewards and special offers for using the B£
  • The B£ keeps circulating within Brixton – local people benefit each time you spend one

Good for the local economy, community and environment:

  • Supports independent shops and local jobs under threat from the recession and larger chain stores
  • Maintains the diversity and character of Brixton
  • Localising trade helps cut carbon from transport

The B£ is secure:

  • Printed on watermarked secure paper
  • Backed by sterling held by Lambeth Savings and Credit Union


The B£ is being launched by a group of local volunteers in partnership with:

  • Transition Town Brixton (Community-led vision and action on Climate Change)
  • Lambeth Savings & Credit Union (Lambeth’s financial cooperative)
  • nef (economics as if people and the planet mattered – Lambeth-based economic think-and-do tank)

Please show your support by joining the B£ 1000 club. Membership is free and you will be one of the first 1000 people to use the B£ when they are launched. Visit to sign up.

Several questions leap to mind.

First, what is the exchange rate between B£ and £ to be?

Second, how exactly is that going to be determined?

Third, most traders in Brixton purchase their goods from outside of Brixton (I would guess). If the B£ is worth less than or as much as the £, how is it going to help them?

Fourth, most residents in Brixton earn their money in £. If the B£ is worth more than the £, how is it going to help them?

Fifth, if the B£ can only be spent within Brixton, the ‘diversity and character’ of what Brixton residents buy is going to shrink. You can’t buy a drink at a pub in Streatham with your B£. You can’t take a bus to Stockwell with your B£. What, in fact, will your B£ buy you? Locally-sourced goods from local traders. Which, in Brixton, is basically drugs. Hello, black market!

I’m not suggesting that alternative currencies are a bad idea in and of themselves; in many circumstances, I would argue, they’re necessary, especially when hyperinflation for example has devalued the official currency. They probably do this in Zimbabwe. But an alternative currency in a location like Brixton, that produces few truly ‘local’ goods and where most of the residents are earning their money outside of Brixton in pounds sterling, is at best pointless, and at worst, damaging to local traders.

I haven’t actually worked through it all in my head yet, however, so I’m willing to be told differently. I just thought it might be interesting for other libertarians to hear about this. Especially Tim Worstall.

  7 Responses to “New money”

  1. Sounds like the local bank is drumming up business. Offer shops a deal of some sort (Lower fees? better loan rates?) for using their scrip…

    Other than “store receipts/refunds” I thought this went out with the company store sometime in the 1920s.

  2. I did read a short time ago that there were several American states trying similar ideas with localised currency; to me it seems like little more than an enlarged shop voucher scheme, especially on such a small scale.

  3. Brixton, that is, not the individual US states.

  4. […] the newly married’s request. A new local currency (there are any number of them around the country) called the Brixton […]

  5. If you look at the Brixton Pound site, it’s even funnier. They spent money to hold a poll to see which persona should grace the Brixton Pound and the winner by a large margin, (72%) was “other”, which was a bit awkward.

    This has resulted in the usual Lambeth democracy with everyone squabbling to try and get their local councillor / drug dealer / Grandmother onto the note.

    Anyway, they’ve now been able to rise above all that and have decided to approach the other original candidates for permission to put them on the notes instead. Bit of a waste of their first Brixton Pounds, I’d have thought, holding a poll that didn’t have a workable outcome.

    Let’s see if they can do better when it comes to the “secure printing” that they mention. I bet it will be copyable on my new Kyocera colour copier!

  6. And, apart from a lack of antiquity, this is different from Scottish, Northern Irish, Gibraltar and Falkland Island pounds exactly how? Or stretching the point a little any other bill of exchange (remember cheques?) not mandated as legal tender (Bank of England £100 notes, spring readily to mind).

    I don’t suppose there is anything stopping pubs in Streatham accepting them for your pint, if enough of the customers have them to make it worth their while.

  7. Yawn. There’s a Lewes pound, too, and I’m sure a bunch of other places, but they’re clearly not “urban” enough.

    The exchange rate will likely be 1:1, and it’s entirely an exercise in masturbatory localism.

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