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Interestingly, many artists were drawn to paint lacemakers at their task.These artists had no hopes of reforming how lacemakers got paid, but they had an ambition to change the lives of lacemakers nevertheless.For eternity, the kindness and devotion of the nurse would be celebrated by the angels.Wages can’t change on earth, but the meaning of the wage will – in the eyes of Christianity – be altered, and the humiliation of poverty should hence entirely lose its sting.The current economic order is pretty firmly established and is not about to change any time soon.But the hopes remain for some way of dealing with the disjuncture between wages and contribution or wages and respect.

The hitman may have made his money in appalling ways, but unless society asks very careful questions, the world will mostly just see his money and be impressed: they will admire his villa, his sports car, his attractive girls…and in time he may even emerge as a respected and admired member of the community, who in his declining years wins the hearts of the whole of his society by funding a neonatal unit or new brain scanning department.Down would go the wages of the hitmen, casino owners and mining tycoons; up would go the wages of the nurse and the farmer. In their own day, these seemed like very impressive solutions.Yet, for different reasons, they are not in any way things we can now put our hopes on.As for the nurse, however much we may pay lipservice to the idea that she’s very valuable, much of the time she will just be an anonymous figure in the bus queue; she’ll not be sought out, people visiting her tiny flat will be a touch sorry for her because the bathroom really does need some work, and her washing machine is held together by duct tape.When these divergent fates are vivid in our minds – the feted hitman and the downtrodden nurse – the whole economic system can seem entirely lacking in justice: and our minds rebel against the gross violation of the principles of fairness.

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