|Anthony Freda Art|
Brandon Smith, Contributor
Once upon a time there lived an independent and industrious people in a land called Ameristan deep in the realm of Middle Income. Their kingdom was unlike any other recorded in the ancient histories, primarily because they had no “king”. Instead, the Ameristanians had decided long ago that kings were much more trouble than they were worth, and, using cost/benefit ratio analysis, came to the conclusion that it was better to hang such ambitious power mongers by their necks and govern themselves instead.
Unfortunately, many generations had passed, and the revolutionary fire of Ameristan had grown tired and dormant. Eventually, many of the people began to forget where they had come from…
One man, a humble farmer and proud father by the name of Finn, had not forgotten. He had noticed well the fact that the citizenry had grown complacent and dependent upon the welfare of the Council Of Elders, who were once honorable and installed by the vote of the people, but whose actions now seemed indifferent or even hostile. Being a private merchant, he took careful note of the extreme decline in the country’s production capabilities, which had been outsourced to less freedom loving nations of goblins and imps in the West who, dominated by their masters, were willing to work for almost nothing if only to be given a reprieve from being savagely beaten with bamboo sticks. He noticed that most of the craftsmen were disappearing, replaced by grinning lycanthropic salesmen and simpering mole people who clung to any terrible brand of remedial employment they could find, no matter how demeaning or low paying. Ameristan had become a land of Unicorn-burger flippers, Swamp Banshee back washers, Dwarf tossers, Jabberwocky jugglers, Bugbear shavers, etc. They were like the peasants of the old days; beggars, thieves, and slaves.
Fairy Commie Control Freaks
When Finn’s taxes were suddenly raised by a shocking margin after being labeled a “wealthy recipient” of Ameristan’s good favor, he began to question whether his loyalties were well placed. He certainly didn’t feel “wealthy”, though he had worked his fingers raw to make his farm moderately successful. It was as if he was being punished for doing things right. He would sometimes complain to the Fairies which buzzed about the now oversized town of Califinington near his farm, but they never took him very seriously. Fairies were predisposed to collectivist thinking and most of them believed that it was only right that everyone should be required to “share” their wealth with everyone else.
“But shouldn’t I be allowed to share only with the people I feel deserve my charity..?” Finn argued with one particularly snobbish fairy at Dingledob’s Market.
Absolutely not!” scoffed the fairy as she rummaged through her designer handbag and popped a valium. “What if you didn’t like harpies but the harpies needed financial support?”
“…But I DON’T like harpies…”
The fairy grinned as if somehow victorious in her argument. “There, you see! You are prejudiced, and this hurts the Harpies. If you aren’t made to give them a percentage of your earnings then they might starve to death!”
“Can’t the harpies start their own farms and feed themselves?” He reasoned.
“Don’t be silly!” the fairy laughed. “Harpies don’t know how to farm. Besides, they are historically mistreated by farmers, and therefore, you owe them.”
“I’ve never mistreated a harpy, they just get on my nerves with all the screeching and food stealing.”
“It doesn’t matter. We have to presume that one of your distant dirty farmer ancestors had something nefarious to do with the plight of the harpies, and so, by attrition, we must tax you like rabid fleas on the juicy ass of a sheepdog! Good day!” And with that curt remark the fairy flittered away.
Farmer Finn didn’t get it. How was it any of the fairy’s business how his money was spent? How was it the business of the Council Of Elders for that matter? He understood local taxation because he and the people of the region were directly benefiting from the local infrastructure. But most of his taxes did not go to his own town. They went to the central authority and were spent in ways he couldn’t understand or didn’t agree with in the slightest. In fact, it seemed that half of his profits were being devoured like barbecued horse at a gathering of Balrogs. National expenses that didn’t really appear to benefit anyone were draining the citizenry of every last penny.
The most painful weight upon Finn’s mind, however, was his realization that there were more and more destitute harpies, fairies, wendigos, mothmen, etc. everyday. And his taxes kept rising in accordance with the multitudes of needy open hands. Eventually, he decided, there will come a time when he and people like him would be made destitute as well because the cycle would never end. No matter how high the taxes were raised, the problem would never be solved because spending always increased in tandem, and government would always mismanage the funds. He would have to continue to pay until there was nothing left. By the logic that the Council Of Elders were following in their economic policies, it made more sense to not work at all, but instead do absolutely nothing and simply scrape by on government rations. To be frank, they were forcing him towards such a position anyway.
He decided then and there in front of Dingledob’s that he would go on a quest to the far side of the nation, to find the Council Of Elders and try to explain the dangerous situation.
A Journey Of Economic Misconceptions
Finn followed the wooded road with his young son Saturday by his side. Carrying only a satchel of food and their walking sticks, they traversed the border of Dinotopia and onwards to Mithgar. Finn’s son was excited and curious but also very uncertain about the eventual outcome of their adventure.
“Do not worry, son. They are wise and intelligent men. Surely they will see the advantage of reversing their course. Once they are shown the calamity ahead, they will no doubt take swift action…”
A large traveler who looked like a warrior clad in animal skins rode his horse in the opposite direction. They stopped to nod and share a word as was common for travelers to do in these parts. The warrior seemed generally disinterested.
“Hello, good sir. That is quite a steed you ride. Have you just come from the East?” Finn struck up the conversation.
“What business is it of yours you wormy tomato picker?” The warrior snapped.
Finn was taken back by the man’s immediate and unprovoked rudeness.
“I was merely curious if the way to the East is clear, sir…”
The warrior grimaced. “Well it is, but you should be walking in the other direction to the Western border. There is a war brewing, and all able bodied men of Ameristan should be ready to fight and die for their country!”
Finn couldn’t believe it. “But our national bank has long been empty! How could we possibly afford to launch a campaign against a foreign enemy!?”
The warrior chortled, “Har-Har-Har! Silly little man! The council has hired private merchants who print paper money for them! We now have all the money we will ever need!”
“But this makes no sense. How can the council abandon the tangibility and safety of gold, ‘make’ money from thin air, spend it, and expect the funny-money to retain its value on the open market? Aren’t they just creating an even larger debt threshold they cannot afford while simultaneously diminishing our purchasing power, creating price increases in all our necessary goods, and destroying our ability to pay the increased taxes they have just thrust upon us?! The contradictory nature of this financial strategy boggles the mind!”
The warrior scratched his head for a moment and squinted. “What are you, some kind of fruitcake pansy? You afraid to fight like a man?”
“Huh?” Finn was confounded. “Don’t you see, it doesn’t matter whether you or I think the war is right or wrong. Our opinions are irrelevant! We can’t afford the damn thing regardless! This economic strategy will destroy us more certainly than any foreign army!”
The warrior clenched his teeth angrily and growled. “Sounds like the excuses of a coward! Who cares about the cost! It is an opportunity for glory, that’s all that matters!”
Finn’s son gripped his sleeve, terrified that the warrior would react with a hurricane of sword whirling death, but the large man moved onward in a huff, mumbling under his breath about traitors and weaklings.
“Will I have to go to war soon, father?” The boy trembled.
“Not a chance in hell…I’ll never let them get their hands on you…” Finn tried to reassure him, but as he made the promise, he was not entirely certain if he could keep it.
The Bridge Of Cash-And-Doom
The two travelers were growing weary as they approached the only bridge within 20 miles of the city of Burglbag. The rickety path looked barely functional, its ropes and twine chewed through by swamp rats and feral pixies. As they neared the first tenuous plank of the cadaverous bridge, a rumbling snort echoed from the cavern below. A pair of greasy green hands gripped the rocks and clawed their way to the entrance of the bridge. It was a troll; the most intrusively ugly troll Finn had ever seen (and that was saying something). The slobbering creature hissed and the foul odor of musty loincloth filled the air.
“No one crosses the bridge without paying the toll! By order of the Council Of Elders!”
Finn was worried he might have to pay a troll-toll on their journey, but the moment came sooner than he expected.
“How much is the toll you ghastly money grubbing beast?”
“Twelve fairybucks, chump!”
Finn sifted through his money bag and then shook his head, “All I have are gold coins…”
The troll pounded his fist on the bridge causing it to rattle and quake. “Gold coins are no longer considered legal tender! Give me fairy bucks or I devour the child like a grape!”
Finn stood in-between the troll and his son, Saturday. “Can gold not still be traded for fairybucks? Doesn’t it retain value because of its rarity? Isn’t it still treated as a currency in other parts of the world? Does it not increase in value as fairybucks decrease in value? Why not still use it as a method of exchange?”
The troll pounded his fist again as dust vibrated off the bridge into the dark pit below, the corners of his mouth frothing, “Arrrggghhh! Gold is a barbarous relic of a bygone age! It is time to progress onwards towards modernism and globalization while harmonizing sovereign economies into a single top down economic system led by financiers who, unlike dirt farming morons like yourself, actually grasp the mechanics of money creation and interest rate manipulation while spreading the inherent wealth of the classes more fairly amongst the populace and generating government funded programs of poverty reduction and universal healthcare making everyone fiscally equal!” He finished his rant and then scratched his crotch proudly.
Finn threw his hands in the air in frustration. “The only possible ‘equality’ that could result from such a system is equal scarcity. Increased taxation needed to fund such utopian foolishness always ends in reduced consumption and disrupted small business growth while encouraging government to remove what few limits still exist on its spending. The only private people who ever benefit are the massive merchant monopolies who sit back while the government crushes all their potential competition through over-regulation and taxation, displacing millions of innovative entrepreneurs in the name of ‘harmonization’!”
“Give me fairybucks or I’ll use your ribs to make a go-cart!” The troll was beating his fists into the bridge with every utterance.
Finn smiled. “What if I was to barter with you instead? Then we could cut the merchants and the Council Of Elders out of the process completely…”
The troll shrieked in horror at the suggestion and jumped in the air. “And revert back to an agrarian philosophy that should have been abandoned in the Dark Ages? How dare you…” As the monster landed the bridge snapped, turning to dust under his feet. He fell like a snot spewing stone into the black, screaming “barter is an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of fairybucks and is akin to domestic terrorismmmmmmmmm……!!!”
Saturday stood stunned at what had transpired. Finn took his shoulder and shook him out of his stupor. “Don’t worry, son, there’s always another way around.”
The President Of Pickpocketville
Finally, Finn and son had reached the capital of Ameristan: Pickpocketville D.C. He had no idea how he was going to gain an audience with the Council Of Elders, but knew he would find a way. Upon reaching the capital building, they heard what sounded like the pounding of a mighty drum in the distance. It grew louder and louder as the ground beneath their feet began to vibrate. Finn looked around at the bustling citizens of Pickpocketville but none of them seemed to take any notice. A sun blotting shadow fell upon the street and a giant, a real giant, came into view. He stopped and yawned, sucking up the oxygen for an entire city block. Finn thought to himself that he had to be at least a hundred times the size of a normal man. Surely, if anyone was informed about the landscape of D.C., this fellow was.
The giant looked down and strained his eyes to see Finn. “The name is Impetus Ramlonious Stump, and I have no time for little men, unless you are here to pay your tax…”
“You are a tax collector…?!”
“Oh yes! The Elders have seen fit to give us giants an important position in the land. Can’t be too careful with these tax dodgers you know…”
Finn was astonished. “Just out of curiosity, what happens when someone refuses to pay the tax?”
The giant frowned, “We smash them.”
“And…what if someone simply questions the validity of the tax in a public forum?”
“We smash them.”
“Hasn’t anyone in the organization of tax collectors ever argued against the legality of constant taxation of income?”
“Yes, but we fired them………and then smashed them.”
“I see. Could you just point me in the direction of the citizen’s forum?”
The giant jerked his tree like arms to point at a park in the distance. “You know, if you really want to talk to some of the Elders, the new council leader is giving a speech in the park. Though, I should warn you it’s probably a waste of time.”
Finn and Saturday tread quickly away from the behemoth. “Son, if they are hiring giants to collect taxes and smash dissenters, then we are in more trouble than I thought…”
A great procession was beginning as the travelers reached the park. An incredible mixture of creatures and people from across the land had gathered around a large stage erected for political representatives, and the crowd waited intently for the next speech. Finn approached as the new leader of the Council took the podium. He was a gangly looking Satyr, rather unimpressive in appearance, and a mediocre speaker. An announcer bellowed as he came on stage.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and mythical creatures, the new Council Leader of Ameristan, Bartok Jumbawumba!”
“Good evening, Ameristanis!” The satyr grinned widely and uncomfortably as if it was forced. “We are here because our land is in the midst of a terrible crisis, one which could end in catastrophe if we do not take action!” The crowd nodded in quiet agreement. “Now the two factions of the Council Of Elders have been known to have disagreements at times…” The audience chuckled as if that was an understatement. “…but on this issue we must find common ground. It is time for a change. I had a long and fruitful discussion with the head of the opposition party, Rinosis Neoconus, and I think we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Cuts in spending will be implemented…someday, but restricting spending today would be disastrous. Half the economy is being propped up by fiat fairybucks, and if we quit that game now we are really screwed!”
The crowd roared, and Finn realized they were not admonishing Bartok, but cheering him.
“Hell, you idiots don’t even realize you’ve been turned into a nation of parasites, feeding from the bloody scraps of the war-state and clamoring for more goodies paid for with the financial freedom of your children and grandchildren!”
The audience clapped wildly. Finn felt as if he had wandered into a waking nightmare.
“Yes, that’s right, bend over for those food tickets and healthcare coupons, don’t worry about us elites back here with no pants on! We’re here to help you, because we love you…like pet fish…”
Bartok raised his hands in the air to rile the crowd. “One day soon, everything will be free! We will take care of your every need! We will bathe you and feed you and tuck you into bed! We will make you thinner and more desirable to the opposite sex! We will fulfill your every fantasy while singing show tunes and pole dancing in skimpy lingerie! And then…we will slather you in spicy mustard and cannibalize your fresh corpses! May the gods bless Ameristan!”
A tidal wave of cheers and wild hollering ripped through the gathering as thousands of fingers jutted forward just to get a touch of Bartok. Finn finally understood that his journey had been in vain. If he did get a chance to speak his mind or relay the disturbing facts of a near future where all is lost, who would listen? The citizenry was hypnotized, almost fanatical in their support of the system. Even those who hated Bartok were still seduced by the establishment framework. Bartok could be replaced and it wouldn’t matter in the slightest. The problem was not just the council, it was the cultism of the state in general. No one here was asking the right question:
Should this system exist at all?
Finn decided his only hope was to go to the new financiers of the Ameristan Treasury and plead with them to see the calamity ahead.
The Wizard’s Chamber
The halls of the private central bank were sterile and immaculate, but also dark and foreboding, giving one a feeling that he was no longer in the land of the living, but a place on the edge of the River Styx, a cleanly waiting room on the way to Hades. For such a large building, there were very few people. A clerk would scurry by with his hands full of paperwork every once in a while, but it was hard to tell what was actually done here. Finally, Finn and Saturday reached a tall pair of ominous doors. Finn paused, and stepped inside…
“Ah, hello Finn, I’ve been expecting you…” A wretched looking old man in a cloak and pointy hat stood in the middle of the chamber waiting for him. “I am sensing that you seek answers…”
“Yes…how did you know?” Finn said, curiously.
“We make it our business to know your business here, Finn. We rarely offer a personal audience, but I’m bored today and find your quest to right the wrongs of the realm amusing.”
“Uh, okay. Well, if you already know what I’m doing here, then you already know what I’m going to say.”
“Of course!” The wizard rolled his eyes. “You see, this entire time you have been operating on the assumption that we WANT to fix the problem, or change course. But, why would we try to fix what isn’t broken? We seek the fall of Ameristan!”
Almost nothing was surprising Finn at this point. He questioned knowing now what the response would be. “What do you get out of such a tragedy?”
“We wizards are a special breed, and therefore, we deserve a special role in society. You want the power to choose your government, but stupid people pick stupid leaders. It’s best for the nation and the realm as a whole if the smartest men take the reigns, whether you like it or not. The economic collapse is designed to help the populous come to the solution we wizards already know is correct; total centralization.
Finn choked on the egomania of it. “Maybe if you stopped rigging the Council by presenting only your own minions for us to choose from, maybe we would find decent leaders!”
“Why bother when we have done the work for you?” The wizard gave a superior smile. “We are the most effective kings in existence. There is no one better for the job. Look at how we have fooled the masses. They are running around in circles, as it should be. Let them dawdle about in their own ignorance, as long as they do not interfere with the works of greater men.”
Finn’s son, who was normally a quiet sort of child and had stood silent throughout the wizard’s boastings, suddenly spoke up.
“You can’t fool father, you’re not as clever as you think, he saw the trouble ahead of time! He’ll stop you!”
The old man chuckled, “Your father is among the minority. What can he possibly do? Being intelligent or mildly courageous is not enough, boy! This is about the survival of the fittest, and we wizards are predestined by fate to rule! The very laws of nature are on our side!”
Finn took a quiet moment of reflection, then, looked over at his son. It was as if a vapid fog had stricken his eyes and now it was lifting. All had become immediately clear. It wasn’t about him, his livelihood, or even necessarily his family as he had originally thought when he left the farm. It was about something even more precious; the soul of his people. The spirit of future ages. Whatever good was left in the realm, whatever gasping flame still flickered in the heart of the world, Finn and those like him would have to be willing to give everything to keep it. Finally, he realized that searching for champions in this fight was futile. It was up to him to defend the land.
Only seconds after he had awakened to this truth he found his hands swinging the blunt end of his walking stick into the teeth of the wizard. “If he can’t speak, he can’t use spells…” thought the farmer. The codger choked on his own canines and crumpled to the ground. Finn chopped away at the wizard repeatedly with the implement until there was nothing left but a steaming pile of elitist pulp. He heaved for air, exhausted by the deed.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, Saturday. Under almost any other circumstance…you know it’s not right…”
The boy gave him a pat on the back. “I know, father, but he had it coming…”
“Well, I don’t know that it solves a damn thing, son. I just don’t know…”
Saturday responded calmly and knowingly, “It’s a start, father. It’s a start.”
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