Thursday 6 January 2011

The World Turned Upside Down

Twelfth Night, the last day of the Christmas season, and a Christian festival traditionally associated with the visit of the Three Kings (or Wise Men or Magi, depending on your preference). But Twelfth Night is also associated with far older, pre-Christian festivals based around the concept of overturning the established order of society - the world turned upside down.

As depicted so well by Shakespeare in the play of the same name, servants would take the role of lords and ladies, apprentices their masters, the fool would become the king.

It got me thinking about what it would mean to be a lord or master today - who are the people in charge? Clearly there's the government, but also the bankers and business leaders - the "captains of industry" - who run vast swathes of the economy and therefore the country.

And while, arguably no-one voted for the current coalition government, at least not in its entirety, we all, to a greater or lesser extent, vote for the bankers and business leaders. How do we do that?

A friend of mine was complaining last year about an article he read about bankers bonuses. "I'm bloody well paying for those bonuses," he reflected bitterly, "I bank with X Bank." My question was obvious: "Well, why are you still with them then? Move your account to a bank that doesn't." But guess what? He didn't.

And the reason was that his original X Bank paid more interest than, let's say, a more ethical alternative. So that's what you get. If you want an extra nought-point something percent interest on your savings, you have to make your choice. If you want a fairer, more equitable society, you have to put your money where your mouth is. I get virtually no interest on my bank account, but I also pay no bankers' bonuses. That doesn't make me a saint or anything, far from it, but there's no point in complaining if you're not going to do anything about it. Your money is the oxygen that fuels the current bonfire of our economy - if you don't like it, cut off the oxygen.

And of course, it's not just bankers' bonuses, though those make an easy target. It's the investments in arms-dealing, dictatorships, tar sand oil extraction, deep water drilling. And it's not, of course, just banks. What about building societies, your ISAs, pension funds. Do you know where they're invested? Imagine if a huge proportion of the population simply switched their money and investments into more ethical, socially minded alternatives. That would truly be a World Turned Upside Down worthy of Twelfth Night. Jon Curran

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