Forget reading Thomas Piketty. Try a bit of Terry Pratchett

“In the Ramtop village, for example, where they dance the real Morris dance, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die until the clock he ended up falling – until the wine she made “has completed its fermentation until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of a person’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.”

The above is just one of the many examples of the wisdom lurking beneath the ingenuity of the writings of the late Terry Pratchett. Last week, another experienced one of those ripples when chef and social activist Jack Monroe referenced a passage from one of his Discworld books, while explaining that traditional inflation targets do not show how price increases disproportionately affect the poorest.

Vimes Boots theory (named after a main character) demonstrates the choices that are denied them low-income and that could save them money. Those who can afford $ 50 for a pair of high-quality work boots can get more than a decade of use of them, while those who cannot will buy a $ 10 pair that lasts a little more than a year. Therefore, the poor will spend $ 100 over a decade and still have wet feet, while the wealthy spend half of it. Vime’s theory is that the rich were rich because “they managed to spend less money”. The Pratchett estate has now given Monroe the use of the name for a new food poverty index.

She performed another service by introducing important people to Pratchett’s wisdom. That this should be necessary for such a successful writer – at the time of his death his work had sold 70 million copies and been translated into 30 languages ​​- may seem strange, but Pratchett is far less well-read among what might be called the ruling elite than perhaps expected. I know so many wise and successful people who have never read him. And that’s a shame, because in addition to being funny and human, he was a sharp social commentator.

One reason people do not read him is that those who take themselves too seriously believe that it is a waste of their intellect to bother with comic fantasy fiction. They may know he’s entertaining, but they’re serious and there’s a new Piketty to get through, you do not know. Yet it is Pratchett, not Piketty, who tells us that “If you had enough money, you could hardly commit crimes at all. You just committed entertaining little peccadillos.” His work is social commentary disguised as fantasy.

And the consistency of his observation of the human condition is remarkable. Pratchett notes that “true stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time”; that “those who seek the truth [are] infinitely preferable to the presence of those who think they have found it “, and that” the story was full of the bones of good men who had followed bad orders in the hope that they could soften the blow “. He also records that a marriage consists of “two people who are ready to swear that only the other is snoring”.

His police chief, Vimes, notes that what the innocent should fear most is anyone who tells them they have nothing to fear, while his benign tyrant, Vetinari, tells us that “no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences… In fact, it is the freedom on which all the others are based. ” The planning Vetinari should be compulsory reading for all students in practical politics.

Another reason for the rejection is that there are 41 Discworld books, and the first one is not that great. Fortunately, it is not necessary to read them in order of publication. When he got started, Pratchett created sub-series – Witches, that City guard, the industrial revolution and my own favorite Death novels that follow a rather sympathetic grim reaper. A better way into Pratchett is to pick one of these threads and start there.

As with many great works, the narrative and imagination are rarely the point. The value lies in Pratchett’s keen eye for religion, politics, and the structures of society. Choose almost any topic, from class structure to prejudice, from industry to media: Pratchett’s satirical sword is relentless. Yes, there are trolls, witches and a magical university, but behind the exuberant stupidity, his books are really about power politics, the role of the individual and how the structure of a society develops. This is Dickens, but takes place in a fantasy realm.

Pratchett thus combines Boz’s social commentary, Machiavelli’s input, Mill’s political theory and Arendt’s philosophy and all that with wizards, jokes and a grim reaper who could “murder a curry”. Wisdom, humanity and serious social commentary. It sounds like something serious people could do by taking it seriously.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and mail him on robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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