A lesson about markets: “I will buy your monkeys”

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 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 say 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 my fault” is their mantra are natural serfs.  Eventually people will come along to help, taking from them the irksome burden of self-government.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Some posts about the American spirit, the American soul

  1. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
  2. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  3. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  4. A philosphical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  5. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  6. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  7. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008
  8. Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture, 5 November 2008
  9. All we have to fear is our optimism, 12 November 2008
  10. The corruption of a nation is usually hidden, but sometimes becomes visible, 21 November 2008
  11. The war for America’s soul, 23 December 2008 — Our changing attitudes to “It’s a Wonderful Life”
  12. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008
  13. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009

Originally published at Fabius Maximus and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

2 Responses to "A lesson about markets: “I will buy your monkeys”"

  1. Guest   February 25, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Thanks- great analogy that I had not heard before, and funny tooof course since there are monkeys in there. There is a typo onthe punchline though, should be “.. They never SAW either the manor his assistant again.”

  2. XRayD   March 1, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    The version at the linkes site, clearly originated in India since the transaction was conducted in Rupees. The expression at the end:Phir na woh aadmi mila na us ka assistant……….. Sirf bandar hee bandar..Is translated:The villagers never saw the original buyer, nor his assistant again. But monkey, monkeys, everywhere!This tale, sadly reminds us of some Madoff investors – many of whom paid dearly.