Boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness

This will be a quick one today, as I am still fuming after I got into a debate of some sort with an acquaintance who insisted that “poverty is a matter of mindset”. I feel like shoving this whole Twitter thread in his face but in our conversation/debate/discourse I have pretty much exhausted all the scenarios I could picture in my head about how poverty is not a mindset, it’s systemic and surely not a choice! Even research says so.

But some people are lost cause, and he stood his ground by saying that one could ‘choose’ not to be poor by having a positive mindset. So I decided this is a battle I could no longer win, “Ok bro, let us know once you have successfully eradicated poverty through the power of positive thinking alone. You’re a national treasure.”

At times like this, I am reminded of how literature, particularly Sir Terry Pratchett’s, of whose work I grew up with and continue to be fond of, say the truest things. In this case, Sam Vimes’ “Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness”, first written in 1993 as part of Men At Arms, the fifteenth book in his Discworld series:

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

Take 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.

As for the rest of us? Acknowledge our privilege. No one chooses to be poor.

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