Last week, Brixton realised its own ‘alternative’ currency: The Brixton pound. Decorated with local celebrities such as Eddy Grant, David Bowie & The Clash (I notice that John Major has been excluded), I’m sure this will get Notaphilists salivating and provide locals with a few days of amusement. The B£ has come about through Lambeth Council’s support of the Transition Town Network, a decidedly bourgeois organisation aiming to help communities “respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change”. How a local currency is supposed to help fight the environmentalists’ crusade against global warming is not entirely obvious, especially when it seems that the currency itself is unlikely to take off.
Money, in its most basic sense, is something that is accepted as payment for goods and services, as those on either side of the transaction believe it to be a legitimate store of value. The problem with the B£ is that many of the people most vital to Brixton’s economy and distinct culture deem the currency almost worthless. While the money is supposed to encourage a feeling of civic pride and unity, the Caribbean shopkeepers and stall-holders view it with suspicion and contempt, believing it to be a pet project of the middle classes that will saddle them with counterfeit, valueless notes which they cannot bank or pay their staff with. Whether this is the case or not, the reluctance of the heart of Brixton to support the B£ makes it unlikely that its velocity will be particularly high. A movement of cultural and economic solidarity has to be made from the grassroots in order for it to be successful, not imposed by a project manager who has returned fresh from Sweden with a degree in climate change adaptation.
The concept of the B£ is also based on suspiciously protectionist principles. Branded as money that ‘sticks to Brixton’, it aims to keep money within the community, giving a boost to local businesses. Were it to be successful on any great scale, it is likely that the surrounding neighbourhoods such as Camberwell and Peckham would receive a fall in business. Consumers may feel morally compelled to ‘Buy Brixton’, which would lower their economic choices, and could result in them paying higher prices for goods than they otherwise would have done. It is also ironic that such a multicultural community with access to goods from across the globe is being discouraged from shopping outside their immediate area. The trade and immigration which has given Brixton its unique identity would not be possible without the movement of goods and people across the world, whereas the B£ stands for a form of localism that attempts to confine the spread of economic activity.