I don’t recall when I first engaged with Economics 101, but it may have been in the choir stalls of St Nicholas, Wells-next-the-Sea, in the mid-1950s. So probably it was during the season of Trinity, and I was tuned in (as a boy soprano might) to the prescribed New Testament reading:
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Not “termites”: two mites!
Ok, let’s resort to the ultimate authority, the OED:
Any small coin of low value; originally applied to a Flemish copper coin, but in English used mainly as a proverbial expression for an extremely small unit of monetary value (see also sense 1b). Occas. used to denote a more specific unit, as a farthing, a half farthing, or (esp. in accounting) some smaller fraction of a farthing. Now hist.
Yes: I’ve had to explicate that further, in another context, by bating a stiver. That was in connection with Robert Browning (stanza ten) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln:
The Piper’s face fell, and he cried,
“No trifling! I can’t wait! Beside,
I’ve promised to visit by dinnertime
Bagdad, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor–
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion.”
Indeed: as defined — again – by the Oxford English Dictionary:
A small coin (originally silver) of the Low Countries; applied to the nickel piece of 5 cents of the Netherlands (one-twentieth of a florin or gulden, or about a penny English).
In other words: the smallest coin of the realm.
Not quite an episode of the madeleine, then
More one of post-prandial ginger cake and a relaxed second bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
For, it was then the Lady in my Life drew my attention to Polly Toynbee:
… last week Ed Miliband bet the bank – plus bankers’ bonuses – that ballooning inequality was the great issue of our time. He’s not alone, as the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and even Mark Carney of the Bank of England identify it as the root cause of long-term economic woe: if too many are paid too little, who buys the goods and pays the taxes?
In his “zero-zero economy” speech Miliband threw off inhibition to hammer out his long-term theme – how inequality, insecurity and low pay cause a standard of living crisis that looks dangerously like the new normal. This is Labour’s authentic message, not political calculation or a left lurch, but what the party’s for. The pretence that Labour is anything else always reeked of the Westminster dissembling and inauthenticity that drives voters away. For both main parties, the middle ground begins to look more like a death zone than the winning turf.
Or to put a few numbers in there:
Those earning over £2.7m contribute 4.2% of all income tax, while the lowest-paid third contribute 4%.
Polly is citing from the Telegraph‘s despairing “How top 3,000 earners pay more tax than bottom 9m.”
The difference is those top earners do it out of shed-loads of “disposable” income — monies which are available to deploy after all living costs, including the Bentley, the au-pairs, and the Swiss chalet, have been settled.
The poor pay their whack, like it or not, in constrained deductions, such as VAT on essential living, and the new taxes, beloved by “conservative” Tories, such as the Bedroom Tax and ever-ramped transport costs.