Descending briefly from my City eyrie in search of a decent cup of coffee, I am accosted by Mansoor. He sidles up to me, looking mischievous and slightly guilty, and it is soon clear why. He works for Shelter, the housing charity, and after a while people like him realise what evil parasites they truly are.
For what does Mansoor want from me? He wants £5 a month to help a homeless family get back on their feet. And why should he feel bad about that? Because as far as most people seem to be concerned, he might as well be asking the earth. When we walk a little too swiftly past Mansoor, carefully avoiding eye-contact and pretending we are too busy/already gave/dum-dee-dum-dee-daa, we know what a bunch of liars and moral inadequates we are. And we feel bad. And it’s all Mansoor’s fault.
But I stop and talk. We talk about how the poor are rendered invisible. How we seem to hate (or at least despise) the poor. Well, that’s what I say, and he doesn’t seem to disagree, though I have found that when I say things like that to charity workers, they get a bit nervous. Perhaps they have been trained to get the punters on their side, to appeal to their better natures. Waste of time, I would say – the ones with a better nature do not need it appealing to, and the ones without have already walked right by. As a measure of just how effective the charities’ approach is, Mansoor is absurdly grateful that anyone is willing to give him two minutes, let alone £5 a month.
So there Mansoor and I stand, right on the edge of the world’s greatest financial centre, surrounded by more money than anyone could even imagine, talking about £5 a month to give children a roof over their heads.
So how much money are we surrounded by? Just the other day I found out that, each year, the total value of all the transactions carried out around here runs into the quadrillions of pounds/dollars/euros. I don’t know how much that is (other than that one quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000), but I do know that we could solve all the world’s poor’s problems with a minute fraction of that much money.
And then I have a bright idea. Why not take a minute fraction of that much money? Straight off the top. How about taking just one millionth of the total value of every transaction that goes through London, New York, Hong Kong, Chicago – all the top 20 financial centres – and putting it into a fund whose sole purpose is to solve the problems of the world’s poor. Starting with their debts to the world’s richest, perhaps.
How about starting off by asking the London Stock Exchange to consider it as part of their corporate social responsibility? Ask them to give it all to environmental charities as part of their offsetting for the zillions of air flights their members make every year?
How much would that raise? I’ve no idea how much it would come to in total, but it would come to a billion out of every quadrillion pounds/dollars/euros worth of transactions. Would it harm our economies? I would guess not. Hard to see how raising a billion in a world that operates in quadrillions would come to more than their coffee money.