Once upon a time, on a beautiful island in the South Pacific, there lived a tribe of truffle diggers. There were a hundred families in the tribe, and every morning when the sun came up they would all go out into the woods to dig for truffles. Truffles were the only things they ate, and digging them up from around the roots of the trees where they grew was the only thing they had to do in order to survive
Nevertheless, life on the island was not easy. The ground was very hard and the people had only their bare hands and with which to dig. A man and his wife had to work as hard as they could for twelve solid hours just to get enough truffles to feed themselves and their children. When the truffle diggers returned to their village at the end of the day they were all so tired that they could hardly stand up.
Then one day a French merchant arrived on the island bearing fifty iron shovels. He went into the village where the truffle-diggers lived, and the first fifty families he met he offered a deal.
"You can use one of my shovels to dig,” he said, “but only if you promise to give me a truffle for every day that you use it. When I return in a year I expect you to give me all of the truffles you owe me. If you fail, then I shall take my shovel back and you shall have to go back to digging with your hands."
Seeing they had little to lose, the fifty families agreed to the Frenchman’s terms. The next day they took their iron shovels into the woods. They quickly discovered that by using a shovel they could easily dig enough truffles to eat in just six hours. In twelve hours they could dig twice as many truffles as they could possibly eat.
Nevertheless, the fifty families with shovels went on digging the whole day long. They were used to digging twelve hours a day, and besides hard work was a sacred tradition in the tribe. For as long as anyone could remember, any family who failed to work all day every day always ended up starving. So they continued working as they always had, and before long all the extra truffles they could not eat began to pile up around their huts.
Meanwhile, life for the other fifty families without shovels didn’t change at all. Every morning they would go out into the woods and dig truffles with their bare hands, working just as hard as they could for twelve solid hours. At the end of the day they barely had enough truffles to eat, and by the time they got home they were all so tired they could hardly stand up.
Then, one day, a man from one of the families in the village who didn’t have a shovel approached the door of a family who did, around whose hut the truffles were now piled so high you could barely see the roof.
"Dear neighbor,” he said, you have more truffles than you know what to do with. "Would you be so kind as to give me and my family a few of your truffles to eat? Why should we have work so hard to feed ourselves, when you can dig truffles so easily with a shovel?"
The neighbor felt pity and decided to give the man and his family some truffles to eat. When the other families in the village without shovels saw this, they too asked their neighbors for food. It wasn’t long before the fifty families without shovels stopped going out into the woods altogether. Instead, they loafed around the village all day, and then begged truffles from their neighbors when they came home from work in the evening.
Well, it was not long before the families with shovels saw what was happening and began to grumble among themselves. "This won’t do," they decided. "It isn’t fair for our neighbors to loaf around all day and then expect us to feed them in the evening when we come home from work. Let us hire them instead. We can use our extra truffles to pay them. They can build our fires and cook our food and carry water from the well. And while they are at it, why don’t they enlarge our huts, to make them bigger and more comfortable? We will also ask them massage our bodies with palm oil at the end of the day, which feels so good when you are tired and your muscles are sore."
So the fifty families who didn’t have shovels became the servants of the fifty families who did. They made their huts bigger, cooked their food, fetched their water from the well, massaged their bodies at the end of each day, and in general made their lives as comfortable as it was possible to make them.
At first they were grateful for their new jobs. They had something to do for a change, and it was a whole lot easier than digging truffles with your hands. But as time passed they began to feel resentful. They noticed that at the end of the day they had just enough truffles to eat and no time to cook them. Their neighbors by contrast were living in luxury. They lived in big houses, had plenty to eat, and servants to wait on them and do their every bidding. Mutterings of discontent began to be heard in the village square.
Now when the village chief got wind of this discontent he became worried lest the peace of his tribe should be disturbed. So he listened carefully to the complaints of the families who didn’t have shovels, and after hearing everything they had to say he gathered all of his people together and issued a proclamation:
“From now on," he announced, "no family shall be compelled to perform menial work for another. We shall have no servants among us! Neither shall any family be compelled to dig truffles with its bare hands. That is both demeaning and unnecessary. Instead, I shall undertake to feed families who lack shovels myself. To do this I am going to tax the truffles of the families who have more than they need."
Well, naturally, the chief’s new policy was very popular with the families without shovels. But it wasn’t among the families who still had to work.
“To have beggars on your doorstep is one thing,” they muttered. “At least then we fed them out of the goodness of our hearts. But just look at them now! They get our truffles, not from our charity, but as matter of right. They aren’t even grateful anymore. Why should we have work all day when they get to loaf?”
Once again the peace of the village was threatened. Only this time the chief hadn’t the slightest idea what to do about it. In desperation he took his problem to the village medicine man who lived on a mountain in the middle of the island. He told the medicine man the story of everything that had happened since the day the Frenchman arrived on the island with his fifty iron shovels.
After listening carefully to the chief’s story, the medicine man sat down on the ground, put some herbs in his pipe, smoked them, and then went into a deep trance. Many minutes passed. Then very slowly, from the depths of his trance, the medicine man spoke these few cryptic words:
"There are only so many shovels, and everybody has to dig."
That was all he said. After a while the chief got up and headed back to his village. On his way back he kept pondering those words which the medicine man had spoken:
"There are only so many shovels, and everybody has to dig."
What could they possibly mean? Then, suddenly, as if struck by lightening, the chief leaped into the air and cried: "I have it!" And as soon as he got back to the village he summoned all his people together and addressed them:
"We have a hundred families in our tribe," he said, "but only fifty iron shovels. From this day forward every family shall have the use of one shovel for six hours a day. Half of our village will dig in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. This way every family can easily dig enough truffles. No family will be forced to dig with its hands. No family will be forced to beg. And no family will be forced to be the servant of another.”
“Best of all,” he concluded, “for the first time in memory all the people in our tribe shall have enough leisure to be able to enjoy this beautiful island on which we live.” And so it was from that day forward.
A few weeks later, upon further reflection, the chief decided that it might not be such a bad idea to increase the Frenchman’s share as well. Instead of paying him a truffle a day for each of his shovels, he would get two.
Naturally, when the Frenchman returned, he was more than delighted with this new arrangement, even if it had been made in his absence. Just look at all the extra truffles it had netted him! So he cheerfully packed them up in boxes and shipped them back to
, where they fetched a very handsome fortune. Paris