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Tag: Dickens

The ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness

Friday, 13 March, 2015 0 Comments

Snippet from Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, who died yesterday:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

bootsTake boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

In his writings, the ennobled Sir Terry Pratchet drew upon a noble literary heritage and his work encompassed the abundant genius of Charles Dickens, the enduring wit of P.G. Wodehouse and the stellar imagination of Douglas Adams.


Economics according to Pope Francis

Tuesday, 3 December, 2013 1 Comment

Argentina is a remarkable country. It’s rightly famed for its football, tango, populism, asado, wine, landscapes and polo players, but when it comes to the really heavy lifting that marks a civil society, Argentina has been found wanting. It tried barbaric military rule in the 1970s and its weakness for kleptocracy seems to be incurable. All these factors, and more, have to be taken into account when attempting to understand how Jorge Mario Bergoglio views the world. And his views on the world are important because the 76-year-old Jesuit, who was born in Buenos Aires, is now the leader of the world’s largest Christian church and some 1.2 billion people pay close attention to what he says.

What Pope Francis thinks and says was revealed last week when the Vatican released a 224-page document, titled Evangelii Gaudium, which has been described as his vision statement of the kind of community he wants Catholicism to be. He demands an end to business-as-usual and dreams of “a missionary impulse” that can be channelled “for the evangelization of today’s world”, but he balances this radicalism by ruling out the ordination of women to the priesthood, and he stresses that the church’s position on unborn life “cannot be expected to change” because it is “closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”

For a change, however, his thoughts on gender or abortion did not capture the headlines. What made the news was the section of the apostolic exhortation in which he condemned what he calls a “crude and naïve trust” in the free market, saying that left to its own devices the market fosters a “throw-away culture” in which some categories of people are seen as disposable. Furthermore, he rejects what he describes as an “invisible and almost virtual” economic “tyranny.”

Really? And what about the tyranny and horror in places such as North Korea, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela — countries where the free market does not rule? Feudalism and Communism have been swept into the dustbin of history and the last man standing is an economic system in which the private possession of the means of production, driven by the profit motive, responds to the needs of the marketplace by balancing supply, demand and price. The well-governed state takes its share through taxation and what it gets from rich Peter it gives to poor Paul. In between, it enacts a never-ending stream of laws to regulate everything from working hours, minimum wages and corporate responsibility.

In poorly-governed, corrupt countries like Argentina, the system does not work very well and maybe it’s his experience of such market mismanagement that has influenced the economics of Pope Francis. His views would have been perfectly accurate 150 years ago, when Dickens was describing the excesses of capitalism, but today’s reality is rather different. Just because Lionel Messi earns €16 million a year, while nurses struggle to survive, does not mean that we should abandon the greatest engine of economic growth in the history of the world. Yes, it needs to be fine-tuned constantly and repairs are sometimes necessary, but when Socrates was asked what he thought of his nagging wife, Xanthippe, he replied, “Compared to whom?”

Pope Francis


Dickensian London and the author’s inner child

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012

Dickens’s Victorian London is a collection of 19th-century photographs that has been published by the Museum of London to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. This picture shows London Bridge, teeming with vehicles and pedestrians in 1875.

The London of Dickens

The book accompanies the Museum’s current exhibition on the writer’s life. One remarkable image, a Fox Talbot picture from 1841, is thought to be the earliest existing photograph of the Thames. It provides a view of Westminster, with no Houses of Parliament and no Big Ben. When we do see the river, it appears with not a single duck, cormorant or coot in sight because the water was simply too filthy. Dickens’s Victorian London was an industrious, dynamic place, but it was also a dirty, dangerous city, where children were as likely to die as survive. It was the city of Oliver Twist. But it was not all grim as the late, great Christopher Hitchens explained in his final essay, “Charles Dickens’s Inner Child“. Snippet:

“It is all there to emphasize the one central and polar and critical point that Dickens wishes to enjoin on us all: WHATEVER YOU DO — HANG ON TO YOUR CHILDHOOD! He was true to this in his fashion, both in ways that delight me and in ways that do not. He loved the idea of a birthday celebration, being lavish about it, reminding people that they were once unborn and are now launched.”


Dickens

Thursday, 5 January, 2012

The bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens falls on 7 February. No other author had such a gift for literary entertainment on so vast a human scale. The Rainy Day favourite Dickens novel is David Copperfield and among the quotable gems is this observation by Wilkins Micawber, which is so apt for 21st-century leaders of debt-laden countries: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”


Happy, happy Christmas!

Sunday, 25 December, 2011 0 Comments

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!” Charles Dickens

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