Hay on Wye

Leigh Caldwell had a post a couple days ago about his visit to Hay on Wye [city website], a quaint little town in Wales known for its second-hand bookstores and rather large book festival.

Here is what Leigh concluded:

So what have I bought? One of the shops did have about fourteen shelves of economics books, including an old edition of Greg Mankiw’s text which I considered buying just so he wouldn’t get the royalties (analyse THAT, economists); but most of them were rather old-fashioned texts proposing interventionist economic policies in 1970s and 1980s Britain. I did get hold of an interesting-looking colloquium on currency targeting edited by Paul Krugman (quite relevant now – a post on that tomorrow if I can get online) and a very lucid exposition of the elementary theory of value by Michael Allingham.

Probably both are out of print and I wouldn’t have had much opportunity of finding them anywhere else. But worth the six-hour trip from London? Not on their own, no. I am not convinced that Hay-on-Wye will still be here in another thirty years.

Now, seeing a picture of the town, I was wondering to myself how it survived the last thirty years. Tourism only goes so far…but even with tourism, quaint towns never get back their “thriving small town economy” from ages past. The first thing that came to mind, which I immediately asked Leigh, “Does Hay on Wye operate a complementary currency?” Not being addicted to Twitter, Leigh didn’t respond until the next day, which I found less than satisfactory — so I went digging around the internet to find out for myself. Now, Hay on Wye is a very odd town; but not near as odd as the “city-state’s” “King”, Richard Booth, who is one of those ‘just this side of the genius/crazy line’ kind of person. Turns out he hates economies of scale, economies of scope, division of labor…pretty much economics in general.

Rather unsurprising to myself, it turns out that Hay on Wye did, and as far as I can tell, still does issue it’s own currency, called the “Bootho”, which is a time-based currency (and here). From Encyclopedia Brittainia:

On April 1, 1977, disdainful of big business and government, indifference to the fate of little towns in Britain, Booth declared Hay-on-Wye an independent state, crowned himself king, issued passports for carefree travel, a local currency and petitioned the local town council to ban automobiles in favor of bringing back the horse to create employment for blacksmiths, grooms and stable-boys. When a fire destroyed much of the castle in the early 1980’s “King Richard” was forced to sell many of his properties. Other booksellers were only too anxious to move into town, which continued to grow its reputation as the place to find any book you wanted, but couldn’t find elsewhere.

From a WalesOnline article from 2005:

Mr Booth says he is willing to sell the shop’s thousands of books in a mass public sale. He said surplus books would be translated into “Bootho’s”, a “complementary [sic] time-based currency guaranteed to outperform the euro and the dollar”.

From the Hay-on-Wire blog:

His most heinous crime is that he’s perceived to have lost his touch for publicity. Whereas he once drew a lot of welcome attention to Hay with his antics, such as declaring the town an independent republic with its own currency called the “Bootho”, he now spends most of his time and effort denigrating the Welsh assembly as a force for evil.

Leigh said that he didn’t encounter the use of Bootho’s in the town…however, if it is true that they have a robust time-based currency, I would be willing to gamble on Hay-on-Wye being there thirty years from now.


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