Monday, June 03, 2013

The Tale of the Paper-Wizard, an economic fable

There once was a man who was hard-working and kindly, and because of this, even though he lived alone he had everything in the world he felt he could possibly want, and was happy. One day, after an afternoon's labor of watering fields and chopping firewood, he sat down for an evening's meal of a freshly-cooked bowl of rice. As he was about to eat, a wizard emerged from the forest and stood before him.

"Hello, sir," the wizard said to him with a sly smile, "and good evening."

"Good evening, stranger," the man replied. "I was about to enjoy my evening meal, but as I see you are travelling and seem to have no food, I feel I should offer to share it with you!"

The wizard bowed to the man and said, "That is very kind of you, good sir. While I do appreciate your offer, I am glad to say that I would like to offer you an even more generous kindness!"

Although the man had entertained unexpected guests before, this was new to him. He asked the wizard what he meant.

The wizard reached into his pocket and took out a small object. "I was wondering if you would give me the entire bowl of rice, as I am quite hungry from my travel. In return I would give you this," he extended the object to the man, "a piece of magical paper."

The man examined the paper. Indeed, it did look magical. The whole of the paper was filled on both sides with fancy writing and images of elderly, wise men. "What does it do?" the man asked.

The wizard smiled even wider. "That is the great generosity of this paper; you see, while in appearance it is merely a piece of paper, with the great value imbued upon it by the writing, the owner of this paper may exchange it for twenty kilos of rice!" The wizard pressed the paper into the man's hand and closed his fingers over it. "I know twenty kilos is much more rice than you have in your bowl, but I insist that you take it."

The man was impressed, and he accepted the offer, giving the wizard his bowl of rice.

Well the next evening, the man had done less work than usual and yet felt far more fatigued and hungry. He figured that somehow, as light as it seemed, the twenty kilos of rice in his pocket must be weighing him down. As he sat to his evening meal, the wizard appeared before his house once more. There was an exchange of greetings, a discussion of the weather, and in the end, the wizard left with a belly full of rice, and the man had another twenty kilos of rice in magic paper.

This went on for several days. Finally, the day came when at the time of the evening meal, the man was lying in bed having been too weak to work that day. When the wizard arrived, he entered the house and asked the man what was wrong.

When the man explained how he found himself with no more energy to rise, and made to apologize, the wizard smiled his sly smile again and motioned for the man to be silent. "Sir, you are a very hard worker, and no doubt you have worn yourself ragged with labor. Do not worry about me; instead think of yourself. With all of the magic paper I have given you in the time I have known you, you surely have all the food you will ever need for the rest of your life. So sleep for now, and I am sure tomorrow you will be fine as you will no longer need to labor for your sustenance."

With that, the man closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. His pockets were full of hundreds of kilos magical rice he would never eat, for he never woke from that slumber again.

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