Despite the fire, the walls could not keep out the cold. The temperature in the room had dropped another few degrees, and I wrapped my shawl more tightly around my shoulders and moved my chair as close to the fire as I dared. Outside, the wind had caused the snowdrifts to blow and swirl; although the skies were now clear, new snow had fallen earlier in the day.
I poured another cup of tea, but it had gone cold in the mug. I thought perhaps a drop of brandy would help the warming process, and if a drop would help, two drops would help twice as much. After some time, the logical end result of this process occurred, and I fell asleep in front of the fire.
As I slept, I dreamed. In the dream, I was at a desk in the Guvnah's mansion in Victoria City, a visor around my head and red and black pens on the desk. Apparently, the Guv had tasked me with developing a plan to start Caledon's economy growing again. I consulted with a number of people, who gave conflicting advice: "Lower taxes!" cried some. "Nationalize businesses!" cried others. "Do nothing, the problem will solve itself!" still others urged. With no clear direction, I despaired of finding a solution to which all would agree.
At that moment, a spirit came to me. I could tell he was not a corporeal being, as he was translucent, and hovered an inch or so off the ground. He wore robes in the style popular in the lands around ancient Greece. "I am the ghost of Pander," the spirit said, "and I have the solution to your dilemma." At this point, I was willing to take advice from just about anyone, and being alive was not a criterion high on my list. "Go ahead," I replied.
"I wrongly take credit for this idea," Pander said, "when you really knew it all along. We are in crisis because consumers are not spending enough, correct?"
I nodded. "Correct. Caledonians are merry people, by their nature, and enjoy giving parties, wearing new frocks, and generally enjoying life as it comes. For years we have lived beyond our means, and can no longer do so. Thrift has become popular."
"Exactly. And therein lies the solution: if the citizenry is unwilling to spend, then the government shall do it instead."
I looked skeptically at the spirit.
"Think about it: as it stands, you might not buy the new gown from Miss Discovolante that you have had your eye on -" I had to admit, the spirit knew me. "- so Miss Discovolante's business suffers. She, in turn, lacking the funds, fails to purchase a new horse from Miss Tombola. Miss Tombola would have purchased a new hat from Miss Straaf, and so on. Multiply these failures by everyone in Caledon, and you understand why we have a problem. My solution - your solution, really - is elegant: if Governor Shang simply spends the money - if, in effect, he buys the gown - then the system is back on track. In effect, a drop of brandy in the system is just what the doctor ordered."
"Hmm, well, if you put it that way..."
"In fact," the spirit of Pander continued, as though I had not spoken, "because you now agree that a drop of brandy is the key to restoring your fair land to financial health, surely two drops of brandy would do twice as good a job."
Something was bothering me about Pander's facile analysis, and it finally hit me. "But, sir, the Guv lacks the funds to purchase the gown, so to speak. He receives taxes from the good citizens of Caledon, and those funds are used to run the government. How can he spend more money - money that he does not possess - to purchase things the government does not need?"
Pander tsked me. "You disappointment, Miss Jameson, you really do. The Governor need not have the money - he simply borrows it from you. And the other taxpayers, of course."
"Of course. But, ah, where do we get the money? After all, our financial crisis started when we realized we had been spending beyond our means. Our pockets are empty."
"That's the genius of it all. Mr. Shang borrows, say, $100 from you, and spends it. This stimulates the economy - Miss Discovolante buys her horse, Miss Tombola buys her hat, et cetera - which generates income, by which you now have the $100 you did not have before. The Governor takes the $100 in taxes, and pays you back. It's so simple!"
Now I looked hopelessly confused. "This sounds like a perpetual motion machine, sir. If it works with $100, why not with twice that? Or ten times that? Or a hundred times that?"
He nodded vigorously. "Now you understand! If a drop of brandy is good for you, two drops are twice as good! In fact, my advice is that you recommend the Governor borrow -" Here he bent low and, though no one else occupied my office, whispered a number in my ear.
I turned scarlet. "Dear God, you cannot possibly mean to suggest that the state go into debt to such an extent! This is nothing but a pyramid scheme writ large!"
"I most certainly do." As he spoke, Pander's face began to change, and his visage turned demon-like. "Trust me, the populace will eat it up." He grinned evilly.
At that point, I woke up with a start. The fire had gone out, I was colder than even, and had a fierce headache. The dream started to fade, but I thought I could still hear the spirit-demon saying, "Trust meeeeeeeee...." I shivered. I looked at the bottle of brandy, and thought that a drop could not hurt. I picked up the bottle, uncorked it, and prepared to pour, but changed my mind. I recorked the bottle and set it back on the tray. Removing the shawl, I stood and prepared to restoke the fire.
(Another humorous, but more direct, take on the silliness can be found at the Journal Truth on the Market . - RJ)