Turning Tides and an Old Adage

Penny Wisdom

By Emeka Uzoatu

The going maxim since the dawn of time has been: Penny wise, Pound stupid. Only God knows why it’s not the reverse. For, ordinarily, it’s the less in worth that ought to have borne the badge of tomfoolery. Yet we have grown with it, seeing no qualms in the bizarre arrangement of thought. 

On a second thought, though, the turn in the tides of world economics have served more than anything else to expose the meaning hidden in the aphorism. Yes, as more and more it has been proven that all should be most wary of how one spends the scarce resources in one’s pockets, safes and bank accounts. After all, though there are still many who can, their number shrinks to an infinitesimal whole when compared with their alter egos. 

 No tale illustrates the situation better than the one about the Penny and the pound upon some time way back in colonial days. O yes, well before the burden of political independence was trust on our shoulders and our brothers turned our oppressors in the twinkle of a lid. It was then that the pound and the penny, fresh off the Queen’s bank till, boasted upon who between the either them had the more purchasing power in the then capital city of this alien, benighted land concocted from the area around the Niger River.

Like was to happen, shopping they opted and went for along the good old Marina then still lined with shrubs and greenery. The bet was to see who between them could sweep the shop windows clean, backed by the golden nuggets in the faraway Bank of England in London Town that still called the shots here via invisible strings across the Atlantic tied to the aprons of Westminster. 

The pound was swell and bloating. What else could the contest be but his for the picking? And it desired it that much. In the least it would once more help to further enhance the distance between it and the impudent penny, so stupid they put a hole in it at its foundry.

At the starter’s gun, an excited Pound hit the street buying. In shop after shop it kept piling wares up. From the needful and important to the absurd, it ordered for, indeed, its ego was at stake. In fact, it kept at it till the entire street was filled with buys from Apongbon to CMS and beyond, all the way to the Race Course. And luckily there were no races the day.

A shopping mall

What of the penny? Ah, the hapless outsider, put to his place, and rudely, could not but just order its worth from the only shop selling trivia around and walked home cool and comfy for once in its benighted life. Much as it knew he was the underdog in the clash, he made it known to all and sundry that all such never took place except between titans.  

 Awaiting the pound’s mile-long convoy that could not but arrive well after midnight would have been too foolhardy a chore to observe outdoors. What with all the haggling and banter before payment terms are settled. Any wonder then that awoken to come and face the judgement then, the penny merely turned from a broken dream and opined that the contest was long over, the pound having thrown in the towel as the weight of the pot outclassed that of its liquid content.

 Serving, if nothing else, to bring us back to base. 

 O yes, you could have all the money in the world but currencies are only as valuable as the goods and services they can afford its owner. The position has become insurmountable of late. In these dire times of structural imbalance in our political economy, there is no doubt that even the pound cannot afford to buy things without thought. Whether to win a bet or stake a claim, everybody now needs a personal finance coach to get through these times unscathed.

Gone are the days when the economy of the world brooked embers of perpetual growth. When one easily reaped what he cultivated in the various categories of enterprise without much of a sweat. When the exchange rates of international currencies yet allowed traders in them the opportunity of dropping the cup in which its waters were served before hitching a ride to the Ponderosa!     

Economic theories then, of course, did not have to cope with the vagaries of COVID-19 the novel Corona Virus that has succeeded in putting the world in reverse sans gears. With international travel only about to resume again, the world has slept for most of the months in the year 2020. And so has businesses. Making it abundantly clear that to survive now, even the Penny has to wise up some – even if the Pound hasn’t.   

Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.