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Bob Moon: The world’s been hit with a one-two punch in recent months: the credit crunch and the soaring price of oil. Central bankers and governments around the globe are still struggling with the ongoing effects, but a small town in the south of England has come up with what it believes is a long-term solution to both problems.
The people of Lewes in the county of Sussex are planning to launch their own local currency.
Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.
Stephen Beard: If you wanted to launch a revolution, Lewes would be a good place to start. The town has a history of radical thinking.
Adrienne Campbell: This is the room where Thomas Paine used to run his Headstrong Club, which was a group of young people debating local issues…
Tom Paine helped spark the American revolution. He began his career as an agitator here in Lewes. His spirit lives on, says local resident Adrienne Campbell:
Campbell: People in Lewes tend to be quite independent thinking, let’s say, and quite willing to think outside the box.
Lewes’ latest example of independent thinking is a plan to print its own money: the Lewes pound. It can only be spent in Lewes and that’s the idea to boost local businesses.
Bill Collison runs this local grocery and delicatessen. He is all for Lewes’s radical new idea.
Bill Collison: It’s a quirky little town with lots of unusual stores with interesting things going on and obviously, the currency is another quirky idea that makes people relate to a town they live in and obviously a new currency is fun, isn’t it?
A coffee shop, a clothing store and a brewery are among the local businesses eager to take part. The thinking is that locals will spend their Lewes pounds. The shopkeepers will then use the currency to buy supplies and so the money will circulate, keeping the wealth within Lewes. Plans for this curious idea are quite advanced.
The organizing committee meets to mull over the design of the new pound note, which will be worth 1 British pound.
Committee Member 1: This has got the imagery of Lewes Castle on it. It’s relates to what we’re about.
Committee Member 2: Actually, that’d be a perfect spot for the logo.
Adrienne Campbell is on the committee. She says the new currency will cut fossil fuel consumption because more locals will do their shopping close to home. In time, it may also wean the local economy away from the global financial system which brought us the subprime debacle and the credit crunch.
Campbell: We’ve had several decades of going very global and although that’s been wonderful, it’s been a great party, I think it’s now time to reverse that trend and start to look after our own land, our own economy, our own communities.
She and her fellow residents dream of a world in which local communities do a lot more things locally. The Lewes pound, designed and produced by local volunteers, could be the first step. But there’s a problem.
Andrew Hilton: It’s not going to work.
That’s London-based economist Andrew Hilton.
Hilton: It will limit you to buying a few things from a few shops in a few streets in a tiny part of England when the alternative is a currency that you can use throughout the country.
And on the streets of Lewes, public support — vital for any currency — seems sadly lacking.
Man 1: So you mean if I take Lewes pounds, I’ve got to use them all in Lewes then?
Beard: Yeah, that’s the idea.
Man 1: No.
Beard: No? Not keen?
Man 1: No, wouldn’t have thought so.
Man 2: I’d think it would be an absolute disaster.
Beard: You wouldn’t put any of your money into Lewes pounds?
Man 2: No, I wouldn’t. I’ll would keep with the Queen and British pounds.
Not much sign there of the spirit of Tom Paine, but the latter day revolutionaries of Lewes plan to have their currency in circulation by September.
In Lewes, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.
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