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Dear Ade,

What have you got against free wills? You tend to write about them in very strong and caustic language – after all, free wills raise funds for charity.

Marti

Dear Marti,

Just like ball-point pens were meant for making marks rather than writing, just like no one could ever have held the Daewoo a car, microwave ovens were designed not for cooking but for warming up those items you find in the stray cat section of the supermarket. In the final analysis, the only noble use for the microwave oven is to warm up last night’s takeaway curry. In short, we’ve just enumerated a scandal of mild embarrassments.

You feel me?

Aside from the painful matter, the obvious fact, the disgraceful matter that in a land fit for heroes, the concept of charities should be as familiar to us as snowflakes in the summer: let us start with the notion of free—when was the last time you got anything free that was worthwhile?

Marti, mon amis, you know like I do, this truth that’s as plain as the wart on my face – free is an insult to everyone everywhere who got out of bed to do a day’s work. What self-respecting person would work for nothing?

Wait, we speak here of the fruit of your life’s work. Surely you do not regard the pounds, shillings, and pence—a proxy for your life’s labours with so little esteem as to seek to entrust the transfer of your children’s birthright to someone who has so small self-respect as to be prepared to work for nothing.

You might have heard of the tale of the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes parrying Sarah Ferguson’s solicitation of free frocks with: ‘Darling, I don’t need the publicity.’

You put me in mind of no end of Hollywood movies, where a lawyer asks a prospective client for a dollar, and when the banknote has changed hands, the lawyer says something to the effect of ‘now you’ve engaged me, whatever you say to me is privileged, etc etc’. Such scenes are drawing on the basic principle of contract – the protections, obligations and expectations of both sides to a contract. Let us here abridge a long tale; in a contract, there must be an exchange of value. When you entrust your family’s future financial well-being to a free will-writing charity fundraising drive, what would you have given in this contract? What right have you to expect the work to be done to any standard? Of course not just any standard, but to a decent standard – that, as they say in Hungary, is a different dish of cabbage.

As my mother always told me and as I wager your mother told you something of the same meaning: if something has value to you, someone, somewhere wants consideration for it.

You feel me?

Let’s put it another way, the folk you trust to convey the product of your toil to your family for nothing: what’s in it for them?

You feel me?

I’ll wager you’ve encountered the works of master wordsmiths in your time, permit me to paraphrase Chekov: those who understand the basic principle of contract, those who understand a founding principle of economics that there is no free lunch, those who recognise their duty to their family’s future prosperity, should not engage in this style of charity.

You feel me?

Free, ‘tis the final insult.

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