Unfortunate Millionaires

The Leader-Post – May 26, 1948 

Unfortunate Millionaires

I have grown fairly callous as my age has crept nearer Methusela’s but, I confess, my heart was wrung as I read of those unfortunate millionaires whom Sir Stafford Cripps is taking to the tune of 28 shillings in the pound.

I never used to believe Mr. Shaw when he argued that the richer you become nowadays the nearer you are to being a bankrupt. But the new budget seems to prove that Mr. Shaw was right.

How lucky those of us who have never been able to save any money! There is an old and true saying: “You can’t take the feathers off a frog”; and how much better it is to be a frog than a bird of paradise when the merciless plumage-plucker Sir Stafford is about!

Whether I could have saved a little money if I had tried harder I do not know. Like other children I was given a tin moneybox in my nursery days; but it was not of much use in teaching the habit of saving it to a boy who possessed a chisel. For easy as it as to drop pennies through the slit of the box, it was equally easy to widen the list with a chisel and get them out again.

Later on in my school days, when I won one of those money prizes that used to be showered on the Irish children by the Intermediate Education board, I had a better chance of saving and laying the foundations of a fortune.

My grandmother, however, warned me that in no circumstances must I put the money in a bank. If you put money in a bank, she declared, it showed that you didn’t trust the Lord.

So impressed was I by her reasoning that, cashing my prize cheque, I lived on nougat and books and rode everywhere on trams for months afterwards.

When I came to London and at last got a job on a weekly paper at a salary of 30s a week I felt enormously rich; but even then I did not manage to save any money. My editor maintained that even if you were earning only a pound a week it was always possible to save half-a-crown and that it was your duty to do so.

My grandmother’s advice, however, must have killed any thrifty instinct that may have existed in me at birth; for I could not save a penny, even on 30s a week, and I have never been able to save a penny since.

As a result I have never owned a share and have spent most of my life pulling the devil by the tail till the tail has threatened to come away in my hands.

Do not think that I boast of this, however. Until recently, on the contrary, I condemned myself for my thriftlessness and have regarded it simply as an element in that general moral slackness which has made me a chain smoker and all sorts of things against which I warn my nephews and nieces.

My ideal man has always been a man who can save as well as spend—who is in all the better position to spend indeed because he has saved. How I envy those of my contemporaries who, having saved from their youth up, have built themselves houses with fine gardens running down the edge of the salt water and have retired into life in which there is little to do except to watch a gardener at work and give a good example to their grandchildren!

Even if I had tried to save, however, it must be admitted that I have lived in a time unpropitious to saving—unpropitious at least, for persons like me. Ever since my salary rose to seven guineas a week taxation has climbed after it with its ravening maw, and has bitten off that very portion of it which, if I had been a better man, I should have wanted to put into the bank.

Groaning over my losses, I have cried out, like everybody else: “Why does the Chancellor of the Exchequer always pick on me?” Why, if he wants me to save, I have often wondered, does he not search the pockets of non-smokers, teetotallers, bachelors and bicyclists and indeed everybody except people like me?

Even so, as I have said, when I read of those poor wretches paying 28 shillings in the pound I felt almost glad that I had been prevented from saving.

The old proverb that used to thrill the thrifty: “Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves” is no longer true. It should be amended to read: “Take care of the pence, and the pounds will be taken care of by Sir Stafford Cripps.”

Twenty-eight shillings in the pound!

There is a lot to be said for not being rich.




Quotes by ROBERT LYND:



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