The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible, A Free Market Odyssey – Chapter 7-Best Laid Plans

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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 …

Dull two- and three-story wooden row houses lined the streets of the town. Then Jonathan noticed one grand, elegant home, standing apart from everything, isolated on an expansive green lawn. It looked solidly built, adorned with attractive latticework and freshly painted white walls.


Curious, Jonathan approached the house and found a crew wielding heavy sticks, attacking the rear of the home and trying to tear it down. They weren’t very enthusiastic and moved very slowly at the job. Nearby, a dignified, gray-haired woman stood with her hands clenched, visibly unhappy at the proceedings. She groaned audibly when a piece of the wall came down.

Jonathan walked over to her and asked, “That house looks well-built. Who’s the owner?”

“That’s a good question.” the woman shot back vehemently. “I thought I owned this house.”

“You thought you owned it? Surely you know if you own a house,” said Jonathan.

The ground shook as the entire rear wall collapsed inside. The woman stared miserably at the cloud of dust billowing up from the rubble. “It’s not that simple,” yelled the woman over the noise. “Ownership is control, right? But who controls this house? The Lords control everything — so they’re the real owners of this house, even though I built it and paid for every board and nail.”

Growing more agitated, she walked over and ripped a paper off a single post left where a whole wall had stood moments before. “See this notice?” She crumpled it, threw it down and stamped on it. “The officials tell me what I may build, how I may build, when I may build, and what I can use it for. Now they tell me they’re tearing it down. Does that sound like I own the property?”

“Well,” ventured Jonathan sheepishly, “Didn’t you live in it?”

“Only so long as I could keep paying the property taxes. If I didn’t pay, the officials would have booted me out faster than you can say ‘next case.'” The woman grew red with fury and continued breathlessly, “No one really owns anything. We merely rent from the Council so long as we pay their taxes.”

“You didn’t pay the tax?” asked Jonathan.
“Of course I paid the cursed tax,” the woman practically shouted. “But that wasn’t enough for them. This time, the Lords said that my plan for the house didn’t fit their plan — the master plan of ‘superior owners,’ they told me. They condemned my house — gave me some money for what they said it was worth. And now they’re going to clear it away to make a park. The park will have a nice big monument in the center — monument to one of their own.”

“Well, at least they paid you for the house,” said Jonathan. He thought a moment and asked, “Weren’t you satisfied?”

She gave him a sidewise look. “If I was satisfied, they wouldn’t have needed a policeman to push the deal, now would they? And the money they paid me? That was taken from my neighbors. Who’ll compensate them? The Lords won’t pay ’em.”

Jonathan shook his head in bewilderment. “You said that it was all part of a master plan?”

“Ha. A master plan.” the woman said sarcastically. “That’s a plan that belongs to whoever has political power. If I spent my life in politics, then I’d be able to impose my plans on everyone else. Then I could steal houses instead of building them. It’s so much easier.”

“But surely you need a plan in order to have a wisely built town?” said Jonathan hopefully. He tried to find a logical explanation for the woman’s plight. “Shouldn’t you trust the Council to come up with such a plan?”

She waved her hand at the row houses. “Go see for yourself. The worst plans are the few that they actually complete — shoddy, costly, and ugly.”

Turning to face Jonathan, she looked him straight in the eye. “Think of this, they built a sports stadium where nine of every ten spectators can’t see the field of play. Because of their shoddy work, it cost twice as much to repair as it cost to build in the first place. And their great meeting hall is only available to visitors, not for the taxpayers who paid for it. Who did the planning? The Lords. They get their names emblazoned in stone and their friends get fat contracts.”

Jabbing a finger into Jonathan’s chest, she declared, “Only foolish plans have to be forced on people. Force never earned my trust.” Fuming, she glared back at her house. “They haven’t heard the last from me.”

”’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