Thursday, February 16, 2012

Local Currency Conference in Deptford

Utrophia Project Space (Deptford High Street) is hosting a Local Currency Action Conference on Saturday 18th February (11 am to 7 pm). They say: 'The Local Currency Action-Conference will look at the role of money in an economy, and how a local currency can be harnessed to promote small businesses, entrepreneurship and a stronger local economy and identity... The aim of the action-conference is to provide an informative and lively introduction to community finance to those interested in listening, and then developing a concept of a local currency that could be rolled-out in Deptford and New Cross for those interested in doing. At the end, it is hoped that we will have a blue-print to start working on making a local currency a reality'.

Previously Utrophia artist Stephen Molyneux has designed a prototype Deptford Pound to get people thinking about this.

Local Pounds for Local People?

Molyneaux's 'Deptford Pound' talks of 'Helping small businesses and a strong local economy in times of global economic meltdown'. I do understand that in a world where many people's livelihoods feel threatened by impersonal global economic forces there is an attraction in apparent local solutions. Personally though I am sceptical about some of the radical claims made for currency reforms and local currency schemes and would like to see more debate about some of the underlying premises. For instance:

- is there really such thing as a discrete local economy? - currency schemes seem to posit a shopkeeper utopia of small businesses trading with each other in the local area, but this can obscure the real economic relations that underpin the 'local' economy. Even the simple cup of coffee sold in the local cafe is the end product of the labour of countless people on farms in Latin America, on ships crossing the oceans, in roasting factories, packaging plants and warehouses in Europe.

- is keeping it local necessarily a good thing? - isn't there something rather selfish about the desire to keep money circulating in limited areas amongst comparatively privileged people (e.g. small business owners). When I go to my local corner shop I know that some of the money I spend there is probably going to help relatives in Sri Lanka, and indeed money sent home by migrants (remitttances) constitutes a major financial inflow to many of the poorest parts of the world. A lot of the money spent in shops, restaurants and takeaways in South East London goes to other parts of the world in this way - good thing too.

- are small businesses intrinsically more socially beneficial than larger ones? Do they always treat their staff better for instance, pay better wages, recognise unions... Anyway today's small business may be tomorrow's big one - after all Tesco's started out as a market stall in Hackney.

Well I could go on,  I 've been reading Marx's Capital alongside attending John Hutnyk's lectures on this at Goldsmiths, which are open to non-students like myself. The interesting thing is that around 100 people have been attending most weeks, the majority of them out of personal interest rather than for course credits. There is clearly a thirst to understand what's happening in the world economy, even if the reading is sometimes hard work.  Trying to get to grips with what money is and what it does is complex but important, so thinking about what it all means for an area like Deptford may be good. But can global problems be solved at the local level, or even the national level?


Deptford Pudding said...

Is that horse pulling a jeep?

Monkeyboy said...

Yep, your point 2 has always been my issue. What if Kensington decided to keep the spending local? Not very redistributive? What if I want to spend my Peckham pounds in a charity shop in lewisham? Sounds lovely but of little real value.

Transpontine said...

There are though some real issues locally about money (other than not having enough). I see that they have the Credit Union speaking at that event, and the problem with people feeling they have no alternative to high interest payday loans certainly needs to be tackled.