Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I am sworn to get on with writing my piece about wealth now, rather than ranting in pubs, and upsetting my friends. Talking is the enemy of writing, sometimes, as one fritters away the energy.

I won't even mention fnord that my son is working 70 hours a week at an average of $3.50 an hour - because a lot of poor people would trade with him, touring all over the United States with a belly-dancing troupe. It reminds me of that Woody Allen gag from "What's New, Pussycat" when he describes his work backstage at the Folies Bergere, and mentions the low sum of money involved. "That's not much!" says the other person. "It's all I can afford" sighs Woody.

I don't mean to obsess - it's just a subject that fascinates me. I didn't get bourgeoisified either in the 60s the 70s or the 80s or the 90s (not for lack of trying, some misguided folks might say). And yes I have had benefactors and patrons, I've even had a good income intermittently. I even started out with a reasonable education (of the old-fashioned, pre60s, kind). I have also been at the bottom quite often (most recently in 1995) when I would do anything to survive.

My friends in places like Sweden, Denmark, Finland don't entirely understand, because their countries have worked on elimination of social inequality. Even my friends in places like France and Germany have lived as citizens (not subjects). If you want to understand why Catch-22 remains one of my favourite books, try reading Chapter 2 of Polly Toynbee's most recent book "Hard Work", in which she tries to find out what help she can get from the State - if she suddenly found herself at the bottom of the pile - say, because "I might be a woman fleeing a violent husband. I might be a refugee family. I might have had my home repossessed after losing my job and defaulting on my mortgage".

She is a Guardian journalist, and, by her own admission, comfortably off. She says "MPs earn more than 96% of the population does, and many of us earn yet more." Still, her attempt to actually live on the low earnings of the bottom third of British society is revealing. So I am not knocking her intentions at all - I like reading the Guardian, too (it's one of the few intelligent, secular, balanced, rational papers available). Nevertheless, their holiday offers, their wine column, their fashion pages and gift suggestions, etc. come from an entirely different world from mine. I might as well consider mimicking David Bowie's holiday plans.

Anyway - Catch-22 is that The State doesn't give you money to get out of difficulties any more. It lends you money from the social fund. "I may be in a crisis but the state's response to my need is based on the mood and attitude of the officer, on the amount of money left in the pot, and on my ability to pay".

Crazy. I'll misquote Jesus here (everyone else does) because I know this was said in a different context - " For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. " (Matthew 13:12)

And Jesus wept. ((John 11:35) (not bad for an atheist, huh?)

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