Five Bowies make a Winston

TUCKED away in a corner of Brixton, in south London, a rainbow-coloured ATM dispenses cash, looking for all the world like any other. But the notes it spews out are not pounds sterling. They are Brixton pounds (B£). Not to be mistaken for silly Monopoly money, the Brixton pound can actually be spent, legally: the currency, which has a fixed one-for-one exchange rate with sterling, is accepted at over 150 local shops and businesses. It can even be used to pay local taxes.

Launched in 2009, this is one of many such initiatives. Local currencies have been adopted in other towns and cities in Britain, such as Bristol, Exeter and Totnes. Elsewhere, examples include the eusko, used in the French Basques; BerkShares, used in western Massachusetts; and the Ithaca Hour, in Ithaca, New York. Barcelona plans an experiment in 2017.

Such schemes aim to boost spending at local retailers and suppliers, by encouraging the recirculation of money within a community. Because the currency is worthless outside its defined geographic area, holders spend it in the neighbourhood, thus creating a “local...Continue reading