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, 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 to learn how it works).

The Bristol Pound ( bristolpou­ 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 (thelewespo­ and Totnes Pound in Devon (totnespoun­

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