I listen to BBC Radio 4 a lot, so news and politics are a daily feature in my life. There are always pieces on the cost. Be that the cost to the economy of antisocial behaviour, obesity, child care, women who don’t go out to work, empty houses, or tax avoidance to name a few recent ones. I’m increasingly aware that we focus on the ways in which poor people cost the economy. I saw the same on an American blog yesterday – fretting over misuse of food stamps, and poor people on the fiddle.
I gather there are companies who are so big and international that no one really knows who they pay tax to. If at all. Earn enough, and you can pay someone to keep your tax bill down. We don’t talk about what the rich cost an economy, in tax fiddles, in rigging the game so that regular players can’t hope to win, in using up a disproportionate amount of the available resources.
We also don’t talk about worth. What is the worth, to your economy, of not breaking the law? What is your value if you are fit and healthy, take good care of yourself and require little medical intervention through your life? How about the monetary value of responsible parenting, being a good neighbour, or any of the other daily considerations that don’t directly move money about?
I’m not a huge fan of using money as a tool of measurement, but the current shape of the world involves giving it priority. The way we talk, and think about it skews our understanding. It’s easier to measure a ‘cost’ when money changes hands, and not to consider the value of it not changing hands. Perhaps there’s a bias here created by GDP. The movement of money makes a country look richer and more successful. No matter if the money is spent on alcohol, and then spent on medical intervention to deal with the consequences of excessive consumption. But in terms of balancing a nation’s books, it might pay us, very literally, to start thinking more about worth and to re-value all those non-financial things that do make a difference to running costs, and to talk up the social participation this involves, and to treat that as a good contribution to be making.
I’m not putting a vast amount of money into the economy, but I am raising a respectful child who knows the value of things. I haul litter out of the canal, I work as a volunteer now and then, rare is the day when I don’t give something, contribute something that has no price tag on it, but that would have to be paid for if someone else did it. I know a lot of other people for whom this is equally true.
Putting a price tag on things often involves attaching a price value that has no reflection of intrinsic worth, or cost. Long term environmental impact just doesn’t register there. Designer labels still boost the ‘value’ of what is effectively worthless tat. Quality and money do not have a close relationship. In terms of quality of life, safety, peace, companionship and laughter are worth far more than anything you can easily buy. You can’t put a price tag on feeling valued, on belonging to a community, on a good day.
The call to any spiritual life is a call to step away from material and mainstream concerns. Druidry is not a path that denies the physical – for me, as for many others, spirit is manifest in the physical world. My path has drawn me into a very different value system from the one I hear about via my radio. I listen to politicians talking about how much it would cost to tackle climate change and the damage it could do to economies, and I shake my head a lot. Life is precious. This planet is beautiful, unique and the only one we have. What possible financial consideration is more important than that? What sum of money is more precious than the continuation of any species?
Don’t ask what it costs, ask what it is worth.