Why We Pay For Water Nowadays–Revelations Rails Against Free-Market Fundamentalism

Posted by Melvin Bray on December 7th, 2004 filed in Village Half-Wit

“How dare you ask me to pay!?”
“Nothing personal. It’s just free-enterprise. I plan to have my first million by time I’m 25.”
“But that doesn’t mean you should make it off me. You’re my friend, and my computer is broken: you should want to help me, not charge me.”
Jaya and John walked along arguing back and forth until Jaya spotted a man sitting on the park bench feeding pigeons and mumbling to himself. Before John could finish his most recent rationalization, Jaya interrupted him declaring, “I’m going to ask Mr. Revelations what he thinks.”
The man sitting on the park bench was the reason Jaya chose to walk home this way from the AU Center. She liked to stop and talk to him whenever she could. She thought that was better than leaving him to talk to himself. Besides the wacky stories he often told fascinated her.
“I’m not going to talk to that old man. He’s crazy!” rebutted John.
“No he’s not! He’s just idiosyncratic.”
“If that means ‘crazy,’ then that’s exactly what he is. My dad said…”
And that was pretty much the discussion had by any group of neighborhood folks about the old man known as “Revelations” who sat in the park. He really wasn’t half as old as people remembered him to be, but life had aged him before his time. Still folks would say he had always “talked old” even when he was young. Those who knew him then said he was born with an “old spirit”.
Most days, you could find him shortly after lunch in Howell Park on the West End of Atlanta. He’d just sit there feeding the pigeons and apparently talking to himself. That’s exactly where Jaya and John happened by him this day.
While John droned on about what his father thought of Revelations, Jaya began to run towards her friend, and as boys are apt to do, John chased after her.
“Mr. Revelations! Mr. Revelations, how are you?” Jaya shouted startling the pigeons away as she ran up.
“Fair-to-middlin’, little one, and you?” Revelations replied cordially as she approached. Though Jaya was in college now, he still called her “little”.
“I’d be doing better if my computer weren’t broken, and my friend, John here, weren’t trying to charge me to use his. Do you think that’s right?”
“What’s right, my dear, is often the enemy of what’s profitable. You know we even have to pay for water nowadays . . . but do ya know why?”
“No sir, I don’t,” Jaya replied with a twinkle in her eyes that begged him to elaborate. And for that small price, this beleaguered old-timer was happy to oblige her.
“Let me tell ya the story then,” Revelations suggested, and with a smile on her face Jaya plopped down beside him. She enjoyed his stories, and he loved to share them. The best John could do was grin and bear it.

CONTINUE READING Why We Pay for Water Nowadays>>>

Turning to Jaya’s companion, Revelations asked, “Son, what’s yo’ name?”
“John.”
“Ya sure it ain’t Al. Ya look like an Al. Ask yo’ mama if she didn’t think of naming ya Al when you were born. Anyway— Let me ask ya a question. Have the two of ya ever heard of a New Guinea bower?”
“Can’t say I have,” they jinxed.
“Well, a New Guinea bower is a bird who collects scraps and trinkets to weave into his nest in order to impress other animals or to win a mate.
“Don’t tell me this is an animal tale. What are we 10?” John pleaded in impending boredom.
“Animals are typically sensible creatures; it’s humans who need help.
“Well, it’s a little known fact that the bower is a direct descendent of the greatest bird the world has ever known—the albatross. That’s right. Furthermore, this fabled beast of which the Ancient Mariner sung is absolutely no kinship to the modern gull that today bears its name, excepting they both share a love of water. One of the reasons most people don’t know they are related is because the bower in no wise resembles its most noble ancestor in size and beauty. It’s as if the bower’s own nobility has shriveled up over the years with the narrowness of its pursuits.”
“Okay,” John said rolling his eyes in Jaya’s direction when what he really wanted to say was, “So?”
Seemingly oblivious Revelations continued, “Long ago the albatross was the biggest bird in God’s creation and as such all the other birds looked up to it. Because of its pretty plums many of the other animals envied it as well. As far as birds go the albatross seemed to have it all. He could fly higher and farther and longer than most other birds so he became an explorer and would come back to his jungle community and tell the most amazing stories of the things he had seen. He even got so that he would bring back souvenirs from his expeditions. As a result, he soon became known as the keeper of all things curious in the animal kingdom.
“You with me thus far, Albert.”

“I guess . . . but my name is John.”
“Well, keep up. Ya might see yo’self in a minute.
“One day Albatross got what he thought was a pretty bright idea. ‘Self,’ he said to himself, ‘since everyone comes to see and hear all the curious things you’ve found in yo’ explorations, it’s about time you get something out of it. They should pay you for what you show and tell.’
“Who’d ever heard of sucha thing: expecting payment for sharing vacation photos?! But Albatross knew he had stumbled onto something. Something told him that somebody somewhere would be willing to pay to see and hear the curious things he brought back from his trips. All he had to do was package his message in order to get folks talking about it. Pretty soon he settled on a message that was simple and direct. Albatross painted a sign and hung it on his tree. It read, ‘Come. Oddities!”
“This bird could talk and write too?!” John ridiculed.
“I bet some people are just as surprise to hear the same about you,” Jaya quipped.
“Yeah, Alberto. This was back when animals could still talk. But as I was saying…
“When word got out, believe it or not, animals came from miles around—not as many as use to wanta hear about Albatross’ excursions, mind ya—but enough. The limited numbers, he found, only served to create a sense of exclusivity. Those who had seen and heard Albatross’ oddities began to think of themselves as privileged. They imagined that some of the specialness with which they regarded Albatross had rubbed off on them.
“It was the beginning of free-enterprise, Alfredo. As Albatross spoke to the animals who came to visit him and he told them about the curious things he saw on his travels, he would often comment on the very different ways animals in other parts of the land did things. It wasn’t long before he began to hear back from his customers that they had tried to grow so-and-so or build thus-and-such the way he had told them animals do it elsewheres, and it had gotten terrific results. All of a sudden it dawned on Albatross that if animals were willing to pay to see and hear oddities, they were probably willing to pay more for useful knowledge.
“All kinds of light bulbs started going off in Albatross’ head. He immediately saw how profitable peddling useful information could be. He realized that whether it was a different way of doing things he had actually seen in his travels or one he simply made up, with the right message folks would buy it and try it!
“The ‘Come. Oddities!’ campaign was working for him so he stuck with it (somehow “Come. Knowledge!” didn’t seem to have the same ring to it). Differently though, Albatross decided to ‘share’ his newfound profitability with his growing circle of friends. He established the first free-market the world had ever seen right there in front of his tree. For just a small portion of their profits, Albatross’ friends could now sell their own oddities and tools and art and knowledge—pretty much anything they collected or created—to anyone willing to pay for it. Albatross even convinced other birds that they could profit off their ability to fly by spreading the news of the new ‘Marketplace’ everywhere they flew (for a small fee, of course). Not only was Albatross the keeper of all things curious, he had now become the keeper of things useful as well.
“Needless to say, business was booming. Albatross was a regular Donald Trump. He couldn’t have been more pleased with himself. ‘Al,’ he said to himself, ‘You da Bird!’ The intriguing thing was that once he got started he couldn’t stop searching for more things to, shall we say, ‘Come-oddify.’ It was like an addiction.
“One day while flying back from one of his ‘explortations’—”
“Don’t you mean ‘explorations,'” John interjected.
“I know what I said, Alphonzo. The question is do you. Explo-ra-tion is what one does for the pleasure of discovery. ‘Explor-ta-tion’ is exploration done while trying to figure out how much money you can make.
“Now where was I? Oh, yes… While circling overhead, he noticed a family of water buffalo lying in the shade of his tree which stood beside the local watering hole. In that moment it occurred to him that there lie yet another untapped market of things he could sell.
“Landing beside the Papa Water Buffalo, Albatross ever so politely explained that though his tree was located adjacent to the watering hole and had in times past been used as shelter from the heat of the day by anyone who came to drink, the shade it cast was technically a part of his newly established Marketplace. As such, it was his ‘unfortunate responsibility’ to only allow those who paid to benefit from it.
“Well, this was the act that caught the attention of the Council of Animal Elders.”
“These animals had a council of elders? What is this now The Matrix?” John questioned sarcastically.
“Of course, they did. Any community with any sense has a group of elders that they look to for wisdom,” Revelations responded rather matter-of-factly.
“At the next council session Chief Elder Lion asked his fellow council members what, if anything, should be done about Albatross.
“Elder Monkey responded quickly saying, ‘Albatross has brought profitability to the jungle. It has given all animals ambitions they never had before. The Marketplace has been particularly good for my kind.’
“Papa Water Buffalo, who was also an elder, rebutted, ‘Yes, but now he’s trying to sell things that rightfully belong to all of us already. What’s next? Will he try to make an animal pay for a drink of water?’
“The council discussed the matter at length. After carefully hearing all the arguments, Chief Elder Lion spoke again. ‘It seems to me that it is reasonable for animals to sell in the Marketplace that which they have fairly collected or created from their own ingenuity, although why they would buy much of that junk escapes me. But as far as that which is of necessity—food, shelter, water, even land—that for which the Creator has provided liberally for all to partake of, no one should be allowed to profit off of it, except the entire community profit. And since Albatross appears too drunk from his pursuit of profit to know when he has gone too far, we must set limits for him and others who would seek to exploit their neighbors’ needs for personal gain.’
“And since his words sounded most sensible to every member of the council, that’s what they did.”
Smacking his lips John retorted in self-defensive, “That’s not fair. My dad says that the only fair market is a free market.”
Revelations responded simply, “What folks consider fair often has nothing to do with what’s right. What-cha gotta ask yo’self is ‘Fair for whom?'”
“Yes, but what does your story have to do with John charging me to use his computer, Mr. Revelations?” Jaya inquired as politely as she knew how.
“Well, first, my dear, is that Al here is no more special than folks thought Albatross was. If he doesn’t wanta share his computer wit’cha out of generosity, forget him and go down the street to the public library and use theirs. Second and more importantly, you must learn that a person can only sell you what you’re willing to buy—not what you’re only willing to share.”
With that, Jaya picked up her things and smiled. “But, Mr. Revelations, that still doesn’t explain why we now have to pay for water.”
“Well, honey, I told ya everything else. You should be able to figure that out for yo’self.”

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