This is probably an ancient story, now widely circulating around the Internet. It’s a powerful tale, very appropriate for today.
The earliest reference I find to this story is an anecdote told by Prasanna S, posted at Eternal sunshine of the rambling mind, 26 May 2006 . Does anyone know its origin, or have an earlier reference? Here is one version:
Once upon a time in a village a man appeared who announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10. The villagers knew that the jungle held countless monkeys, easily caught. The man bought 2 thousand.
As the supply diminished, they become difficult to catch, and villagers returned to their farms. The man announced that he would pay $20. The villagers renewed their efforts and caught 1,000 more monkeys.
The supply quickly diminished, but before they returned to their farms the man increased his offer to $40 each. Monkeys became so rare that it was difficult to even see a monkey let alone catch it. But they caught 500.
The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at $100! However, since he had to go to the city on some business his assistant would now buy for the man. The man departed.
Then the assistant told the villagers, “Look at all these monkeys the man has in that big cage. I will sell them to you at $50 each. When the man comes back you can sell the monkey’s back to him for $100.” The villagers queued up with all their saving to buy the monkeys. The assistant took their money. They never saw either the man or his assistant again.
They now owned 3,500 monkeys. They were paid $60,000 to catch them, and bought them back for $175,000.
Such stories serve a valuable function in the aftermath of poor decision-making by a society, shifting blame to a designated enemy. Jews, Blacks, Immigrants, scientists, rebels, Wall Street. People are inventive and can always find a scapegoat for their mistakes.
Unfortunately self-government means taking responsibility for ones actions. A people for whom “its not my fault” is their mantra are natural serfs. Eventually people will come along to help, taking from them the irksome burden of self-government.