Friday, May 03, 2013

"The Golden Apple" - A Socialist Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a street fair. It had striped awnings and bright colors and from far and near, farmers came with wagons full of produce to sell at the street fair. The produce was plentiful and cheap and the crowds it drew were huge which created all sorts of concerns for the government.

So the government created a Ministry of Street Fairs which it funded by taxing the produce sold at the fair. At first the Ministry brought some some order to the street fair, but it would periodically launch new "street fair initiatives" to justify another expansion and pay for them by raising taxes on the produce.

At first the taxes were small, but as the ministry grew, so did the Produce Tax. The Ministry of Street Fairs built itself a towering stone headquarters overlooking the street fair. In its shadow, the street fair dwindled as its produce was now more expensive than anywhere else in the city.

The empty fair would once have been a relief to the government, but was now a source of concern because it had grown dependent on the Produce Tax and plenty of its nephews and nieces had picked up lucrative positions in the great stone building.

So after some consultation the Ministry of Street Fairs launched an "Emergency Street Fair Stimulus Plan" to promote shopping at the street fair.  The stimulus plan offered people credit for shopping at the street fair, but the credit was paid for by borrowing against the expected returns from an enlarged produce tax. The stimulus plan also piled on new regulations to be enforced by new branches of the Ministry of Street Fairs detailing exactly how many pears can be placed in a basket and the exact shade of green that a Granny Smith apple should be.

A short term burst of shoppers excited by the credit arrives and then fades away. The new taxes and regulations force the fruit sellers to raise prices again. The credit goes away, but the high prices remain.

Worried, senior members of the Ministry of Street Fairs do the unthinkable and consult with some of the vendors at the fair. They learn that their old customers are choosing to shop for their fruit at supermarkets where all the taxes and regulations don't apply because there is, as of yet, no Ministry of Supermarkets.

Tackling the problem head on, the Ministry of Street Fairs demands that supermarkets be classified as indoor street fairs and put under its jurisdiction. The "Supermarkets are now Indoor Street Fairs" bill is introduced and not only puts the supermarkets under the Ministry's authority, but taxes them at twice the rate of street fairs. Supporters of the bill denounce the evil "Supermarket Lobby" for its indoor unregulated street fairs which use a legal loophole to profit at the expense of starving children who need fresh fruit.

The bill passes. The Ministry is congratulated for its commitment to fighting for the right of everyone to buy fruit at vastly inflated prices.

Produce sales fall drastically as fruit becomes a luxury. Most fruit now spoils on the stands with no one to buy it because no one will buy it at the minimum price necessary to turn even the most minimal profit. Fruit sellers and merchants raise their prices again to compensate for decreased sales volume. Many supermarkets and sellers go out of business, so that even fewer people can afford fruit. In a ripple effect, fruit growers and importers also go out of business further destroying the market.

The Ministry of Street Fairs responds to public protests by creating a "Fruit Dole" which entitles every child to one apple a week. This dole comes at the expense of the fruit sellers, which again raises the price of fruit for everyone. Charismatic young politicians demand "Fruit for the People" and denounce the corrupt interests who keep the people from having access to fruit. A radical "Fruit People's Party" is created with a call for nationalizing the orchards to ensure equal fruit for everyone.

The Ministry announces that fruit may only be sold at a fixed low price. The taxes on fruit sellers however remain just as high. Most of the fruit sellers go out of business. The few who remain in business, sell bad fruit at the mandated price to the public, while selling good fresh fruit under the table at much higher prices. Now everyone can afford fruit, but the only fruit they can buy is rotten.

The charismatic young politicians and the "Fruit People's Party" demand to know why the only fruit available to the people is bad fruit. An investigation is launched and several of the sellers are arrested for covertly selling good fruit at much higher prices. The sellers are sentenced to jail, and a new Fruit Inspection Squad is launched to patrol the street fair to see that no one sells fruit at higher prices.

The Fruit Inspection Squad's salary is paid for by an even higher Produce Tax and the fruit sellers are forced to begin covertly selling fruit that they would have once considered bad under the table. The fruit that they sell to the public at the mandated low price is so rotten that it is completely inedible.

Within a few days, the Fruit Inspection Squad members have made arrangements with the fruit sellers to pocket fresh fruit for themselves and their families in exchange for looking the other way at their covert fruit sales. Soon there is an outcry and an investigation. More fruit sellers are arrested, along with members of the Fruit Inspection Squad, who receive lengthy jail sentences for corrupting their high office and taking fruit out of the mouths of children.

A new Fruit Inspection Squad is appointed, with twice as many members. Additionally, a Fruit Secret Police composed of undercover agents who are tasked with rooting out corruption in the Fruit Inspection Squad, is unleashed to watch the fruit watchmen.

All this new manpower comes with an even higher Produce Tax. The fruit sellers are no longer able to meet the demands of the taxes, as well as the bribes expected by both the Fruit Inspection Squad and the Fruit Secret Police to allow them to stay in business. Instead they go over their heads and suborn a few senior members of the Ministry of Street Fairs with fresh fruit. The fruit sold at the street fair and in the supermarkets is now more rotten than ever and draws flies from miles around.

Politicians rise to denounce corruption in the Ministry of Street Fairs, and its Fruit Inspection Squad and Secret Fruit Police. New Ministry members, drawn from the ranks of fruit equality activists, pledge their absolute devotion to the highest standards of ethics. Instead they collude with members of the Secret Fruit Police to create a secret fruit cartel which sells fresh fruit to the very rich at high prices. The Fruit Cartel extends into the highest levels of the government.

The fruit at the street fair is more rotten than ever, but the Fruit Dole is doubled to two apples a week, though employees at the Ministry usually steal and resell the fruit intended for the fruit dole during their inspections. The cartel creates a thriving underground fruit market. Young boys throughout the city earn a few coins by whispering to passerby, "Hey Mister, would you like to buy some fruit."

The fruit cartel transforms into organized crime. Rival fruit sellers engage in knife fights. A number of children are killed while selling fruit.

The public demands that the government do something and the government increases jail terms for illegal fruit sales and doubles the size of the Ministry's budget by doubling taxes on the fruit sellers. The fruit sold at the fair is positively horrifying, but no one is there to notice. In the shadow of the gray Ministry building, the street fair stands empty as the fruit trade has moved into the back alleys.

A major research study is undertaken, its results overseen by a blue ribbon commission, which calls on the Ministry to address the fruit shortage by nationalizing all the remaining fruit sellers and supermarkets promising a new standard of excellent and absolute control over all fruit sales.

The government dithers, encouraging people to grow fruit in their own backyards, for their own use-- which can be sold only after an expensive licensing and approvals process, but this only increases the illegal fruit market, as many citizens begin growing fruit and reselling it on the black fruit market.

The Fruit Cartel, enforced by the Secret Fruit Police, attempts to control this market. Daily radio broadcasts denounce "Fruit Hoarders" and declare a "War on Backyard Fruit." Home fruit growing is banned, but nevertheless thrives. In an attempt to stamp out Illegal Fruit Growing, a ban is introduced on many agricultural supplies which might be used by illegal fruit growers.

The public outrage against crime, the high price of illegal fruit and the low quality of legal fruit, combined with the Ministry's blatant corruption, encourages support for the Fruit People's Party's revolution. The entire government is shot. The Ministry of Street Fairs becomes the People's Ministry of Street Fairs, and promises an end to put an end to corruption and provide "Fruit for Everyone".

As its first act, the People's Ministry demands that the fruit growers and importers provide "Fruit for Everyone." The few fruit growers and importers who have not gone out of business, have gotten used to selling their fruit illegally. The People's Ministry has them tried and executed and their orchards and businesses are nationalized "In the Name of the People." In their place, the government sends unemployed wagon drivers, who know nothing about growing fruit except that it has to be delivered, to work the orchards. A new "Golden Age of Fruit for Everyone" is declared.

The fruit orchards go mostly untended. The new workers know nothing about agriculture, their salaries are minimal and their motivation is entirely absent. At the beginning of each growing season, the "People's Ministry of Street Fairs" sets out a target number for the crop that they expect to grow. When the workers fail to meet that quota, the People's Secret Fruit Police accuses them of economic sabotage and has them executed. Prisoners takes their place working under the rifles of armed guards.

After a few seasons of this, there is still no fruit. In fact there is less fruit than there ever was. The People's Ministry compensates for this by importing fruit from abroad which it distributes in small amounts through the "Fruit Dole". What little fresh fruit is grown goes to the Fruit People's Party, as well as the numerous lackeys of the Fruit Inspection Bureaucracy that evaluates and weighs the produce for weight equality.

At the end of every harvest, the People's Fruit Propaganda Corps declares that under the wise leadership of the Fruit People's Party, with the insightful guidance of the members of the People's Ministry of Street Fairs, with the tireless efforts of the Fruit Inspection Bureaucracy, and through the hard dedicated labor of the Fruit Growers (those who hadn't been shot yet), the target for the fruit harvest has been both met and exceeded. Posters depict ripe shining fruit surrounded by shining rays and radio broadcasts exclaim over the great number of fruit grown. Children memorize speeches about how lucky they are to be living in the greatest country in the world where fruit is available to everyone on the Fruit Dole; whether or not they can pay for it.

Meanwhile the only fruit at the street fairs will kill you as soon as you take a bite. The only reason anyone goes there is make a connection with illegal fruit sellers, who resell fruit stolen by members of the Fruit Inspection Bureaucracy. At private parties, the members of the People's Ministry and the People's Party dine lavishly on pears and apples, and decadently spoon handfuls of grapes into their mouths... little aware that in the outside world any working family could afford what has become a delicacy in the People's Republic of Fruitania.

When families go out for a night at the movies, the only film playing is the impassioned epic FRUIT HARVESTERS OF THE NORTHERN SLOPES, which depicts the struggle of brave fruit growers who battle the elements and greedy corrupt Fruit Gangsters. It took 2 years to film, and it is the first new movie to be released in six months. And the people are happy to have it. They don't remember that before the Ministry of Film-making was formed, several movies used to be released each week.

After the Newsreels which show the brave People's Army preparing to invade local fruit producing nations, whose "fruit hoarding aggression" threatens them, and members of the Fruit Inspection Squad rounding up seedy looking Fruit Gangsters-- the main feature begins.

Even as the film tells the story of Peter, the brave fruit grower, who romances Latya, the beautiful daughter of Lovak, the fruit hoarder, who insists on growing and selling his own fruit, rather than working for the benefit of the people-- the audience pays little attention, focusing on the gorgeous fruit orchards, their mouths salivating furiously at the sight.

At the end of the movie, an official from the People's Fruit Party rises to proclaim that this year's fruit harvest has been the biggest and most tremendous harvest ever. Unfortunately, he says, the first priority of the People's Fruit Party must be to provide fruit to the starving children who go without fruit all the time. Which is why 90 percent of the harvest will go to a special Children's Fruit Dole, to be distributed to starving children, somewhere else. Somewhere they've never heard of.

The remaining fruit will be sold to the filthy Fruit Hoarders abroad in order to buy the weapons that the Fruit People's Army needs to protect the fruit orchards of Fruitania from those who seek to steal their fruit.

He congratulates them for their dedication to the principles of Fruitism, and promises that with their continued hard work and effort, a day will come when everyone around the world will have as much fruit as they want,.. when the World Fruitian Revolution comes.

The audience joins him in singing the revolutionary hymn, "Fruit of My Homeland", their voices rising with impassioned fervor on the verse, "The fruit of my homeland is the sweetest fruit of all. I will die for your orchards and perish for your pears. The fruit of my homeland is dearest to me." That is followed by a chorus of "Fruit-Guardians of Fruitania", "Workers of the Fruit Orchards" and "Death to the Fruit Hoarders".

And then they all go home. The People's Party member to what he considers a lavish repast of a fresh pear. If he moves up in the party, he can expect to dine on many pieces of fruit a day. A few lucky audience members return to suppers of moldy fruit baked into pies that are mostly crust. Others have rice clumped into the shapes of pears, apples and grapes, covered in food coloring and glazed with sugar-- a delicacy that they claim is almost as good as the real thing. Not that any of them have ever tasted a piece of fresh fruit in their lives. And never expect to.

The radio comes on automatically with a stirring broadcast from the Chairman of the People's Fruit Party who announces that the world revolution is now closer than ever. "The decadent Fruit Hoarders abroad are part of a decaying social and economic system that cannot last much longer. Their fruit hoarding has made them weak," he declares, "and ripe for takeover. They cannot conceive of sacrificing their fruits for others as we can. All they care about is their own gluttony. Soon their fruit orchards will be ours. And then they too will live just as we do."

The broadcast, heard by millions of people who have never tasted a fresh piece of fruit, closes with the revolutionary anthem, "Fruit for Everyone".

(Fortunately this is only a fairy tale that could never ever happen in real life. Still it might be worth remembering that when you kill the golden apple of the free market, all that's left are moldy pears. And that "Fruit for Everyone" usually means "Fruit for No One")


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful description of Communism.

IgorR said...

This is an allegory that unifies the realities of the US, Mexico, Zimbabwe, the post-revolutionary France, modern France, and the post-revolutionary Russia. But just yesterday I was told by some leftist who claimed he was a centrist that me and my kind just don't like government, and I said it was true, I don't like it. The government is the root of the kind of evil that puts lone thugs or even evil organization to shame. Human nature doesn't change just because you call someone a member of the government, but what changes is the ability to monopolize force. That's why they are trying so hard to destroy the second amendment, to regulate in peace, that is THEIR peace.

The Krugman's of the world when faced with enormous taxes and regulation always say "Not enough" and "We need to do ten times more." Nothing is ever enough. Too much is not enough. The credit crisis that shook the world is blamed on some unnamed Bush policies instead of the decade long involvement of the government in housing culminating in forcing giving loans to people who can't pay it back.

There is a dilemma in this world: to fight other governments you need a government, but once you get it it's the monopoly on force that will use that force to subjugate its own citizens. This is hard to solve, but first it needs to be explained and this essay goes a long way towards that goal.

Workingstiff said...

If there is a Jonathan Swift award, you deserve to win it. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Your ideas are so far fetched, where on earth do you come up with a fantasy like this \\snark off\\

Anonymous said...

We are going to have a long period of financial "hangover"after the party ends.Perhaps as long as 10 years,maybe longer.This article describes our nation's present socio-financial situation;a situation that cannot go on much longer. .Because of the BrettonWoods agreements & later the PetroDollar system the financial catastrophe will be global.America may be hurt but the rest of the world will be economically devastated!Herb Stein,the famous economist said"If something cannot go on forever it will stop".Our Keynesian economic system is about to stop!The economic failure may lead to a worldwide political & economic trainwreck which could lead to warfare among financially desperate nations attempting to survive.Connecting back to this article we need to understand that the basic foundations of any society are economic.Political ideas,of all sorts,become meaningless in the anarchy that prevails when an economy collapses.Starving people are not interested in grandiose political ideas,they just want to be fed!

Retired 5/3/13

Anonymous said...

Under Socialism, everyone lives crappily ever after - thanks for the great allegory!

Meira Lettieri Kingberg said...

This is absolutely brilliant and while it's written as an allegory, with the imposition of an 18% VAT on fruits and vegetables here in Israel may be closer to reality, at least for us.

Anonymous said...

Sultan, You make some good arguments, but I'd love to see your insightful and unsparing intellect address how the "free" market is manipulated by anti-competitive forces on both the right and left. where is the competition in banking?, in energy (esp. oil)?, in much of manufacturing? ETC. You can trash the commissars, but it's not all coming from the left. It would be much easier to deal with it was only coming from one side.

Ex-Dissident said...

think medical care.

Anonymous said...

Well, I loved this column. It reads like an updated 'Atlas Shrugged' passage. The Totalitarian road is a familiar one, and the lessons from Rand are as appropriate today as they were back in the 50's: perhaps more. Ayn Rand takes a lot of revisionist grief; too much, in my opinion. But the book, and the philosophy, is timeless, and makes clear the dangers of crony Capitalism, not to mention currency shenanigans and ultimate devaluation. I'm told millions of people have read her work, and her books continue to sell well even today. If only people would take the lessons to heart.

Michael said...

This scenario has been repeated over and over throughout the world, and yet, people refuse to see it happening again today.

Anonymous said...

Your allegory is perfect, except that the pre-revolutionary Ministry of Street Fairs would certainly not have been 'paid for' with the revenues from a single, ever-increasing Produce Tax. It would have raised the tax, sure, but also raided the public treasury and susbsisted on general public debt until the ultimate collapse. The citizens of Fruitania would all have known there was no such thing as the Fruit Security Lockbox, even if they were afraid to say it.

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