God Save Us from the Fish Mongers – An Allegory

A small, tropical isle fishing village sits across an inlet from a much larger fishing village to the east. Both villages want for little, spending their days either fishing or taking leisure. The western villagers choose to fish in deep-water, prime fishing grounds where catches are ample and large. They have much leisure, for long ago a western family learned to use the woodlands of their island to produce boats. The eastern villagers, lacking boat building skills, are forced however to cast long hours along their shores for smaller inlet fish. The boat building family enjoys even more leisure than most because their skills provide access to the deep waters so their villagers give them a bit of fish from every catch.

Desiring vessels for their people, eastern village elders approach the boat builders with head gear in hand, explaining that they will provide twice the fish of the western villagers if the boat builders will also supply them with boats. With such an agreeable offer, the boat building family begins to supply boats to the eastern village, and soon eastern villagers can be seen venturing out into the deep for fish.

Flush with fish from the easterners, the boat builders craft an idea. They will trade their excess to westerners in exchange for a return of fish later. To entice their villagers, they will agree to give more fish today than will have to be returned later. Westerners find the offer irresistible because they can enjoy leisure now knowing that some day when they must repay the debt, they will work fewer hours than the hours of leisure they gain today.

Having an abundance of both leisure and fish but now lusting for more, the boat builders unwittingly cast aside their future and that of their island as they craft another idea. They will teach eastern islanders the secrets their forefathers gave them about boat building in exchange for a bit of fish from every catch of the boats the easterners build. Yearning to harvest more of the deep waters, easterners agree to the terms. As the ambitious easterners flood the fishing fields with boats, the western boat building family’s fortunes become titanic.

Mongers now flood the shores with fish from the east, eventually causing a fourth of the western villagers to sit idly by, borrowing from the boat builder’s excesses. Without a need to fish, they slowly lose their knowledge of the seas, and without a need to venture into the deep their boats fall into disrepair. The western village elders, who had survived by taking a bit of fish from every villager as payment for administering the village, now find that with many of their villagers idly living on the fish of the easterners, that they cannot skim enough catch from their villagers to live.

They approach the uberwealthy boat building family for solutions. Lobbying that loans of fish to the idle westerners is good for the westerners because they are receiving more fish today than they will have to repay, the family also quietly agrees to supply ample fish to the elders in exchange for support of continuing eastern trades. Having provided the elders fish that can no longer be obtained from the villagers, the family feels justified in crafting yet another idea. They will give fish to eastern villagers so that they can stop fishing and build even more boats in the east that will return a bit of fish from every catch.

The eastern villagers now control the deep fishing fields and begin to weary of trading fish to the westerners, who must rely on eastern fish, as their boats are no longer sailable. With even more villagers sitting out the long hot days in their huts, western elders grow ever hungrier, so with head gear in hand they travel in weather worn boats to the eastern shore and meet with the eastern village elders by the campfire. Emboldened by their newfound wealth, the eastern elders chide the western elders for their lack of foresight but agree to provide fish in exchange for the promise that the western elders will demand a skim of their villagers’ fish to repay the easterners.

For awhile, this uneasy arrangement continues between the western villagers, their elders, the eastern villagers and the family of boat builders until the eastern village bulges with boats. No longer needing the skills of the boat builders, the eastern village does not desire to give another fish to the westerners but instead demands the western village return the fish they borrowed.

Without the skills or boats to repay their debt, the western villagers look aghast as their elders call them to the camp fire. They no longer can sit by the shore gorging on borrowed fish, nor can they linger leisurely. They must now work long hours catching inlet fish to repay the eastern village. Their previous agreement to pay for earlier leisure with less work hours today was unfortunately sold off by the boat builders. For now, the westerners have no boats to venture into the deep and their labor will be spent casting from the shores. This tranquil village in paradise has unwittingly indentured its future to the easterners.

The family of boat builders, attempting to revive its lost fortunes, now sheepheadishly offers to build boats for the western villagers, but their offer is rebuffed. The easterners are now the preeminent boat builders and one by one, the villagers must meekly travel to the east with head gear in hand, hoping to acquire boats today in exchange for a bit of fish from every catch.

So….Why were the villagers allowed to borrow fish that they could never pay back? Why were the boat builders allowed to give the secrets of the island to the easterners, not only giving away their claims to the island’s boats of survival but the rights to the deep fishing fields that were not theirs to give? Why were elders allowed to borrow from the easterners while so many villagers sat idly? Why did the villagers not see that their elders would yield to the boat builders as a means of their own survival? Why didn’t the western village foresee that letting their skills and boats diminish was unsustainable for their island’s survival? Why didn’t they understand that by borrowing leisure, they would end up fishing for scrub fish along the inlet shore? Why?

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Filed under American Governance, American Innovation, American Politics, Bureaucracy, China, Foreign Policy, Free Trade, Full Employment, Multinational Corporations, social trajectory

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