It’s a metaphor for modern America, and a warning. Let’s listen.
The earliest reference I find to this story is an anecdote told by Prasanna S, posted at Eternal sunshine of the rambling mind. It is rich with insights for us.
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.
America’s grifter economy
This is a metaphor for America. We invest massive amounts of our capital – individuals and our pensions – in unprofitable companies. We get exciting stories. Most of these will leave behind a flock of billionaire venture capitalists and executives and crying investors. That’s just the latest of the grifts that generate wealth for the rich in America.
Our pharmaceutical companies reap fantastic profits because their lackeys in Congress prohibit the Federal government from negotiating bulk prices. Our insurance companies are pass-through profit generators: they pay lavish prices to the medical-industrial-complex, add on huge administrative fees, and charge thick profit margins as the cherry on top. Our defense contractors build insanely expensive weapons that sometimes work (more or less). Our mining corps harvest fortunes from public lands without paying a dime in royalties. Our oil and gas companies drill into Washington DC, pumping out an inexhaustible stream of subsidies.
Some of these scams are found in our peer nations. But nobody is so poorly run to have all of them. More amazing yet, like the villagers in the story, we are proud of our participation in these scams. Until we finally realize we have been had.
America’s wealth goes into these scams. Not just funds, our institutional resources, and many of our most talented people. With them we support these scams. At the end our elites have the cash and we have the monkeys.
The people in the village fell for a scam once. We do so again and again. Much of our daily news describes how we are fleeced. Much of the rest descries exciting new scams, certain to end differently. We have new authentic men and women spinning fun tales offering hope and change. Opportunities that can be ours so long as we do not look at their past loyal service to the political machines which rule us.
Pointing to those responsible
Self-government means a people must take responsibility for their actions. For our nation. A people for whom “it is 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.
Gullibility and inability to learn are the first steps down this road. They are possible signs of the Republic’s senescence. But unlike an individual, a nation can revitalize itself – its people rededicating themselves to the principles that made us great once, and can again. Understanding is the first step to reform.
For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more about these matters, see America – how can we reform it? and Reforming America: steps to new politics. Also see these notes from the past …
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris.
- A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville about our military.
- Another note from our past, helping us see our future – by Daniel Ellsberg
- France gives us tips for the Afghanistan War, from their successful role in the American Revolution.
- Advice from one of the British Empire’s greatest Foreign Ministers – by Lord Palmerston.
- George Orwell sends us a note, giving some perspective on our situation.
- Thomas Jefferson saw our present peril. We should heed his warning.
- Voices from the past describe the coming New America.
- Martin Luther King Jr’s advice to us about using violence to reform America.
- Advice from Kipling & Orwell about America’s empire. Let’s listen.
4 thoughts on “A story about monkeys explains our grifter nation”
Don’t forger Fannie Mae, subsidizing mortgages. Banks can’t go longer than five years, but Fannie Mae makes it possible to spend your lifetime giving a third of your salary to Wall Street.
FNMA has been a boon to many generations of homeowners. If you don’t want to borrow to buy a home, don’t.
I think that eventually this will change – if only because of attrition – but it seems like it may be related to the “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” phenomenon that Vonnegut wrote about.
I don’t know what would become of Americans if they got a real sense of history. I think it would change us as a people; hopefully for the better!
VERY well said, LK ;)