To Terry Pratchett, Who Gave Us Sam Vimes’ ‘Boots’ Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness

Terry Pratchett flickr

As I am sure many of you know, Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, co-author of Good Omens with Neil Gaiman, and inventor of many fantastical worlds and characters, has died. He had a form of early-onset Alzheimers, advocated for the legality of “assisted death” (a term he preferred to “assisted suicide”) and as Larry Finlay, managing director at Transworld publishers, told the BBC, Pratchett died “with his cat sleeping on his bed, surrounded by his family.”

With that in mind, I am going to reprint the Sam Vimes “Boots” Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness, which Pratchett first wrote 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.

This is not the only economic theory Pratchett presents in Men At Arms: he also notes that:

The very very rich could afford to be poor. Sybil Ramkin lived in the kind of poverty that was only available to the very rich, a poverty approached from the other side. Women who were merely well-off saved up and bought dresses made of silk edged with lace and pearls, but Lady Ramkin was so rich she could afford to stomp around the place in rubber boots and a tweed skirt that had belonged to her mother. She was so rich she could afford to live on biscuits and cheese sandwiches.

If we would like to start the Billfold Book Club up again, I recommend we begin with Men At Arms. What do you think?

Photo credit: Robin Zebrowski

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