Tag Archives: money

Questions of worth

We live in a culture that values people based on their economic power. It is not the value of how that money was earned, or how it is deployed, but the money itself. This is how we are able to entirely respect people whose wealth came to them by chance – via inheritance, by gambling, by using money to make money out of other people’s money. To make a fortune from share dividends is perfectly socially acceptable. Never mind that the pressure to create dividends pushes down wages and quality in order to cream off a layer, and undermines scope for re-investment. Never mind that the desire to make money at all costs is trashing the planet.
If we valued people in terms of the actual contribution they make to society, we might be able to look at whether the massively rich are as useful as they claim to be. We are told that affluence trickles down (I see Smaug on his pile of gold jealously watching the one coin bounce away). We are told that the wealthy create jobs and affluence for others. Only if we stop assuming this to be a truth and start looking at it will we be able to see whether or not its the case, but I have my suspicions. The gap between richest and poorest is growing all the time. If wealthy people were good for us all, surely we should all be gaining materially at about the same pace, not seeing a widening gap?
Money, as economist Molly Scott Cato has been pointing out a lot recently, is a social contract. It is about trust, and the means to move resources around in a community. Money exists to get things done, and can be very useful indeed in this regard. We can use it to measure how much we value something, and it saves having to get the right number of chickens when you fancy a new rug. Money as an expression of exchange can be a great social enabler on many levels.
On those terms, valuing a person in relation to their money makes sense. They are worth what the people around will pay for the things they make or the things they do. Money could therefore be expected to flow towards a person who is really useful and highly valued. However, what we’ve been able to do as a culture, is manufacture scarcity. When things are hard to get, exclusive, or rare, their value goes up. The person who can control the flow of resources can therefore create extra wealth. Not by adding more value to the world, but by artificially pushing up the cost. Keeping land vacant can be a way of pushing up land prices to make more money off it, for example.
We have the resources to feed, clothe, educate and power everyone, modestly. However, that doesn’t allow a minority to stockpile wealth. The desire for wealth has broken the trust-contract that money was created to represent. We don’t move things around fairly, and we push up the prices to make profits, and squeeze down wages, and that is having the effect of starving cash flows in our economies. We need to look very hard at our system that allows people to make money by moving money about, rather than by doing something useful. If we valued what people contribute a bit more, and valued their bank balances a bit less, we might have a cultural revolution on our hands, quietly and with no bloodshed.

Working for free

All self employed, and creative people, alongside those who work within spirituality, come under a lot of pressure to do it for free. We hear frequently that we should do it for love, that love of craft and of labour should be reward enough. How dare we sully art/religion/music/dance/literature/teaching/etc with our petty, money grabbing?

Anyone who thinks about this for long will work out that if a thing is to be done or made, there’s a cost in terms of time, energy and often resources. Time spent doing things for love, is time you can’t spend earning the money to keep a roof over your head. We all have to eat.

All too often, someone else is making a profit. The lone creative is the last person in the chain to make anything. Booksellers all take their cut before the author sees a penny. There are plenty of people who will offer to publish you, for no payment but ‘exposure’. Well, exposure is something you can die of in other contexts. If you are making a profit, getting a financial advantage, or saving on paying someone else then it is not ok to ask for a freebie.

That said, there are contexts in which I will work for free, and these are my rules.

1) I will work for free if it really seriously hasn’t cost me anything and no one else is exploiting my work for a profit. People re-use writing from this blog for not-for profit sites and publications. That’s fine.

2) I will always consider working for free or for minimal expenses if you are a not for profit outfit (most Pagan magazines fall into this category) or a charity. You’re doing it for love, if I have time, I may be able to spare you some love, too.

3) I will work for a trade off that isn’t money based – a typical example would be doing talks or workshops in exchange for being able to attend an event and have some table space to sell books. I might cover my costs, I’ll take the gamble, especially if I like the look of your event. I do not like being asked to pay to attend an event so that I can freely provide you with entertainment. That sucks. Cake, accommodation, and other trade-offs are always worth a thought.

4) I will work for a profit share. If you can’t pay me upfront, but there’s a fighting chance this will raise money, and you want to pay later when you can, that’s negotiable. Especially if you’re doing it for love too and you getting paid also depends on it working. If I like the project, I will share in the risk. Most publishing works this way, in essence.

5) I will work for affordable donations rather than fixed charges where that seems fairer.

As a simple rule of thumb, if you are gaining from something, and most especially if you get a financial advantage, it is not ok to ask other people to facilitate that at their own expense. A fair exchange is called for. There are many shapes that can take, but the guilt trip of ‘you should be doing it for love’ is not acceptable. I’ll do it for love when I feel like it, and if don’t feel like it but you want something from me, you need to put something on the table. To offer recompense in some form, is a gesture of respect both to the person and their creativity. That recompense might be as simple as a favour owed, but where we honour that, life is a lot happier.


Not for Profit

I’m currently reading Mark Steel’s ‘What’s Going On’ – fast becoming my revolutionary handbook of preference. He makes the point that the idea of profit seems to have taken over everything else. We’ve become obsessed, as a culture, with the money that can be made from things. We devalue the things that have no price tag on them, and if it isn’t making a profit, it goes. When the only value available is profit, how can you protect the habitat of a newt, or suggest that clean drinking water ought to be a human right? What price love, or companionship? What’s the economic worth of not having a shitty day? Who cares? We’re selling our quality of life, and all too often we sell it to the lowest bidder for the least possible return.

Being Green is not just about the politics. For me, the politics are the least of it. Lifestyle, culture, personal change and community are a more important manifestation of the Green agenda than getting bums onto political seats. Not least because a bottoms up approach to things is always better than a top down solution. Imposing things on people is not part of a Green agenda. We have to BE the change.

So I’d like to issue you all with a small challenge, and it goes like this: Every day, very deliberately do something that has no economic value whatsoever. Do it for love. It can’t be online, because of the electricity you use and the advertising revenue your presence generates. That’s all about the money. You can’t pay to do it, and it cannot lead to something you will be paid for doing. If that seems difficult to figure out, it will be a measure of how economically informed your life has become, and this is something you need to know about.

Small gestures are fine. Gaze out of the window for half an hour. Go and sit under a tree. Have a little dance. Sing a song – you do not have to be good, you just have to like singing songs. Rescue something you might have thrown away and turn it into some other things. Even better if those things are sock puppets or of no real utility. Play. Mess about. Turn the phone off and climb into a big chair with something warm and soft to cuddle. Have an extra hour in the duvet. Re-read a book you already own.

We have to stop being good little consumers, and we have to stop letting every part of our lives be turned into someone else’s profit. Or our own, for that matter. We have to stop letting profit be the most important thing, or we are going to trash the planet in the name of GDP. The way to do this is not through top-down politics, but through each of us quietly undertaking to rebel in small ways. Do something irrelevant that you enjoy. Rest more. Play. Practice religion or philosophy. Make love.

If you can get that into the mix once a day, you can expand on it. You can add value to your life- value in a warm, human sense, not in the sense that goes on a balance sheet. You can also do this and be useful – that’s actually easy because many of the things that most need doing, no one will pay you for anyway. Read a book to a child, pick up litter, give away things you no longer need. Contemplate what strikes you as being economic activity, and what doesn’t, and have a look at the interesting grey areas in between. How monetised are your life and perceptions?

And, next time someone tells you it’s all about the bottom line, laugh at them. Please. Laughter is powerful, and this obsession with profit is ridiculous, and destructive. We need to start mocking it as the lunacy it so clearly is.

 

(For the other side of the argument, about the need for paying fairly for things, there is Creativity for love and money)


Creativity, for love and money

Collectively we don’t seem that upset by the idea of paying more money to the kinds of celebrities who we know will blow it on the rock and roll lifestyle. Alcohol, drugs, fast cars, palatial homes and designer goods are all part of the celebrity fairy tale, so we buy the music, the films, the football tickets and we keep them in business. In the Pagan community, the reverse attitude seems prevalent – that it is an affront to seek money, and anyone who appears to behave in ways that even suggest they might want to earn a living from what they do, are called parasites. I’m not terribly fond of either extreme, I confess, and I sometimes suspect there are people who resent the professional Pagans but are still blithely supporting the other lot.

No one owes anyone a living and no one is especially entitled to anything. On the flip side of that, I like arrangements that value the work a person does, whatever that work is. I am as concerned by the chronic overvaluing of footballers and bankers, as I am by the chronic undervaluing  of nurses and teachers. The trouble with a market led economy is this race for the bottom, and if you don’t have the bargaining power to force people to pay you more, what you’ll end up doing is having to undercut the next fellow, to try and get ahead. Most of us do not win at that game.

I don’t have a rock and roll lifestyle. With authors, it tends to be less the drugs and cars, more the pipe and the whiskey, but I don’t have those either. But then the truth about authoring is that the vast majority of us are not able to make enough to live on. We need other income streams to survive, or supportive partners, or a small inheritance. Very few authors end up super rich, but the media likes to focus on the JK Rowlings of this world, and skim over the many near invisible others who barely make enough to keep themselves in jumpers so that they can sit in unheated homes and keep typing.

Buy my books, and I may blow some of the money on clothes. Not designer stuff, nothing glamorous. Most of what I own is either very old and tatty, or too big for me. The downside of inadvertent weight loss is that old things no longer fit. Some of my clothes are twenty years old and more, and while there’s use in them I’ll keep wearing them, because it would seem irresponsible not to.

I will probably spend royalties on cheese. As food prices go up, cheese has become more of a luxury than a regular thing, and being a vegetarian, that’s a bit of an issue. The vegan alternatives are more expensive than cheese (tofu, seitan etc). I gather theft of meat and cheese has gone up considerably as people in far greater difficulty than me simply cannot afford to eat properly any more.

The other thing I tend to fritter the money away on, is books. I’m a big reader, and I do use the library, but it’s nice to be able to support other authors by buying their work too. Books mean research and deepening my understanding and broadening my awareness, which seems to me an essential part of the job.

I’m very tired of the myth that hard word equates to earning, and that those who have wealth deserve it, while those who do not have only themselves to blame. I’ve worked hard on all manner of things, and I know the jobs that work you hardest are often those closest to the minimum wage. Those jobs will have you flat out and run ragged, with little to stimulate your mind or engage your interest. If hard work equated to income, teachers would be paid as much as doctors, while bankers would not be able to earn million pound bonuses. If hard work equated to income, an artist might be expected to make a living without working seven day weeks most of the year. Anyone who thinks art isn’t hard work hasn’t tried painting for ten hours a day, every day.

That said, if you’d like to read the first chapter of the latest book for free, no obligations, its on the publisher’s website – http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/pagan-portals-spirituality-without-structure-nimue-brown/

I find marketing my own work really difficult. I find it hard to suggest to anyone that they might consider buying something I’ve done, because I’ve seen the ‘parasite’ accusation a few too many times, although not directed at me, so far as I know. We none of us reliably earn in relation to our worth, it’s a big flaw in how our current economic systems are set up. Music, art and words are increasingly available for free on line, pirated, and given away because no one will pay. It’s a sorry state of affairs. Buy someone’s book. Give something back in exchange for the things freely given. Buy an album. It makes worlds of difference to people who create. And if you can’t stretch to that, please consider not hating us for flagging up now and then that we need to eat, too, because many creative people actually live close to the edge. Being taken for granted and expected to do it all for nothing and told that we should be happy being able to do it just for love, really doesn’t make that any great joy.


Money for Old Pagan Rope?

In some quarters, there’s a stigma around doing Pagan things for money. Be that teaching, writing, celebrant work, leading workshops or providing events, there are plenty of people who feel that Pagans should do it for love, not money. To seek payment is to cash in on spirituality. There may be a subtext of, really spiritual people don’t charge, only frauds want money.

It’s not a Pagan specific issue. Creative people get it too. Music, fiction, writing, films, games – plenty of people feel it’s wholly legitimate to pirate those, that creatives are unreasonable in wanting to be paid and that art should be free.

We all have to eat. There are only so many hours in a day, and most of us cannot run flat out all the time. Can you run workshops in the evening regularly and sustain a full time job? Part of the problem, I think, is the assumption that artistic and Pagan work are fun and easy, and therefore do not need paying for. Doctors, lawyers, shop assistants, road sweepers, those are ‘proper’ jobs. It’s a masochistic culture that says if you like what you do, it has no financial value. Don’t tell me those highly paid solicitors don’t get a kick out of writing each other snotty letters!

Running an event is exhausting, and requires a lot of attention on the day, plus vast amounts of preparation in advance. Then there’s the learning and study that enables you to do it when you show up – more parallels with creative industries, where you can be paying for twenty years of experience, even with relatively young creators. Some of us start young and work hard from an early age. Anyone who thinks celebrant work, or writing a decent book, or giving a talk, is fun and easy to the point where it should be viewed as a hobby and not charged for, really ought to try it some time.

I’ve experience of being a performer, author, workshop leader, public speaker and celebrant. I’ve also run the kinds of events where I needed to pay folk to turn up. Where I couldn’t find enough money, I would try and offset that by being at a convenient point in the tour – a gig and a bed when you’d be driving past anyway are not such a bad deal. I’d feed people, and if I could pay more than I’d thought, I’d pay it. With that work, I took no money for me at all. I’ve given away my time, I give away my writing, but if I did that with all things, I would not be viable and neither would anyone else.

Service is a wonderful thing, but should not automatically imply doing it at your own cost. Especially not when the people you serve could perfectly well afford to pay. I will charge with an eye to what’s manageable. For local places that have little resources (schools, for example) I’ll do things for the cost of getting there. If someone wants me to travel to a venue and be their celebrant, after they’ve booked the hotel and bought the wedding dress… why should I be the one freebie in the mix? On the other hand, if someone comes to my Grove and asks for a handfasting, informally of an afternoon, why should I charge?

For all of us, the choice as to what and when we give freely, and what and when we need to charge for, should be personal. It then falls to others to decide whether they want to pay. Give me a free venue I can walk to, and I won’t charge tickets, but I may bring some books to sell.

There is no shame, or disrespect, in either charging for professional Pagan services, or seeking them. There is no requirement to seek them, which is important. You can do it yourself. There are plenty of things in life I could have learned how to do, but haven’t, and prefer to pay for. Boat electrics being a case in point. There are things I have learned how to do that other people may find they want to pay me for. We can figure something out.

The thing people forget is that Paganism isn’t all spirituality and esoterica. It is full of other things too: Intellectual stuff, philosophy, history, biology. Performance skills. Admin and organisation skills (try running a Pagan organisation some time!) Much of this is done for love because we remain a small community that cannot really afford to pay its people properly.

There would be something to take pride in, should we get to the point where subscription magazines can pay their authors, organisations can pay something to the staff who work for them in vital roles, and our teachers, celebrants and facilitators are not frequently working themselves into the ground because they’re doing the job alongside another, paying job. It is not an insult to ask for fair recompense. It is an insult to stand on the outside, with no idea how much time, energy and personal resources people are putting in, and demand that you do it for free, and suggest that if you don’t, you are dishonouring the gods. Shame on those who think that way! Are we afraid that money corrupts us? Should we not consider that in most aspects of life you get what you pay for, and that expecting a high quality of resource for free is laughable. And yet so many people deliver that, out of love, while the community around them will spend money on alcohol that it would begrudge paying to support the work.


The happy Druid

I’ve met a lot of people along the way so far, from people who were penniless and living in single rooms in Bed and Breakfasts, to people who have big country houses and go skiing every year. People who have been invalided out of the workforce, the self-made and the downright lucky. I’ve known plenty of wealthy people who were a long way from being happy, whilst misery and poverty go together very easily. Without a doubt, the happiest people I know are either retired, or self employed, doing something they care about and feel has value, and have strong friendship networks.

Often self employed people like me work longer hours than regular employees and do so for less money, but, you get to say no when you need to. You can fit your work around your life, and I see a lot of that amongst the self employed, especially around child raising. People who work for themselves always have more scope to be creative, and get more direct financial reward for the things they get right. There are more risks, but these days most regular employment is so insecure that the risks seem a lot smaller than they used to. At least when it’s your company you can really fight to keep it going and don’t have to depend on whether anyone else is determined to make sure your job continues to exist. What I hear from regularly employed friends suggest that increasing numbers of workplaces are becoming unreasonable, disrespectful pressure fests. The self employed may not have as much cash, but we don’t endure any workplace bullying unless we do it to ourselves.

There are basic essentials that we all need. Recent discussions on facebook around food budgets demonstrate that a person who knows their stuff and has enough wriggle room for some bulk buying, can live well on fairly little. Less desire to be fashionably dressed keeps the clothes budget down. Feet as transport save money, and the cost of gym membership. There’s an art to being less affluent, and one of the key requirements is knowing that cash does not equate to happiness. Yes, life without the basics is miserable, but that’s not always a money issue. Rest and sleep are basics, plenty of highly paid, high flying jobs will deprive you of those. Human relationships are also a basic human need, and if you’ve got to work all your waking hours, or deeply antisocial hours, money costs you in terms of relationship.

The first secret to finding happiness rests on knowing what actually makes you happy. That’s going to vary for all of us, but whatever you think you’ve got, it’s worth poking it. The joy of shopping, for example, can often be about getting a temporary sense of power out of spending money, but if you run up debts, that disempowers you, it can become like an addiction. Getting drunk can feel like happiness, but there’s thinking out there that our young people do this just to blot out the reality of the rest of their lives. So just how happy a state is that? Merry is great, slightly pissed can be wonderful, but so off your face that you don’t know which way is up? Its popular, hugely expensive in terms of police costs and antisocial knock-ons.

I am able to get by on very little because I know what I need. I have books, online articles and radio 4 to supply me with intellectual stimulus on a daily basis. I have good company in the form of my bloke, my child, fellow boaters, excellent friends and a wide selection of casual acquaintances in the wider world. I need time outside and most especially, panoramic landscape views. Enough food, exercise and rest are possible to achieve, although I don’t always get that balance right. Lying in bed, snuggled with my man, cat purring in my ear, child giggling at the other end of the boat as he reads Pratchett in bed… of these things are contentment made. Happiness is not a big, dramatic sort of emotion. If I need thrills and adventures, moving the boat on a windy day, cycling a hill, undertaking an epic walk – I can challenge myself. I don’t get bored. I have the freedom to think and feel as I please, to choose a lot of what happens, or negotiate it in ways that work all round. I am free from bullying, and unkindness doesn’t feature much in my life. I feel very lucky in all of this.

I’m happy when small things go well, and when what I do works for other people, when publishers say yes, and the child says ‘today was an awesome adventure’ or things to that effect. I’m happy when I feel that I’m acting ethically, and walking my talk in some way or another, and when what I do manifestly benefits someone else. Money can be nice, especially when it represents people who bought my books. But money does not buy me the call of the cuckoo, a child’s laughter, or the man who looks at me with adoration in his eyes.


Why poverty is so expensive

We hear a lot from politicians at the moment about how much the poor cost society. So, I thought that could stand a closer consideration. Money is paid from the public purse to support people who are in desperate circumstances, but this is not the only way in which poverty costs money, and the other ways need thinking about too.

1) Poverty often leads to poor diets, in turn causing obesity, malnutrition, and weakened immune systems. These contribute to ill health. Sickness costs the economy in terms of lost work days, and people needing health care.

2) Poor people are known to be at higher risk of depression as stress and anxiety are causes of mental illness. An inadequate diet increases the risk of poor mental health. (Prisoners given vitamin supplements are less likely to reoffend.) Again, loss of days from work due to ill heath, cost to health services in terms of anti-depressants, and counselling. Huge knock on costs of suicide and attempted suicide.

3) Poverty is a motivation to commit crime. The more desperate people are, the more justifiable crime seems, including robbery, violent crime and rioting. Police, courts and prisons are all very expensive.

4) People with no disposable incomes cannot invest in their children’s education. No extra curricular activities or lerning resourecs at home. Under fed children are less able to concentrate in school, leading to a knock on problem of lost talent and economic potential.

5) Poor people have no disposable income with which to support the high street. Money for leisure tourism, entertainment, and luxuries are non existent, reducing available cash flow for large sectors of the economy. The more people are poor, the more these sectors are starved of cash. See HMV, for a recent example.

6) Heating costs money. Damp, unheated and cold homes can be very unhealthy. Being cold all the time is exhausting. This contributes to ill health and hypothermia can kill the sick and elderly. More costs in terms of lost working days and stresses on the health service.

7) Poor people don’t necessarily have spare cash for running shoes, gyms, swimming pools etc and if undernourished won’t have the energy for exercise. Absence of exercise in the lifestyle contributes to poor physical health and poor mental health, costs as described above.

8) Desperate, depressed and disadvantaged people are known to console themselves with drink and drugs, which can lead to violence. The cost to wider family, knock on effects on crime, with its attendant costs, impact on children, cost of social services interventions etc.

9) Bored teens with no prospects and no means of entertaining themselves are the most likely source of vandalism and antisocial behaviour. Repair costs, police costs, damage to communities as fear keeps people indoors.

10) People who have no hope eventually give up. If you don’t believe there’s any chance things can get better, what on earth is the point of trying? The harder things get for people in poverty, the more incentive they have, not to find work (as the government mistakenly imagines), but to fall into despair and apathy, with suicide an ever more tempting option.

Forgive the lack of detailed referencing to sources, please, but I’ve not drawn on anything wild or obscure here, and a lot of it I would like to think is common sense. My point is that none of the costs of poverty outlined above can be reduced by making poor people even worse off. I think there is every probability that short term cuts to the welfare budget will result in elevated long term costs on the health bill, social services, police, courts and prisons. We are storing up problems for the future.

There are economic arguments for not punishing the poor as a solution to recession. Point 5 should be the most evident. Take money out of the bottom of the system and business suffers. If you want economic growth, money in the hands of poor people moves. So what if they spend it on booze, or fags? If what you care about is GDP, someone made a profit there, some business benefitted, and will pay tax and maybe get to hire more staff. Economies depend on the flow of money. What we’re doing at the moment is reducing the flow.


Earning it

We hear a lot from the government about workers and shirkers, the hard working who deserve their money and the scroungers who deserve nothing. By this we are to understand that wealth itself is evidence of effort while poverty indicates laziness. That would be a very convenient explanation, skipping over how much wealth is earned and how much inherited. Wealth buys opportunity, education and connections, but if you acknowledge that, you have to recognise that massive earning differences have nothing to do with worth.

Now, if someone is out there saving lives, then it would be hard to over value their worth. Firemen would be a fine case in point. Would any of us argue with massive pay rises and bonuses for firemen, who risk their lives on a regular basis to save the lives and property of others? Firemen are heroes. We will never be able to thank them enough for what they do. But, compare that to bankers who take other people’s money and effectively gamble with it, and seem to get paid whether they make money for their bank, are mediocre or actually bankrupt a country. I’d love to know how that works. The guy at Barkleys Bank wisely declined his obscene bonus this week, perhaps recognising it might not be politic to take what he clearly hadn’t earned.

We have a system based on ideas of growth, market development, investment and whatnot. Now, skipping over the issue of infinite growth with finite resources…. I learn from the Guardian that the economic boom of the noughties was an illusion. Businesses were not investing or growing, and most of the money came from borrowing against inflated house prices. FTSE top 100 companies grew by 2.6 % on average per year while executive bonuses went up by 26 % a year, on average. My ten year old can do the maths. It’s insane. If a person gets paid way beyond what they earn, or generate for their company, they have not earned it. A bonus based on actual profits, actual development would make some kind of sense, but this doesn’t. It’s all about those in high places having the power to set their own pay scales and enough friends also in power to back them up. If you can’t show your company is thriving, you haven’t earned a bonus, and the only bonus you could earn would be in line with company profit. Anything else is TAKEN, not earned.

Let’s backtrack to those thought forms about hard work and earning your money. No company could survive without the people who do the work. The makers and builders, the ones on the shop floor, the ones talking to customers. These are the people at the bottom end of the pay scale, least valued by the company and they aren’t paid bonuses, in the normal scheme of things. Why assume if a company thrives that it is only due to the efforts of the management?

What I’d like is legislation that requires bonuses and pay rises to be linked directly to profitability in a meaningful way. (Not think of a multiplier and use that). I think there should also be a requirement that bonuses be paid out to every employee, not to managers alone, in situations of profit and success, and that people who are discernibly doing a mediocre job, or failing, should not get pay rises. Workers don’t get pay rises if their annual review doesn’t see them as being valuable. Why should bosses be different?

The irony here, is that this would be a system to drive genuine growth and investment. Full on capitalism. The people who claim to be capitalists evidently aren’t – rewarding failure and not investing to grow do not a capitalist system make. It’s not about the market, it’s simply a leech culture. And here’s me, anarchic and anti-capitalist with a vision that, although it alarms me to say it, is really speaking more innately capitalist in principle than what the capitalists are doing.

Yes Mr Cameron, we do have a culture where there are hard working people, and scroungers. Generally speaking, the scroungers are doing really well at bleeding the economy dry for their own benefit, while the hard workers are not anything like as well paid as they deserve to be. This is because we have a system that rewards power, not effort, or achievement. Just power. But that’s probably not worrying you, given that you are quite definitively In Power. However, as every leech knows, if you bleed a thing dry, you starve. A little enlightened self interest might not go amiss


You can’t get there from here

Usually, it’s offered as a joke, often with a strange local person uttering the words. Logically, it shouldn’t hold up. However, nothing fills me with fear like the kind of scenario that announces itself in these sorts of terms. The form which you can’t fill in without having the right code, which you can only get by filling in the form. (We had one of those this morning). More often than not, there is a way round it, although significant resources of patience, lateral thinking and perseverance are often called for.

Life has thrown me a few seemingly impossible things to try and field in recent years. The necessity of moving when there was nowhere affordable to rent or buy in viable striking distance was one such. It led to us being on a boat – not a challenge free arrangement, but one that gives us what we need. I’ve seen plenty of systems that seem to have impossibility built into them. Things where winning is just not possible. Others hold all the power, deal the cards, name the game and decide how to interpret the rules. Every run-in with one of these makes me that bit more cynical, and also that bit more determined not to let it grind me down.

There are plenty of systems you can get round by paying them to leave you alone. In essence this is corrupt, but it’s widespread. If you have enough money to hire the best lawyers you can write letters to intimidate others into giving up. If you can pay, you can force a less affluent opponent to quit just by upping the stakes enough. The rules of the poker table seem to apply all kind of places I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t.

Part of the trouble is that we have a longstanding culture in which money buys privilege. In English history, peerages, and parliamentary seats have been discernibly for sale. Politicians today will vie to buy your vote and to court the media. The company with the biggest budget can advertise the smaller competitors out of the market or undercut them to death. Money doesn’t just talk, it carries a big stick.

You can’t get there from here. You can’t easily change country without a lot of money to wave about. If you can show the funds, you can buy your way in. Criminal courts may be free to the victim, but many kinds of justice (restraining orders, child residency orders, small claims for repayment etc) require the civil courts, and you pay for that. Justice has a price tag, all too often. I notice down here on the canal that the bigger and more expensive looking your boat is, the more you can get away with – mooring alongside the no mooring signs is a popular one. Manifestly less affluent boaters would be moved on at once, but even those with legal authority hesitate to challenge the exceedingly rich.

The more obscure, convoluted and challenging a system is, the more unfair it is. The harder you make things, the faster you exclude anyone who isn’t so well educated. The more nasty your legal language, the sooner you intimidate folk who can’t afford legal advice or can’t buy themselves out. The more aggressive you are, the easier it is it shove out people who already feel vulnerable. There is no excuse for this. All official systems should by default, be as simple, clear and transparent as is technically possible. Ideally we ought to test them on eight year old kids. If the kids can’t navigate it, the system isn’t good enough. I’m thinking here about benefits systems, tax systems, medical systems, all the facets of society we may need to appeal to for help in times of difficulty. Any system which at any point has the capacity to exclude or intimidate, needs work.

Although that wouldn’t serve the interests of anyone who can currently buy their way to advantages, and who doesn’t want to share the privilege. Or anyone who fantasises about making it to the degree they think they too will one day grease the wheels and that therefore it should stay as it is.  While any of us buy into the make believe that we’ll win the lottery, land the movie deal and get to cross over to the place of power, we’re stopping ourselves from fixing all that is sick and stupid.

We can get there from here. It might take some doing, but we can.


The art of stopping

Many druids understand money as energy, creating a way of relating to it that is not just ‘root of all evils’ logic. As a culture we’re all under a lot of pressure to earn money. We should be contributing to the economy, paying our taxes, buying, consuming, using, working more hours to pay for more things, and so it goes on. A ‘normal’ life can involve a couple of hours of commuting each day on top of the nine to five job, to be followed up by a few exhausted hours in front of the TV with a microwaved dinner before dragging off to bed. All to pay for the car to get to the job, the childcare that allows you to do the job, the expensive clothes the job requires, and the TV to fall over in front of. Sliding into debt is also normal. So normal that all our governments do it to a terrifying degree.

It starts early, at school or at home. We are encouraged to be meek and obedient, to follow instructions and work hard. Even when the work is dull, insipid or pointless, we are trained from an early age to knuckle down anyway and accept that someone else has decided we need to do it.

How many jobs confer any innate sense of satisfaction? How many people do not finish the working day feeling like they’ve achieved something? And all the while the bills mount up and the cost of living increases. What many of us do for much of the day is generate wealth for other people, through our work, and our spending.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my luxuries are. Most of them turn out not to have any easily attached price tag. Yesterday we sat in the spring sunlight for a while, watching swans build a nest. We went for a walk. Lying down has come to feel like the most exquisite kind of self indulgence. I have a very physical life, which frequently leaves me aching and exhausted. Lying down is bliss. Sitting in the sun to think, cuddle, daydream and plan is one of the loveliest ways to pass an afternoon. Time found for music, for my fingers to dance over the familiar neck of my violin, or my voice to find a song. Time spent making love. The things that give me most joy cost nothing. All they require is that I step away from the great energy exchange of money for a while.

I’ve come to realise, in the last few days, that stopping should not be a luxury. I need to think of it as a necessity, a vital part of living well and maintaining both mental and physical health. It is natural to stop. Most of nature does only what it must, and then rests. But then, most of nature does not have a mortgage to pay, or any government or media pressure to be a cog in the economic machine. I spend a lot of time watching dogs, with their boundless capacities for joy and enthusiasm. They wag tails even in the rain. The oldest, stiffest dog will still be cheerful on a sunny walk. They know how to live, and I find it all too easy to forget.

The work should be good. It should be meaningful and rewarding in itself, and it should be properly rewarded. It shouldn’t matter whether anyone is paying for it, because that is not the only measure of achievement. The work should add to the world, enhancing life, not taking from it. It should not leave the worker feeling hollow, used or miserable. It must also end. There must be times when it is possible to step away, to turn off the phone, put down the paperwork and be free of it. Too many jobs seem to require full life commitment, not merely the hours a person is paid for. Professional teaching would be right at the top of the list there. As technology ‘improves’ increasing numbers of companies seem to expect that employees will be perpetually on call.

Sometimes we confuse money for goodness. We mistake the movement of it for success. We fail to distinguish between material wealth and quality of life. Certainly, a degree a physical wealth improves quality of life, but when all we do is service a bank account, we are not living. The best things cannot be bought. A reason to smile. Peace. Friendship. A glorious sunset. The laughter of a child. Good conversation. Dreams.