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Public Money – a personal reflection

by Matt Baker

I’ve had cause to think about public money of late – what do people mean by the term? Why is it such a loaded term? Are attitudes different in different societies? Has the nature of public money changed for us over the years? What should it be for now?

I suppose things started with chiefs and monarchs demanding taxes from the people within their tribes or lands to pay for organising their safety and keeping the peace. Then when we moved to a democratic way of organising our society we kept the taxation idea but attempted to make a system whereby the money gathered was a form of common-wealth that was directed to making the best for everybody. In Britain this resulted in incredible, visionary things like the National Health Service and free education for all. In other societies (e.g. Scandinavian countries) there still seems to be a strong sense that everyone contributes and everyone expects to benefit from the resources, services and opportunities provided by the common-wealth of the community. This is not public money viewed as the bare minimum to provide a safety net for those too poor or sick to look after themselves or base-level provision of things we have a ‘right’ to expect like cleaning the streets…rather it is a conscious and deliberate system for giving the best standard of living and opportunities to the most people within a society…and  how that builds a place long-term, not just patch the streets.

This is what I have been pondering – Why do we often seem to have such a different attitude in our society? Why are we not proud and passionately engaged in the process of deciding on the best way to invest our common-wealth to give the maximum benefit to everyone? To debate answers to these questions would be to analyse hundreds of years of politics, culture and history. I can’t pretend to be capable of doing that – and, ultimately I am not all that interested in the answers.

What I am passionate about is the situation that we find ourselves in just now, and what we, as a modern society, as a community of people, are going to do in facing up to our situation. We have created a massive and shameful gap between people with nothing and people with everything – and the gap is growing larger by the day. The terrible logic of this is that people seem to feel that they must hold tightly to the relatively little they have, a perverse culture of fear … ‘devil take the hindmost’… ‘I’m alright Jack’’. This fear actually supports the widening gap … whilst we are protecting our crumbs others are gleefully stashing away full cakes. But what if instead of fearing losing more – we were to build strength rather than merely try to stem a decline that we have been convinced is inevitable?

It seems to me that this is the root of current attitudes to ‘public money’ some people are so deeply wedded to this culture of acceptance of doom that they see any use of public money as either a ‘waste’ or ‘too little too late’ or ‘naïve’ or ‘corrupt’… may be such people have lost hope of improving their situation (or that of their neighbours) or they have a vested interest in the current status quo and seek to undermine any attempt to change it.

The truth is that Public Money (our common-wealth) is, along with our passion, spirit and creativity the most powerful tool we have for levelling the playing field of opportunity in our society. If we can create the opportunities for more people to achieve their potential everyone will be raised up together. Feeling pleased at seeing someone struggle is simply a mirror of your own struggle – by celebrating the growth of others we all grow together.

This is why I (and The Stove) am proud and humbled to be trusted with sums of public money. I feel the responsibility to extract every ounce of usefulness and benefit for my community. I see public money as an investment in our collective passion, spirit and creativity and a means of reaching out a supportive and compassionate hand. Public money can be smart and inventive, but above all it needs to be a force for equality, because only understanding ourselves as a community with the power to grow together will we have any chance of bridging the gap that threatens to destroy us all.


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