Fifty Years of Terry Pratchett

Sam Vimes ‘Boots’ Theory of Socio-Economic Unfairness

Rhianna Pratchett

Rhianna Pratchett

Rhianna Pratchett is an award-winning cross-media writer, story designer and narrative paramedic and the daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett.

‘Fabricati Diem Pvnc’ by Discworld artist Paul Kidby

Perhaps one of the most popular quotes from the Discworld series is Sam Vimes’s ‘Boots’ Theory of Socio-economic Unfairness, propounded in Men at Arms:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

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 OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. 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 the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

Men at Arms

With the fifty-dollar boots, Vimes knew that he would save money in the long term and that his feet would be dry for many years, but lacking the money for that initial outlay he is caught in the trap of spending more money over the years, and a significantly longer time with wet feet.

This theory often goes viral during times of austerity and whenever cuts are made that disproportionately impact on the poorest in society. Its popularity is likely down to the fact that so many of us, at least at some point in our lives, can relate to being unable to scrape together the money for even moderately expensive items that might last and remain in peak condition for much longer than products within a much lower price range.

Vimes goes on to consider why society’s most wealthy, including his wife Sybil Ramkin, hardly ever had to buy anything.

The mansion was full of this big, solid furniture, bought by her ancestors. It never wore out . . . Lady Sybil Ramkin lived quite comfortably from day to day by spending, Vimes estimated, about half as much as he did.

Men at Arms

Vimes, and Terry, understood that being poor is like being caught in a trap. The well off can make decisions and purchases that leave them wealthier, more comfortable and with more free time. Consider how much time and money is spent taking clothes to a laundrette if you can’t afford a washing machine, or taking a car for repairs if you can only afford an old banger with far too many miles on the clock. Those most affected by food poverty end up spending more and shopping more often through lacking the finances to save money by bulk buying. It’s easy to save money when you are rich. Poverty is both expensive and time consuming.

Perhaps one of the most popular quotes from the Discworld series is Sam Vimes’s ‘Boots’ Theory of Socio-economic Unfairness, propounded in Men at Arms: The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really…