Bryan Caplan  

The Soul of a Collectivist: Children's Classics Edition

The Knowledge-Power Discrepanc... What I Thought, at Age 16, Aca...
From the original - and surprisingly Snicketesque - Pinnochio:

"Tomorrow your five gold pieces will be two thousand!"

"Two thousand!" repeated the Cat.

"But how can they possibly become so many?" asked Pinocchio wonderingly.

"I'll explain," said the Fox. "You must know that, just outside the City of Simple Simons, there is a blessed field called the Field of Wonders. In this field you dig a hole and in the hole you bury a gold piece. After covering up the hole with earth you water it well, sprinkle a bit of salt on it, and go to bed. During the night, the gold piece sprouts, grows, blossoms, and next morning you find a beautiful tree, that is loaded with gold pieces."

"So that if I were to bury my five gold pieces," cried Pinocchio with growing wonder, "next morning I should find--how many?"

"It is very simple to figure out," answered the Fox. "Why, you can figure it on your fingers! Granted that each piece gives you five hundred, multiply five hundred by five. Next morning you will find twenty-five hundred new, sparkling gold pieces."

"Fine! Fine!" cried Pinocchio, dancing about with joy. "And as soon as I have them, I shall keep two thousand for myself and the other five hundred I'll give to you two."

"A gift for us?" cried the Fox, pretending to be insulted. "Why, of course not!"

"Of course not!" repeated the Cat.

"We do not work for gain," answered the Fox. "We work only to enrich others."

"To enrich others!" repeated the Cat.

"What good people," thought Pinocchio to himself. And forgetting his father, the new coat, the A-B-C book, and all his good resolutions, he said to the Fox and to the Cat:

"Let us go. I am with you."

Notice the eerie resemblance to Howard Roark's big speech?
It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there's someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (11 to date)
loveactuary writes:

The Fox and the Cat are underhanded and tricksy ... the moral of this part of the tale seems to be to distrust those who say that their intentions are only 'to enrich others' ?

Ronchris writes:

The book I think best teaches children about this is "The Giving Tree."

I read that book and hated the kid. I also felt the tree was kind of dumb for never making the kid do things for himself.

I'm not sure the author of that book intended my reaction.

Finch writes:

I recommend "James and the Red Balloon" from the Thomas the Tank Engine series.

It's unintentionally educational.

The engines are all concerned when the titular "Red Balloon" appears on Sodor offering rides. They feel their jobs are threatened, as the engines provide rides around Sodor, and the balloon will be a substitute reducing demand for their services. [SPOILER ALERT] However, it turns out that the balloon takes passengers to places around Sodor from which they subsequently need to return! The engines provide those rides. Demand has grown! The balloon and the engines are complements and not substitutes after all.

Various other adventures occur, but I'm quite sure my kids focused on the economic lesson.

Bob writes:

"I have never known much good done by those who affect to trade for the public good." Adam Smith

Ben writes:

This post reads a whole lot like "Anecdote -> General Rule", with the added benefit that the anecdote is fictional. Would you even want to claim that Pinocchio, as a whole, fits Roark's description?

karenm writes:

The Giving Tree was an awful misogynist piece of work. The tree is the mother who sacrifices everything for a child that never works or shows gratitude for the gifts. Awful. Where is the parable in that?

David writes:

Re "The Giving Tree": I saw the link to this from Ace of Spades, and thought, "Well, this must be about 'The Giving Tree.'" It's an awful book, which I received as a gift from a friend who thought it touching. But its lesson is: Be a sucker for someone who doesn't really care about your fortunes, and you'll get cut down.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Ah Yes! "Shared" sacrifice.

Who else is actively sacrificing; rather than encountering misfortune?

What is to be sacrificed?

What "priesthood" will decide how much and why each and which should sacrifice?

If something is given up as sacrifice, where does it go? Why there?

Nathan Smith writes:


First of all, the Fox's claim only to wish to 'enrich others' is only incidental. The main problem is that he's appealing to Pinocchio's greed and exploiting his naivete. If he had said 'Thank you, Pinocchio, it will do you credit to share your profit with your friends!' the story would not be materially effected. The Fox is *NOT* asking Pinocchio to sacrifice. If Pinocchio had been suckered into donating to a fraudulent charity rather than a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme, the moral of the story would have been very different. So Roark's point is not the moral of Pinocchio.

Second, Roark's point is wrong. If you APPEAL to a man to sacrifice, by definition he is NOT a slave. He is *free,* and his sacrifice is *voluntary.* A man is a slave precisely when no one asks him to sacrifice, they simply take from him by force. Also, the people who tend to appeal to you for sacrifice nowadays are rarely masters. They are beggars and charities, or churches who have only moral authority. Politicians running for office are the closest thing to an exception, but only a partial exception. They may never get office, and may be term limited if they get it, and have to operate within a system of checks and balances.

Ken M writes:

Roark is not wrong in the least. Appealing to a man to voluntarily sacrifice for "the general good" does not in any way suggest that he has any real choice. If he's unwilling to pay up out of a sense of moral obligation (which is much less costly for the system), then he can be pressured or forced into "contributing". The government, for example, loves to claim that paying taxes is actually voluntary, and a "good citizen's" duty. Of course if that doesn't get you to pay, there are always the threatening letters from the IRS, the audits, or federal agents showing up with automatic weapons to take your property. But they'd much prefer that you simply shut up and pay up withing making them work for it.

Hume writes:

"Following the leader, the leader, the leader
We're following the leader
Wherever he may go"
-Peter Pan

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