Monday 2 April 2012

We have it in our power to build the world anew

The Lewes Pound, when it first launched in September 2008, inscripted this famous Thomas Paine quote on it's pound note. As Thomas Pain was born in Thetford, Norfolk, in Transition Norwich we are pleased to see our County heritage being used to promote the transition message and concept!

This week we are taking a closer look at local, or 'alternative' currency. Local currency has many guises - from the Totnes, or Brixton, or Lewes Pound, to LETS schemes, to time banks. They are all creating alternative ways of how we value our natural resources, and how we value ourselves and the way we transact with each other with our skills.

In conventional economics, as revised and built on by 'neo-liberal' economists and politicians, natural resources only obtain value once appropriated by human beings and made into goods or services. This model of course assumes unlimited supplies of resources, and also does not quantify the energy resources used to create goods - both fairly glaring fault-lines - or so you might think.
Local currencies, time banks, and skills sharing schemes, are all based on a different model - that of creating local resilience, and in the case of time banks and skills shares, placing equal value on the people sharing time or offering skills.

I actually joined the Norwich LETS scheme when it first formed in 1988. I found myself doing bike repairs, and then getting stuff done in my house ( I am hopeless at plumbing), and even receiving massages. There were so many skills on offer, and all within the City of Norwich.

Bartering, in a more general sense, is still very much a common way of transacting in countries of the South. When the Greek financial crisis first hit the news headlines and seemed to be taking hold, I asked a friend of mine ( who was Greek by birth and who still had friends and relatives in the country), what it was really like on the ground. His reply was interesting. He reminded me that in many rural areas of Greece, people do not use currency as we understand it - nowadays the Euro - and so for them much of the direct effect of the crisis was not being felt. There was and is a secondary effect, in that many people from urban areas are 'retreating' to the rural and this is affecting what was a thriving local economy.

In Lewes, when the Pound was launched - fully two-thirds of all it's retail transactions were through Tescos. Lewes is a town of about 16,000 people. The significance of this in terms of resilience should not be under-estimated: where a large national or trans-national company have that much of a market share in a place, it means that the money spent there in Lewes is leaking straight out of the local economy. The New Economics Foundation found that a pound spent in a truly local business circulated an average of 3.5 times in the local economy - a pound spent in somewhere like Tescos simply disappears from the local economy altogether.

With the general awareness now, in Europe and America, of how vulnerable our financial systems are, people sense that actually, money is out of control. Whilst this might give us wobbles, it is actually a sign of hope - that alternatives will press home, and that there will be some hope to create more resilience and place true value on our diminishing resources.

Useful links:

Top photo: my grand-daughter Olivia with her Mum Patricia

1 comment:

  1. Bring on the wobbles, I say! :-)

    Interesting post, and I believe people in my local area are already choosing to shop more locally; and increasingly attend events and activites which are within walking distance from home. The economy at large is responsible of course, though many people will say it is because they cannot afford to use cars so often now.