Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Two legs better

There's a famous story, or parable I suppose, which I'm quite sure you've heard before, but I'll repeat it anyway, because I've obviously got too much time on my hands.

So there's this rich successful retired businessman wandering along the beach in some tropical paradise one afternoon. He sees a young man lying in a hammock and goes over to talk to him. I'll tell it in dialogue since it makes slightly more sense that way:

Rich bloke: "How come you're lying around in this hammock and not working?"
Local layabout: "What for? I went out this morning, caught some fish for my family and others in the village, and now I'm relaxing"
RB:"But you could go out and catch more fish"
LL: "Why would I do that?"
RB: "You could sell it"
LL: "Why?"

(from this point onwards the story becomes a bit repetitive so bear with me. There is a punchline. Honest. Do parables have "punchlines"?)

RB: "So you could buy a better net"
LL: "But the net I have is good enough to catch all the fish I need"
RB: "With a better net you could catch more fish, and when you've caught and sold enough you could buy a bigger boat"
LL: "I don't need a bigger boat"
RB: "With a bigger boat you could go further out, catch more and bigger fish and make even more money. Eventually you'd be able to buy a second boat, and employ someone to work for you catching even more fish"
LL: "Yes, yes, get to the point will you? Why would I be bothered with all this? Why would I go to all this trouble?"

(In the original parable he doesn't actually say all that, but I am already desperate for RB to get to the point and allow me to therefore get to mine - which, I'll warn you now, is probably not worth it)

RB: "Well, after you've made enough money, hired enough people to keep your business running successfully for you, you'll be able to retire"
LL: "And what would I do then?"
RB: "Well you could spend your days lying around on the beach"

I'm sure I could have told that better, but you get the general idea.

Anyway, he says, finally reaching the long overdue point of this blog post, I was reminded of this story on our recent trip to the UK. On December 30th we, along with my parents, my brother and his family went along to "Wimpole Home Farm" which is kind of a touristy attraction type thing near my parents' house. Specifically it is a working farm in which various animals are kept and can be viewed/touched/groomed/fed etc, as children tend to like that kind of thing. It was all very nice, and we got to have fun, and eat a nice lunch, and be with the family and all that kind of thing - as well as see some piglets born that day, some goats, sheep, donkeys, horses etc etc. Paula, for whom animals are incredibly exciting and wonderful, was particularly happy.

But it occurred to me that the whole concept was kind of peculiar, and that anyone from a Transylvanian village (for example) would find it laughable that people in England would pay money (and we did pay money in not-to-be-sniffed-at quantities) to wander round a farm looking at animals. Since this is precisely what normal life offers for free here. [Another example comes from the time that Erika and I first met, which was in the town of Brattleboro, Vermont, USA. She happened to be there - where I worked - attending a course which took place during the weekend when Brattleboro offered up its annual "strolling of the heifers" festival - the local tongue-in-cheek response to Pamplona's "running of the bulls". When offered the chance to go downtown and watch a bunch of cows walk through the streets she laughed disbelievingly saying she could do that any day of the week here. And she was right.]

So is economic development like the parable of the rich industrialist on the beach? You slowly get rid of all your small scale agriculture, swallowed up and sold off to agribusiness so that vast warehouses full of battery chickens, concentration camps full of pigs, and factory farmed cows hyped up on steroids and antibiotics can supply your food needs cheaply and efficiently, and in this way your country/region becomes more and more "developed", until such time as you have enough money that you can set aside smallholdings where you can revive the lost art of animal husbandry and charge tourists large sums to come and groom a donkey or collect eggs from real live free range chickens? Your fresh food tastes like rubbish and is full of chemicals and hormones, but at least you've entered the 21st century.

4 comments:

Joni Mitchell said...

"They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
"

rbee said...

An offtopic comment (but did not know where to add it):

I was looking for your blog and reached this one:

http://ciuc.wordpress.com/

I think it is an old blog of yours and it is confusing as it stops its content last summer.

In the same time it has higher ranking on Google on some topics.

Probably would be good to add one last post there that you moved the blog to a new location.

Keep up the good blogging,
Radu B.
ExpatRomania

egan said...

Vaguely related to this subject, I've been meaning to ask you about Nokia in Romania. The factory in Cluj has received a lot of coverage in the papers, most of it fairly disparaging of the poverty around the factory and sceptical of the benefits.

Today there was a piece in which they gave the normal salary for a Nokia worker as €200, which wouldn't be enough to get a mortgage in the local area. And yet people were really enthusiastic, because working for Nokia would be cool and they really want those opportunities.

Is this a fair reflection of things? The happiest person in the article, btw, was an old man who had sold a couple of fields and made a pile of money. He couldn't understand why people were so happy about things.

Oh yeah, and the photos and a large part of the text were devoted to a convoluted running joke about 'horse power running Nokia', showing that Finnish-Swedish journalists are just as fascinated by this as English and Vermontian families.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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