Once upon a time there was a kingdom with energy problems. Its generating plant produced enough power to run all the kingdoms machines and appliances, but in the process it spewed out a lot pollution that citizens of the kingdom found very annoying.
The king of this conflicted kingdom didnt know what to do. He didnt like pollution anymore than his loyal subjects. The owner of the power plant, however, was an especially loyal and generous subject, and the king didnt wish to make him less loyal or less generous.
Then one day a famous consultant appeared at the court with a wonderful-sounding idea. "Well set up an emissions-trading system," said the consultant. And he went on to explain that by simply letting the power plant owner pay (via the purchase of emission-trading credits) other companies for pollution that they reduced, rather than reducing the power plants own pollution output, the kingdoms problem would be solved.
The king liked the idea immediately. Before approving it, though, he turned to the courts wise old counselor for an opinion. "It sounds cuckoo to me," said the counselor. "It sounds like just an easy way for polluters to buy out of cleaning up their mess."
The king was now really confused. So was everyone else in court. Confused, that is, until the consultant stepped forward and said to the counselor: "Of course this idea sounds counter-intuitive at first." And at the sound of the words "counter intuitive," everyone listened closely, because this was a powerful word at court these days. "And of course this is a long-term approach," the consultant went on. Everyone was now very attentive, because "long-term" was an even more powerful word than counter-intuitive. "This is also a free-market solution to pollution," the consultant continued. "You do believe in the free market as the best way to solve problems, dont you counselor?"
The consultant stared hard at the counselor. So did the king. So did everyone else in court. At last the wise old manwho was very, very wise in the ways of court politicsopined: "I like the idea. Yes, I like it a lot."
After pollution credit trading got under way, air quality in the kingdom did, in fact, improve. Every time a manufacturing company bought new, more efficient equipment to replace old, less efficient equipment (which is would have done anyway as a regular part of its business) it got pollution credits that it sold to the power plant. Every time a pulp and paper company planted new trees (which is would have done anyway as a regular part of its business) it got pollution credits that it sold to the power plant. Every time a company went out of business and thus reduced its pollution usage 100 percent, it got a lot of pollution credits that it sold to the power plant. Since the overall pollution of the kingdom was improving even though the power plant was not reducing its own emissions, the trading system was declared a great success.
Now it happened that the king of this kingdom loved children. He wanted them to be healthy, happy and well-educated. And every week he brought in a class of children from a local school to see how they were doing.
During one of these get-togethers he noticed a little boy who looked weak and sickly. "Whats the matter little fellow," the king asked in a kindly manner. "I live down wind from a power plant," the youngster replied. "And the stuff they keep spewing out is making me sick."
A deep silence fell over the court. The king, his courtiers, and even the consultant (who was now a court favorite) didnt seem to know what to say. Then the wise old counselor spoke up: "Its counter-intuitive," he said, and everyone at court, except the little sickly boy, began to nod. "It a long-term approach," the counselor continued." The courtiers all nodded harder. "Its a free market solution," the counselor concluded. And at the sound of those last words the eyes of the king and his courtiers immediately glazed over, their jaws went loose and slack, and they all began to chant, mantra-like: "Free market solution. Free market solution. Free market solution..."
The sickly little boy was escorted from the court back to his home, down wind from the power plant, where he sneezed and wheezed for the rest of his days. While the king, the consultant, the power plant owner, and the wise old counselor lived happily ever after.
© Michael Silverstein