As you may recall, we last left Jonathan Gullible on a remote Pacific island after his boat was tossed about by a terrific storm. One day …
Jonathan accompanied the despairing woman and her boy a couple miles down the road to the home of her relatives. They thanked him warmly and invited him to stay. One look told him that the house could barely contain the whole family, so he excused himself and continued on his way.
The road took him to a river where he found a bridge to a walled town on the other side. The narrow bridge held an imposing divider. On the right-hand side of the bridge, a sign pointed to the town reading, “ENTER STULTA CITY, ISLE OF CORRUMPO.” On the other side of the divider, another sign simply read, “EXIT ONLY, DO NOT ENTER.”
That was not the oddest feature of the bridge. To cross into town, one had to climb over jagged obstacles. Piles of sharp rocks and massive boulders blocked the entire entry side of the bridge. Several travelers had dropped their parcels by the way or into the river rather than to haul them over the craggy barrier. Others, especially the elderly, simply turned back. Behind one feeble traveler, Jonathan spied the familiar yellow-striped cat with a ragged right ear, sniffing and pawing at a bundle that had been discarded. As he watched, the cat extracted a piece of dried meat from the torn bundle.
In contrast, the exit side of the bridge was smooth and clear. Merchants carrying goods out of town departed with ease. Jonathan wondered, “Why do they make it so tough to get into this place and so easy to get out?”
Jonathan clambered over the entrance side of the bridge, slipping on the uneven footing and hauling himself up on the boulders. He finally arrived at a pair of thick wooden gates that were thrown wide open to allow him to pass through the great town wall. People riding horses, people carrying boxes and bundles, and people driving all manner of wagons and carts traversed the roads inside. Jonathan straightened his shoulders, dusted off his tattered shirt and pants and marched through the gateway. The cat slipped in behind him.
Just inside, a woman, holding a rolled parchment, sat behind a table that was covered with bright little medallions. “Please,” asked the woman, giving a wide smile and reaching out to pin one of the medallions onto Jonathan’s shirt pocket, “won’t you sign my petition?”
“Well, I don’t know,” stammered Jonathan, “But I wonder if you could direct me toward the center of town?”
The woman eyed him suspiciously. “You don’t know the town?”
Jonathan hesitated, noting the chilly tone that had crept into her voice. Quickly, he said, “And where do I sign your petition?”
The woman smiled again. “Sign just below the last name, right here. You’re helping so many people with this.”
Jonathan shrugged his shoulders and took up her pen. He felt sorry for her, sitting all bundled in heavy clothing, sweating profusely on such a pleasant, sunny day. “What’s this petition for?” asked Jonathan.
She clasped her hands in front of her as if preparing to sing a solo. “This is a petition to protect jobs and industry. You are in favor of jobs and industry, are you not?” she pleaded.
“Of course I am,” said Jonathan, remembering the enterprising young woman who was arrested for threatening the jobs of tree workers. The last thing he wanted was to sound disinterested in people’s work.
“How will this help?” asked Jonathan as he scribbled his name badly enough so that no one could possibly read it.
“The Council of Lords protects our local industries from products that come from outside of town. As you can see, we’ve made progress with our bridge, but there’s so much more to be done. If enough people sign my petition, the Lords have promised to ban foreign items that hurt my industry.”
“What is your industry?” asked Jonathan.
The woman declared proudly, “I represent the makers of candles and coats. This petition calls for a ban on the sun.”
“The sun?” gasped Jonathan. “How, uh, why ban the sun?”
She eyed Jonathan defensively. “I know it sounds a bit drastic, but don’t you see — the sun hurts candle makers and coat makers. People don’t buy candles and coats when they’re warm and have light. Surely you realize that the sun is a very cheap source of foreign light and heat. Well, this just cannot be tolerated!”
“But light and heat from the sun are free,” protested Jonathan.
The woman looked hurt and whined, “That’s the problem, don’t you see?” Taking out a little pad and pencil, she tried to draw a few notations for him. “According to my calculations, the low-cost availability of these foreign elements reduces potential employment and wages by at least 50 percent — that is, in the industries which I represent. A heavy tax on windows, or maybe an outright prohibition, should improve this situation nicely.”
Jonathan put down her petition. “But if people pay for light and heat, then they will have less money to spend on other things — things like meat or drink or bread.”
“I don’t represent the butchers, or the brewers, or the bakers,” the woman said brusquely. Sensing a change in Jonathan’s attitude, she snatched away the petition. “Obviously you are more interested in some consumer whim than in protecting the security of jobs and sound business investment. Good day to you,” she said, ending the conversation abruptly.
Jonathan backed away from the table. “Ban the sun?” he thought. “What crazy ideas! First hatchets and food, then the sun. What will they think of next?”
”’Ken Schoolland is an associate professor of economics and political science at Hawaii Pacific University.”’
”’The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible began as a radio series on KHVH in Hawaii and was later broadcast as a dramatic production in Alaska.”’
”’The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible, A Free Market Odyssey, is in its third, revised and expanded edition, 2001