Then he dropped a hint, asking if I had anything to offer them for the new year. I said no, wondering where this was leading. I was bit flummoxed when he then asked me "the bonna support ekak thenda puluwan tha?" meaning, could you give me some money to have a cup of tea. I gave him a hundred rupees and he asked me if I was giving it freely and I replied that I was and he smiled and waved me on.
I have been joking to friends saying that the number of checks for dunk driving seem to be inversely related to the state of the economy. The worse it gets, the more check are conducted, with the implication that the policemen need a few more bribes to tide them over the high cost of living.
The fellows at the checkpoint must have had a poor haul that night to have to descend to begging.
I was chatting to a friend a couple of days before. This guy lectures to O level students at a tutory on a part-time basis. This is a really cheap place that charges students a thousand rupees a month and hold large group classes. The school used to have an roll of 6000 students, it is now down to 4000. I asked him why enrollment was down, he said it was a combination of economics and the security situation.
Some parents, it seems, can no longer afford to spend a thousand rupees a month on education. Although it sounds very little to me, it must represent something quite large to some people, especially since education is highly esteemed in local society and is probably the amongst the last things to be cut from family budgets.
The school also used to have students from the outskirts of Colombo; Negombo, Wattala and surrounding areas who would come to Colombo on Friday or Saturday morning, stay with friends, relatives or in a boarding house for the weekend, attend classes and return on Sunday or Monday. Many of these students were Muslims or Tamils and with the increased number of raids on lodging houses and the need to register temporary visitors it appears to have become too much hassle to come to Colombo anymore.
These two little examples underline the importance of the value of money. The vast majority of people live on a fixed monthly salary or a fixed daily wage. Salaries are generally revised once year or if they are lucky twice a year. If the value of money drops and the basket of goods that a given amount of money can buy shrinks, the result is an increase in poverty. The decline in the value of money is called inflation. The concept seems abstract and unworldly but the impact is real and affects everybody. Failure to manage inflation amount amounts to theft by the government.
Nobody understood this better than the prophet of Bloomsbury. To quote his remarks on the subject:
“Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become ‘profiteers,’ who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.”
Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”
J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (p. 235-6)