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The Allegory of the Fishermen

By David Grant

In a small village in Scotland a lake that was previously void of life was found to have fish. Several entrepreneur/fishermen launched fishing businesses to take advantage of the rich natural resource.

The first few businesses to launch made enormous amounts of money which caused more entrepreneurs to test the waters.

Everyone in the village was better off. The inflow of money caused restauranteurs, shop owners, resin suppliers, dentists, buggy manufacturers and nearly every other merchant to become wealthier.

With their surplus, many of the entrepreneurs invested in new equipment that would make fish processing much more efficient. This investment yielded more surplus which was invested into forays into the shipping business, investment in property and other companies, and investment into medical research.

The increased wealth from production unleashed a wave of jobs. Tax revenues also went up and the government was quick to raise salaries sufficiently to attract good people, invest in infrastructure projects, and plan for growth.

Soon the fishermen reached a point at which the lake could not replenish the number of fish taken, so the government hired a scientist to study fish reproduction rates to determine whether or not fish quotas should be required and what those should be.

The goal was NOT to create a job for the scientist but to maximize production. The scientist determined that the correct annual amount of harvest per year for all fishing enterprises would be 800,000 pounds per year.

The scientist also said that by adding a certain inexpensive feed to the lake, that would cost $100,000 per year, the fishermen could safely harvest another 400,000 pounds of fish per year without any negative impact to the lake.

The fishermen were able to sell each pound of fish for $2.00. The government, in order to optimize production, restricted the number of boats that could fish the lake and divvied permits via an auction.

There was also a tax placed on the permits that totaled $100,000 annually. All of the tax revenues were used to purchase the necessary feed and the total annual lake harvest quota was set at 1.2 million pounds of fish per year.

This was divided up into 12 months and all companies could fish as much as they wanted until the 100,000-pound monthly total was reached, then all fishing was prohibited for the rest of the month.

There were other costs to manage the operation besides the fee. A scale had to be purchased and weighers had to be employed, but the system was optimized with appropriate government intervention, and a tax was carefully imposed to cover the costs to the government for optimizing production.

Ten years later another government was in power. Although everyone was better off economically, some were a lot better off and others less so. The less so’s screamed, whined, complained, sabotaged and lobbied the government to make them equal in pay with the fishermen who were amassing fortunes.

Their argument was that it was the lake, and not the fishermen, that had allowed prosperity and since the lake was public property that all should directly and equally benefit from the spoils.

The wise governor of the time heard them and tried to teach them economics but they would not listen. He ignored them and production continued unhampered for 10 more years.

The complainers were much better off than they were prior to the boom in the fishing industry, but, since they were not as well off as the entrepreneurs, they continued to lobby the government.

A young entrepreneur named Karl, seeing an opportunity to make a fair sum of money, came to the town and convinced the less rich that they deserved their full share of the spoils.

He co-opted the word, Justice, because everyone liked justice. He helped them strategize on how to get more of the spoils. He taught them to:

  1. Vilify the fishermen as being undeserving exploiters
  2. Control media communication
  3. Control school curriculum
  4. Foment unrest among the have-less
  5. Place confederates in political office and in the judiciary
  6. This done, the group infiltrated the political landscape.

The end result was that Karl made off like a bandit through kickbacks and fees. The leaders of the have those who were less rich got richer. The less rich got poorer and the less rich leadership blamed the increased poverty on their lack of complete power.

The focus went from production to jobs. As jobs were the focus, the government required boat inspections and hired boat inspectors and expensive but invasive boat scanning machines.

So that no sharp object could penetrate any of the boat hulls, fishermen were required to be strip-searched for their own safety. Those ignorant of economics lauded the power of the government to create jobs. But with no increase in production, the jobs amounted to a redistribution of wealth and an overall net loss to the economy.

There were three ways to pay for all this. They could borrow money, raise taxes or inflate the currency. A combination of all three was chosen.

Soon fishing was only marginally profitable for a fisherman and the good ones left for less regulatory waters. Everyone got poorer, and there was high unemployment.

Worst of all, gubernatorial greed provided a corruption seedbed. The politicians whose shortsightedness had caused the town’s demise had transformed their positions from a public service role into a kingdom.

They instituted coronation parties, photo sessions, vast benefits, trips at the taxpayer’s expense and lived as though they were owed an opulent living on the backs of the people doing the actual production.

The rest of the story is being written. If you were allowed entrance into the community and given a chance to speak to any group, what would that group be and what would you say?


davidgrant-150x175-customDavid B. Grant is the founder of Summa Logica Productions, which promotes formal logic training, particularly among youth, and helps you become a better thinker, reader, and writer. He is the author of Joseph Spider and the Fallacy Farm.

David holds degrees in Philosophy (BA) and Business (MBA) from Brigham Young University. He teaches Entrepreneurship and Operations at Southern Utah University.

He resides in Cedar City, Utah with his wife and five children.


  1. taufik boen says

    my name is boen, live in Indonesia. I’m a field staff of one NGO’s which will started a project called: Marine conservation leadership. I’m trying to learn and find some more information about how we deal with a local people and improve their leadership to manage their environment in sustainable ways. I like this website and hopefully can learn from you Dave..
    thank you

  2. Love this allegory! I learned it in a more detailed version in my Econ class at BYU (my professor was Robert Crawford). This is probably one of the most memorable things I learned at BYU. Today I was talking about it with my girlfriends at a baby shower and decided to find it online afterwards. I like your version because it’s so easy to read and understand for someone who never even took Econ. I sent a link to this page to my friends and will post it on my Facebook page. Thanks!

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