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A land of wood and bricks; a tale for our times

October 1, 2014

Once upon a time there was a land of wood and bricks. The capital had two separate cities. One was built entirely of bricks. Inside the brick buildings lived the king and everyone who worked for him. The other city was built of wood and, apart from wooden homes, it had huge warehouses to store large amounts of wood. Everyone in the wooden city worked on counting the wood and that was the currency for the brick and the wood people. Wood was essential for everyone to pay their bills and heat their homes.

Now there was a law that a king introduced many years ago. Its origin was lost in the mists of time. No-one could even remember who the king was. The law forced everyone who was working to save up wood and this was kept by the warehouse wood people. When they retired, people in the brick houses got plenty of wood each month until they died but most people in the wooden houses had barely enough wood to survive. The exceptions were the owners of the wood warehouses. They had lots of wood because every time people took wood from them they took some of it for themselves. Also they knew everything about it. They did not share this knowledge and kept it in special decision trees. If anyone wanted to get the opinion of the decision tree they had to pay the warehouse wood people some wood. So these wood people got even richer.

One day a new king came to power. He was not stuck in the old ways and liked to make bold popular decisions. He especially wanted to be loved by the all the people so he would be remembered in history. Unlike the old king whose name was lost in the mists of time. So he decided to change the old law. Now people could have as much of the wood that they had put in the warehouses, as they wanted, when they retired. They could either continue to take little bits of it or they could take much more and use it as they desired. Everyone rejoiced, except for the warehouse wood people. This made him even happier because he hated them. He also guessed that a lot of people would take a lot of wood when they retired so he could take some of it through a tax. The old king had a massive wood tax so that people wouldn’t break the old law. The new king reduced the tax. Not only was this also very popular but he also got more wood to repair his palace.

Everything went swimmingly until the people asked him – how can I decide whether to get my wood and what should I do with it if I do? Only the decision trees knew the answer to this question. Much to his disgust he had to talk to warehouse wood people. They said, we have the decision trees and we must be paid in wood to use them! The king fell into a deep sulk.

Suddenly he came up with a plan. The warehouse wood people would have to pay some of the brick people and they would use that money to grow their own decision trees. What’s more it would be free for the people retiring because the warehouse wood people were paying for the trees. Unfortunately there was no happy ending because the brick peoples’ decision trees didn’t work and they had to go to the warehouse wood people afterwards anyway. The moral of the tale. Ill thought out policy decisions inevitably lead to equally ill thought out ones.

Written by Richard Walsh, first published in Cover Magazine, 16 September 2014 (click here for Cover article)

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