The Simple Things
From barter to the Bristol pound: a guide to alternative currencies
The well-versed economic argument that barter was the first form of currency is disputed by some experts: in his 2011 book Debt: the First
5,000 Years, the anthropologist David Graeber argues that debt, not barter, was the first financial system. Nevertheless, barter – the direct exchange of goods and services, such as livestock, grain and labour – predates money by several thousand years, dating back at least to Ancient Egypt (the first official money-based currency was in Lydia, now Turkey, in 600BC).
Modern forms of barter have been adopted as alternative, more ethical forms of exchange in recent years, particularly in local economies. LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems, letslinkuk.net) and time banks (timebanking. org) are two community-based mutual aid networks that facilitate the trading of knowledge, time, skills and services.
The best-known ‘alternative currency’, Bitcoin, is a digital peer-to-peer payment system, or cryptocurrency, that is not controlled by any government or central bank. Accepted as payment by a growing number of UK businesses, it can bought, sold or ‘mined’ (see bitcoin.org to learn how it works).
The Bristol Pound ( bristolpound.org) is the UK’s first city-wide local currency, a paperbased and electronic currency that’s equivalent in value to pounds sterling but can be used only in transactions with local independent businesses (and to pay council tax). Other UK-based local currencies include the Brixton Pound in south-west London ( brixtonpound. org), Lewes Pound in East Sussex (thelewespound.org) and Totnes Pound in Devon (totnespound.org).