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Terry Pratchett's 'boots' theory about why it's expensive to be poor goes viral again

The often-cited "Sam Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness" is from the late author's 1993 book, 'Men At Arms.'

Terry Pratchett's 'boots' theory about why it's expensive to be poor goes viral again
Cover Image Source: (L)Getty Images/sunstep21 (representative), (R)Twitter/Terry Pratchett

Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 8, 2022.

Terry Pratchett's "Sam Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness" is striking a chord with yet another generation. The often-cited theory from the late author's 1993 book, 'Men At Arms,' explains how it is much more expensive to be poor. "The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money," Pratchett wrote. "Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of okay for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars."

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"Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots at the same time and would still have wet feet," the author explained.

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The popular anecdote was liked by many on Twitter when the Pratchett estate tweeted the quote in support of writer and activist Jack Monroe's new price index—named the "Vimes Boots Index"—to document the "insidiously creeping prices" of basic food products. According to The Guardian, Monroe explained that her index will "document the disappearance of the budget lines and the insidiously creeping prices of the most basic versions of essential items at the supermarket" and "serve as an irrefutable snapshot of the reality experienced by millions of people."

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In a tweet on January 26, 2022, Monroe announced that the index is already starting to make a difference. "Delighted to be able to tell you that the [Office for National Statistics] has just announced that they are going to be changing the way they collect and report on the cost of food prices and inflation to take into consideration a wider range of income levels and household circumstances," the 33-year-old wrote. Meanwhile, Rhianna Pratchett—daughter of the late 'Discworld' series author—shared that her father would have been proud to see his work used in this way by the anti-poverty campaigner.

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"My father used his anger about inequality, classism, xenophobia and bigotry to help power the moral core of his work. One of his most famous lightning-rods for this was Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch - a cynical, but likable, man who attempts to better himself whilst railing against the injustices around him. Some of which he's had a hand in perpetrating in the past," she said. "Vimes's musing on how expensive it is to be poor via the cost of boots was a razor-sharp evaluation of socio-economic unfairness. And one that's all too pertinent today, where our most vulnerable so often bear the brunt of austerity measures and are cast adrift from protection and empathy. Whilst we don't have Vimes anymore, we do have Jack and Dad would be proud to see his work used in such a way."

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