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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CAPITALISTIC CRABS

- Even fiddler crabs understand the basics of our economic system.

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I went to the beach recently with my wife where we planted our umbrella and chairs in the sand as we usually do. It was low tide so we moved down closer to the edge of the water. Interestingly, we found ourselves situated in the midst of a colony of fiddler crabs who were busy digging holes in the sand and filtering the granules for some sort of nutritious treasure, whatever that might be. Although there were dozens of them around us, they took care to keep their distance from us and quickly buried themselves in the sand if we moved too quickly or stamped our feet.

They appeared to be quite industrious in their work and quite amusing to watch. Each dug a hole and mined balls of sand from it which they patiently picked through for nutrients. I noticed there were physical differences in the various crabs. Some were larger and possessed one rather impressive pincer claw which made it look like it was playing a fiddle (hence the name). Sometimes the claw was on the right side, others were southpaws. My attention focused on a particular crab which I called "Lefty" who seemed to have one of the more prominent holes in the sand. I was genuinely impressed by the amount of sand Lefty excavated from his lair. He seemed to be very concerned with keeping the area around his den neat and tidy. If a neighboring crab came too close, Lefty would ward him off by flashing his pincer. Most of the time though, he would simply push them out of his territory before retreating back to his hole where he would continue in his endeavors. Most of the crabs I saw seemed to follow Lefty's lead whereby they worked hard and enjoyed the bounty of their efforts. Although they were rather territorial in nature, they allowed neighbors on their property only if they respected his domain.

Lefty became bored with the routine after awhile, and decided to survey the world around him. Unlike others who remained at home, Lefty traveled far and wide looking for new opportunities (at least ten feet away). Inevitably, he would have to cross over the territory of other crabs who quickly rebuffed his advances, regardless of his size. Nonetheless, Lefty continued on his trek until he found himself outside of the colony. He eventually found a new spot on the beach which evidently had a better view of the ocean, not to mention nutrients in the sand, and began to dig a new burrow. Never satisfied, he moved on to another location after he exhausted the nutrients. Interestingly, the other crabs didn't seem to have his adventurous spirit and stayed home while Lefty saw the world.

After studying the habits of the fiddler crab for a couple of hours, I came to the conclusion they were a perfect example of capitalism in practice. Everyone worked hard for their food; freeloaders were taught to work if they wanted to eat, but some were allowed to graze on private property if the tenant was so inclined. The crabs were also free to roam and explore new endeavors, as exemplified by Lefty who enjoyed the bounties of success after leaving the colony, a very risky proposition. I don't think Aesop could have made a better analogy.

I found this all rather intriguing and wondered if I could simulate this phenomenon on a larger scale. To do so, I purchased a dozen sand shovels and left them on the beach near a group of children who eagerly used them to dig holes and make sand forts. Each worked merrily to carve up their small piece of the beach which they were all very proud of. At the end of the day, they left their shovels in the sand and watched as the incoming tide reclaimed their creations. Again, this was another fine example of capitalism as each person was allowed to work as hard as they wanted and enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

Next, I obtained a dozen trowels, along with four shovels, and placed them near a group of conservatives on the beach. They eagerly picked up the tools and started to create some rather inspiring structures, including a six foot high sand castle complete with turrets, bridges, a moat with water, and the inside was large enough to hold a small child within its walls. It was pretty impressive. Other participants sculpted some interesting shapes, including a sea serpent, a ship, and what appeared to be a submarine. They took turns using the shovels as there were only four of them. Although a few people worked independently, most paired up into teams to create their structures and some friendly competition ensued. At the end, they congratulated each other on the job they had done. It was so impressive, curiosity seekers stopped by to admire their work and praised them accordingly. All of the tools were cleaned off and returned to the spot where I had brought them.

Finally, I took the same utensils and dropped them near a group of liberals. Frankly, they weren't too impressed with them. Having watched the conservatives work and the adulation they received, instead of building something new, they complained to the media who filmed them tearing down the work of the conservatives. They complained about the heat and the working conditions and fought each other over territory in the sand. They then sold the tools and pocketed the money, and blamed the conservatives for defacing the beach.

Frankly, I was disappointed with the results of my experiment. I hoped the liberals had been at least as smart and industrious as the tiny fiddler crab, but I guess I was wrong.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.