Paul Lewis: Pension freedoms on Planet Zog

Pensions-savings-retirement-piggy bank

It is a strange place, Planet Zog. The people all worship Money. Well, apart from a few who may be seen at the Stone Circle once a year or shouting occasionally outside the Palace of the Elected. But Money worship is almost universal.

The duty of every Monetarian is to increase their Money. Even those who have none consider it their job to spend their lives trying to accumulate – or, as they call it, “make” – Money. They also believe that Money itself has a duty to work and make more Money – or “grow”, as they call it. Aristotle (who held that it was unnatural for Money to make more Money) has never been heard on Planet Zog.

The Zogs are helped in their worship by the official priest class, the UnFree. They are bound by a massive holy book called COBS but, unusually for a priest class, it is not the UnFree who interpret it. A generation ago that was outsourced to the Fine Control Agency, which the Unfree pay for, resentfully, but over which they have no choice or control. The FCA was imposed on them by the Elected after a series of scandals, which, after all these years, many draw a vale of tears over.

The UnFree is there to advise Monetarians about how they can accumulate Money – but only within the confines of COBS. Recently, the Elected decided that Monetarians in their late middle age would be allowed to release Money they had accumulated with a hefty public subsidy and do what they liked with what they were now told was theirs. They could stop accumulating it and making it. Instead they could splurge it, cruise it and Lamborghini it.

However, the Elected, as often happens after a bold move, got a chill in their extremities and cold-footedly decided the UnFree should be involved – sometimes – in the Lamborghinisation of Monetarians’ funds. Not to stop them splurging, you understand, but to warn them of the splash back they might get.

The FCA said the UnFree should tell Monetarians what was sensible and scriptural and warn of the hell that awaits the unwary. Because it would be a warning, not holy advice, they should do it without tithing the Monetarians as much as they usually would. But the UnFree smelled a long-tailed rodent: sitting behind the Agency, and not governed by it, was the Final Opinion Sayers.

The UnFree feared that a priest who had obeyed the Agency in all things, and sufficiently warned a Monetarian, could, if the Monetarian ignored that advice and splurged anyway, be found guilty by the Sayers. “You did not warn strongly enough did you?” the FOS would say, before ordering the UnFree to give up large amounts of their own Money to replace (and more) what the Monetarian had foolishly Lamborghinied. So the UnFree largely withheld their ministry and the FCA introduced some sub-priests called the Maybe Are Sufficient. It has since been seen that the MAS were not.

The UnFree are not the only priests on Planet Zog. The Pure also worship Money but consider themselves unbound by COBS and the FCA. The Agency broadly accepts that, though it does have a section called perimeter guidance, which tries to stretch COBS round the Pure, it particularly looks out for what it calls UCIS (pronounced U-KISS because, if you use one, you kiss your money goodbye). Most of the Pure work so far outside COBS, however, that the perimeter is over the horizon.

The Pure have no qualms about Lamborghinisation. Millions of Zogs now have the freedom to splurge and the Pure play on old habits to tempt them with ways to make their Money work and work hard, Zogdammit. The Pure make them very tempting offers unshackled by COBS.

No one knows why so many Zogs are so attracted by the word green. However, the Pure know that if they say their Money will make more Money at the rate of 10 per cent a year through something green that uses “cutting-edge technology” and will “save the world for your grandchildren” many Zogs will find that irresistible. Even the sceptics are persuaded when they get to the word guarantee.

Others are tempted by carbon trading, while some see sustainable Ecuadorian rainforest harvesting as an attractive opportunity. Many like the idea of ecotourism in Congo and then there is the lure of a luxury property development in a distant part of Zog. Crucially, the business must be completely unfamiliar to the Monetarian and have a big return so they can be encouraged their Money is working hard, as Money should. After all, they worked hard to get it.

In addition, the outcomes should be backed up by a guarantee and a random registered number, such as 835267. Many Zogs will gladly hand over the accumulated Money of a lifetime to the very tempting offer. Ignoring the conflict of interest of the Pure being paid Money to introduce them to the very tempting offer, and not noticing if the very tempting offer uses the Money to buy its own Lamborghini.

The Elected wring their hands at this extra-COBS activity but refuse to add more chapters to COBS to include the very tempting offers. They refuse to ban the Pure from contacting Zogs at random to tell what they will then inevitably claim are “not really lies, honest guv. It’s a free country isn’t it?”. Instead they point vaguely to the Fraud Act 2006, which tells them not to tell massive fibs when taking money off someone or else.

When astronomers discovered Planet Zog circling a distant star, some doubted if anything so ill-managed could really exist. But it does. How long it will last is not clear.

Paul Lewis is a freelance journalist and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Money Box’ programme