Sedartis looks at me sadly. ‘How is it,’ he demands to know, ‘that this man is asking for money?’ I shrug, a little impatient:
‘He doesn’t have any and needs some to buy food or alcohol or cigarettes or drugs or whatever it happens to be that he wants.’
‘Yes I can see that.’
I fear this conversation is going to go some obvious place about social injustice and the unfair distribution of wealth and the absence of life chances for someone like this man, who isn’t young, and who isn’t old, and who isn’t distinct in any particular way, other than perhaps that at this moment he has just asked me for money—for change, more precisely, which is materially less, yet symbolically so much more—and that I have given him some (money only, not meaningful change), partly because I for once happened to have some on me, partly because I felt unease at walking past a human being in need of some charity without offering it in the presence of Sedartis, and partly because I forever and always look at people about me who are skidding on the edge of existence and think the ‘there, but for the grace of god, go I’ thought, not because I have a faith or a belief or a god I can readily defer to, but because ‘god’ to me seems as good a shorthand for ‘chance,’ or ‘luck,’ or ‘circumstance,’ or ‘the way the universe has momentarily aligned itself,’ or any combination of these, as any.
‘What I need to understand,’ I get from Sedartis, ‘is how do you make it so in your world that there are those who have money and keep it and then have to—reluctantly, more often than willingly—give it away, or bestow it, and there are those who do not have it, or at any rate not enough, and they have to beg for it, or steal it, or at the very least work for it; and how do you make it so in your world that purely having money makes that money increase, whereas purely not having money makes obtaining any much harder: surely, but surely it would be much better the other way round: what is money other than a “promise to pay,” but how do you pay, if not in deed?
‘You cannot pay a person in money: that is just another promise, but the longer that promise is held out and not kept, the weaker it surely becomes, not through ill will, necessarily, but through the depreciation of any hold that a thing or a person can have over anything or anyone else over time.
‘So if today I promise to marry you tomorrow, and I marry you not tomorrow, and I marry you not for another day and another, and then not for a week and a month and a year and another year and another; and then five, maybe ten years pass: my promise to marry you becomes weaker and weaker, surely, not because by necessity my intention has diminished—my intention may still be lasting and good—but think of the potential lovers I meet, think of the glances I exchange; think of the buses in front of which I cross the street, think of the tall trees I walk under: the chances, the probability, of my being able to marry you ever decreases, not through wrongdoing, but because the bond between me and the words I have spoken and the thing or the person that they pertain to gets intermingled with bonds that pertain to other persons or objects, through other words that I speak or things that I do.’
Sedartis is approaching the nub of his question, I sense:
‘So how is it that in your world you decree that money should increase over time: how most extraordinarily ludicrous an idea, which makes people do with money the opposite of what money is supposed to be for: money is there to circulate as an ever-weaving pattern of promises that are quickly exchanged and kept and renewed and newly directed. You give me a loaf of bread, I give you this promise that I or someone else will soon give you something in exchange for your bread that is worth as much as your bread, no less and no more, for example some honey. This can only be good and proper if the promise is called in soon. If you then stash away this promise because you know that in doing so it will become greater, then you withdraw from circulation all incentive for somebody else to garner the honey that goes with your bread. See you not this is so? Money surely, but surely should only ever decline in value over time, so that nobody has any reason to hold on to any of it, but everybody has every reason to constantly keep it in circulation, because that is all it is good for, nothing more, nothing less.’
I have no answer to this—except a tentative ‘inflation?’ which is easily deflected—but I try to reason, as best I can: ‘Well, people, they like to save up for a rainy day, or for their retirement, say: if you didn’t pay interest on savings, or if you had no return on investments, then people, when they are old, would have no pensions and no savings and would end up on the street, like our friendly young beggar just then.’
‘He was not friendly, or young.’
I was trying to adopt a whimsical disposition. With Sedartis, this fails.
‘Why would old people not have a pension, and why would they need savings: are you not, as a community, capable of looking after your old and your sick and your needy? Have you not developed the means to gather from each to their ability a contribution to the welfare of all?’
‘We have; we have a complex system of benefits and pensions and tax credits, and then we have private pensions and health insurance and life insurance and obviously also investments and savings.’
‘Do away with investments and savings,’ implores Sedartis: ‘they are what distort your presence today, they are the root of your immense poverty.’
‘We are not that poor, as a country, for example, or as a society, we do rather well; although there are of course inequalities…’
‘You are destitute. You are deprived because you lose, by and by, all sense of worth and all sense of purpose and all sense of care and all sense of freedom and all sense of joy and all sense of being.’
‘But we are highly evolved, and connected; we have ever increasing levels of literacy and make rapid progress in science and medicine, and although our population is growing, we still cater for larger proportions of it better each year: we do not fare badly, though granted, perfect we’re not.’
‘Oh yes,’ Sedartis concedes at last: ‘you have the potential to be magnificent.’ I am glad to hear him now thus, but: ‘but you waste way too much of it way too much of the time. You do not realise your potential.’