Once upon a time in a deep, dark forest, somewhere in Central Europe, there lived a group of animals. Occasionally they would meet up to discuss current affairs and air their complaints and grievances. There was the wolf, the king of the forest, who, because he argued well and had a powerful weapon (his sharp teeth) was listened to especially carefully. There was the brown cow, who fed well in the sylvan glades of the forest and gave plentiful milk. She was regarded as an important denizen. There was the goat, who would eat anything, and who, like the cow produced rich, creamy milk. Then there were the deer, who mostly went along with whatever the consensus was; the bears, always grumbling, and the squirrels, rabbits, beavers, otters and numerous birds, who gossiped incessantly during the proceedings and were ignored by the larger animals.
All went along fairly happily between meetings, with the pecking order intact, until there befell a series of terrible summers and winters. Great storms lashed the forest, smashing the trees. This was followed by months of snow and ice. The summers were cold and the plants essential to many of the animals died. The deer, bears, squirrels, rabbits, beavers, otters and numerous birds faced starvation, disease and death. Only the wolf, who ate squirrel whenever he could, the goat, who ate everything anyway, and the cow, who had laid in plenty of hay, seemed unaffected.
This is terrible, said the cow, we cannot allow our friends in the forest to starve.
I agree, said the goat, we must create a special committee . Let us call it the Forest Bank. We will lend to the poorest animals so that they can survive these conditions and find alternative ways of staying alive and prospering in the future.
The wolf did not like this piece of initiative one little bit. He was a free enterprise wolf. His fellow wolves in the forest had religious objections to the theory of evolution, so he wouldn?t admit to supporting the idea of the survival of the fittest. But he definitely believed that only smart animals, who hunted hard or planned ahead, deserved to survive, whereas those who stood around complaining got what they deserved. The word ?sharing? was not in his vocabulary. Moreover he considered the involvement of the public sector (defined as any two or more people getting together to solve a problem) to be inefficient. Such initiatives should be conducted by private corporations if they had to exist at all. Lastly, being a wolf, he basically believed that life is too short to sit around talking. Violence was justified. He had been violent himself in the past.
But the wolf was devious. He pretended to agree to the setting up of the Forest Bank and feigned enthusiasm. It was better, he thought, to join it than to huff and puff and try to blow it down from the sidelines. Thus, owing to his huge ego and his sharp teeth, he was appointed, unopposed, as President of the Bank. He therefore found himself in the disagreeable position of distributing food and medicines to the animals worst hit by the climatic change. A smooth operator, he put on an excellent show of supporting the venture. He sounded articulate, persuasive and committed. He worked long hours.
Privately, however, he was no believer. How, thought the wolf,can I kill this idea? He began by scouring the countryside for egocentric and incompetent assistants, and installed them in his lair. He then insisted that all decisions had to go across his desk, and he ignored the opinions of the cow and the goat, the only two productive animals left in the forest, animals whose regular supply of milk was to be distributed to the poor and the sick. He knew that this would really annoy everyone concerned, which was the point of the manoeuvre.
But then the wolf got wind of something that was supposed to be hush-hush. Secretly, some of the affected animals were either hoarding the food and not passing it to their extended families, or alternatively, they were accepting the milk from the cow and the goat and charging their friends and relatives for what was supposed to be free. Outrageous. It wouldn?t happen among wolves, who were models of integrity.
How could anyone oppose the idea of eliminating corruption? He had his weapon.
The wolf then began, ad hoc, to refuse help to those he thought might be breaking the rules. He knew he wasn?t being methodical or consistent, and in some cases only a suspicion was necessary to elicit a refusal from him. But he had had one or two arguments with animals who did not share his radical and elitist outlook on life and made it clear they thought he bordered on being an extremist, or even a fanatic. This was a good opportunity to get even.
Having established that taking backhanders was a ?bad idea? he grew bolder and bolder, blocking all and every attempt to distribute the milk aid, until the process ground to a total halt.
You can?t do that, protested the cow, rabbits and otters calves will starve. Some squirrels only have an acorn a day.
We agreed the rules, replied the wolf, and I cannot be doing with graft and corruption. Squirrels are supposed to squirrel away acorns for a rainy day, and if they have failed to do so I can see no reason why your milk should go to subsidize those who have at the expense of those who haven?t.
There didn?t seem a very good argument against this. The cow and the goat visited all the other animals, the faint and the sick, and begged them not to spoil a good scheme by being unfair or greedy. But sometimes animals can strongly resemble humans - - that is, when the chips are down, they will do anything to survive, and to the devil with altruism and community spirit. Animals can be tribal and selfish, too.
Thus it was that the activities of the Forest Bank ended up in stalemate and frustration. The decent and civilized idea of helping the weak and needy foundered against the rocks of self-interest and ideology. The cow and the goat were unable to dispose of their surplus milk, got mastitis and died. All the previous recipients of aid starved to death.
The wolf commented:
This shows that these community projects never work.