Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Some economics

There once were two brothers who lived in two caves in the same cliff face. Their lives were simple but their days were filled. They did many things together but even when separated their patterns were the same. Every morning they would both leave their huts to scavenge for roots and berries, eating what they found, knowing quite a few good bushes. They would spend the afternoon wandering idly, yet searching for tracks and other signs that would lead them to an animal they could kill with rocks to eat. Some days they would find one, and have a feast, other days they would not. On the days they were unsuccessful, they often camped on the bank of a nearby river where there were plentiful fish that each brother could usually catch a few of for his meal. When winter came, they performed much the same tasks, though they had tighter stomaches.

One day, in the summer, one of the brothers was idly regarding a spiderweb. A fly had been caught and the spider would soon arrive to wrap it up and eat it. Flies tasted just as good to him as to a spider, so he grabbed the branch the web was attached to and ripped it off, snatching the fly out of the web and popping it in his mouth. He looked down at the broken spider web with some strands still stretched between the fork in the branch, and he was struck by insight.

It took him a considerably long time, he often had to claim eating some bad berries to get privacy when it was not nighttime, but with branches and vines he eventually fastened a net that he determined could hold many rocks. He took it to the stream and caught many fish, and so it came that his stomach grew wider.

The other brother was hunting by himself one day, the sun high and hot, and on top of a cliff he had spotted a deer making its way to a cave below. When it passed inside, the brother created a rock slide which all but sealed the deer inside. There was still a large hole where the deer's head was trying to push through to escape, but it was too small. The brother came down, saw the deer in its prison, and easily slew it. The two brothers feasted that night on the deer, but this brother had had an insight at the cave. Over the next considerably long time, he had created a small dam in the river that trapped and funneled the fish as they came downstream or upstream, though it did not stop the flow of water, and so they were easy picking. Off to the side of the damn he had a separated pool of water he created when he realized he could catch many fish and save them for later. He began hoarding many fish when he thought about the winter that was coming.

Here, the story takes two paths. On the first path, the dam was built downstream from where the first brother usually netted his fish. As the two brothers gained weight they asked each other their secrets, and they both spoke truthfully. The brother with the net, seeing the benefits of long-term storage, offered to volunteer catching insane amounts of fish all day while the other, who was always better at hunting, could spend his time doing that. The story ends with a great trade among brothers, the beginnings of specialization of skills, and easier winters with some leisure instead of fighting for survival. The two brothers remained equally well-fed, their trade ensuring that even if it kept them both busy, and were both very happy to the ends of their days, more or less. Sometimes they had doubts about who benefited more from the trade, and during some harsh winters they exploited each other with future promises ensuring equal well-fed stomachs, because there's nothing like immediate hunger to attack when seeking the best deal for yourself.

On the second path, the dam was built upstream from where the first brother usually netted his fish. The first brother began to notice that less and less fish were coming, and he had to spend more and more time gathering and trying his hand at hunting. He began to thin again while the other fattened. Once he was suspicious of his brother, wondering if he had created a net as well and was somehow better at it than he was, just like hunting, but his brother spent almost no time fishing, so that couldn't be it. When they fished together, he remained the best catcher and swimmer, his brother almost seemed to be getting worse, lazier, quicker to devolve the fishing into water sport.

Winter came, and his net was all but useless as the fish were so rare now he could catch just as many with his hands. His brother still hunted and brought back meat, which kept him alive, but he thinned even more while his brother just seemed to get fatter. They made it through the winter, but one day the brother had traveled upstream with his net and discovered the other's dam.

Here the story takes three paths. The first and darkest, the first brother waited with his net behind the trees for his brother to arrive at the dam, and enraged he attacked his brother, got his net around the brother's head, and drowned him. This brother lived a long, well-fed life thereafter, using both his net and the dam, but he always felt a shadow of guilt.

The second path, the first brother waited and when the other arrived he confronted him. The second brother shrugged, asked why he should explain the dam or let his brother use it or its reserves. He said that the other's net was ingenious but in the end worthless to him, he invited his brother to try fishing upstream if he wanted but he wasn't going to share the fish.

Another winter came, and the same result happened as the winter before. One day while out hunting, the brother with his net stumbled upon his brother finishing up an elegant trap of a pitfall with spikes on the bottom, his new hunting invention. For his brother had had much more free time than him, and had continued receiving insights to make his life easier. He, even with his net, still had to spend most of his time fishing to stay alive. The good berry patches they had once exploited were growing bare, it was now mostly either fish or game to eat. Again the brother could either kill the second brother and toss him in his own pit, or he could walk away hating him even more. In the second case, the first brother would die during a very harsh winter when the fish were hard to catch and the game were sneaky and only falling for his brother's traps, his brother also no longer shared the meat of his hunts.

The third path, the first brother confronted the second and the second realized he'd been stupid, a bad brother, and offered his brother use of the dam and reservoir. The first brother also realized he'd been stupid and fashioned a second net for his brother to use if he wanted. They never mistrusted each other or kept secrets from each other again; both having more time to devote to activities besides getting their next meal, they both began having more insights. They shared their findings, shared their meals, and while one tended toward insights in hunting and the other tended toward insights in fishing, their combined knowledge made the winters trivial and the summers idyllic. They grew old and happy, in the end dying as not just equals in food, but equals in being.

Posted on 2010-11-30 by Jach

Tags: economics, fiction


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