Download now: Cannabis Cash

The Government, Your Money, and the Mice

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted December 28, 2020

I want to begin today's Energy and Capital with a retelling of a Middle Eastern fable that's more than 1,000 years old:

There was once a traveler walking across the great plateaus of central Africa. One day, while he was walking, he heard a sound from behind him. So he stopped and turned around to see if someone, or something, was following him.

But he saw nothing. So he continued on his way.

Minutes later, though, he heard the sound once more. And this time the sound was louder and much closer.

So he turned again. And this time, to his horror, he saw, standing only about 50 yards away from him, a mighty lion — a quarter-ton, perfectly evolved, and uncompromising killing machine staring back at him.

The lion and the man locked eyes only for a moment. Then the regal beast gave chase. The man fled for his life... running through thick grass... jumping over rocks and dirt mounds... ducking under tree branches... He ran as fast as he could, terrified out of his mind.

But of course, a lion is much faster than any man. And in no time, the lion began to quickly catch up to the fleeing traveler.

Still running and using every ounce of strength he could muster, the man looked back and saw the lion was gaining on him. His heart was beating so fast he thought it was going to beat right out of his chest.

The man was running and running. And just as the lion was almost close enough to pounce on him, the man noticed a well dug into the earth right in front of him.

So in a desperate last-minute attempt to save his own life, the man jumped into the well, only barely escaping the lion's teeth.

It was a deep, dark well. But as the man was falling, he managed to quickly grab onto the rope tied to the well's bucket that was used to pull up the water.

Luckily, grabbing the rope stopped him from plummeting to the bottom. Because at the bottom of the well, the man saw there was a giant crocodile — a scaly, prehistoric terror with its mouth gaping wide open and waiting for the man to fall.

So now the man found himself hanging onto the rope, dangling in the well. At the top of the well, the lion was still there ready to eat him. And at the bottom, the crocodile was waiting to do the same. But the man's situation only got worse from there.

Because now he saw two small mice — a white mouse and a black mouse — that began nibbling away on the rope on which he was hanging. Strand by strand, the mice chewed away the rope, slowly weakening its ability to hold the man's weight.

The man knew at this point there was no getting out of this alive. If he climbed up the rope, the lion would eat him. If he climbed down, the crocodile would eat him. Even if he just stayed where he was, soon the mice would have eaten through the rope and he'd fall anyway.

There was no way out of the situation — death was on all sides. So the man did what most people would do: He prayed.

He prayed to his god, tears streaming down his face, begging forgiveness for all he did wrong. He prayed that his family would be safe. He prayed for his friends. He prayed harder than he ever had before in his life. Because he knew that at any moment, the rope would snap and he was going to die. Any second, death would inevitably come.

But then the man was distracted for a moment by a beehive full of honey and no bees hanging right beside him. And he remembered that, even in this most dire of situations, he hadn't eaten all day, and the honey looked so delicious. So he reached with his hand, grabbed a big glob of honey and comb, and put it in his mouth.

For a very brief moment, the taste of the honey was so sweet and so lovely that the man all but forgot about the lion above him, the crocodile below, and the mice eating away at the rope on which he hung.

And it was in that moment, while the syrupy sugar washed over his taste buds, that the rope snapped and the man fell to his death.

As I said, this is a fable that's certainly more than 1,000 years old. It is most famously written by the prominent and influential Persian philosopher Al-Ghazali, born in the 11th century.

And if you couldn't guess, the fable is meant to be a religious allegory. In the story, the lion represents death, which, at all times, is chasing and looming over every living person. The crocodile (or sometimes a giant snake in other retellings) represents the grave, its mouth gaping open, waiting for all living things to fall in. This half of the story is, simply put, an emotionally comfortable allegory to explain the hard reality that death is chasing everyone to the grave.

The mice — the white mouse and the black mouse — are meant to represent day and night. And the rope is a person's life span. The way the mice eat away at the rope, strand by strand, is the same way the day and the night eat away at a person's life span day by day.

The most important part of the story, though, is the honey. The honey represents the worldly life and all the distracting glamour it contains: money, sex, power, and debauchery in all its forms.

The religious moral of the story as a whole is simply a warning against being distracted by the world because you never know when your life span will be cut. But I want to offer a different way to interpret the story — a secular interpretation.

Please note that in no way am I intending to offend anyone's religious beliefs with this interpretation. Nor am I trying to replace the religious interpretation with my own. And I recognize that a different interpretation is exactly the type of honey the story itself intends to warn against. But I ask you to indulge me for a moment.

In my interpretation, the lion is the government, which uses the threat of violence to keep citizens in check. It doesn't matter which modern government we're talking about — every government in the world has a monopoly on violence.

Of course, let's not ignore that some level of social control is necessary. But to achieve that level of control, governments still rely on the most basic and animalistic of compliance techniques: violence.

In the United States and many other first-world nations, however, the use of violence as a means of social control — particularly in terms of how local authorities like police use violence — is now at the forefront of debate.

The crocodile (or snake) in my interpretation is still the grave in some sense. But it is also falling into a state of absolute financial destitution. Colloquially, you might call it “the poorhouse.”

The rope, on the other hand, is your wealth. It is all of your assets combined that are keeping you dangling over the poorhouse. The more assets you have, the stronger the rope. However, unless you're Warren Buffett, most people are only one tragic event away from bankruptcy.

The mice in my interpretation are the government's fiscal and spending policies, which are at all times slowly eating away at your wealth. In the long term, taxation and inflation — if not addressed — would send you into the jaws of poverty.

And the honey... oh, that sweet, syrupy nectar! The honey is still the distraction. It is the distraction of politics, media, Twitter and Facebook debates, TikTok, Tinder, Netflix, football, baseball, basketball, YouTube videos of people shitting themselves, video games, PornHub, Twitch streams of people playing video games, cooking blogs, mommy blogs, Kelly Clarkson, will Rue ever overcome her addiction or will her refusal to forgive herself prevent the personal change she really needs within?

The honey is everything that stops you from making the only wise decision in the allegorical situation. It's the thing the man in the story should have done: try to shake those freaking mice off the rope by any means necessary.

Shake the rope... yell at them... try to find something to throw... It doesn't matter what it takes — ignore the honey and get those freaking mice off your rope.

Still recognize that no matter what you do, sooner or later, you'll fall into the grave. And at that point, the rope (your wealth) doesn't matter. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to shake off those mice.

So the moral of my interpretation is just as simple: Don't be distracted by the unimportant nonsense of the world. The most effective battle you can fight is one against improper government spending and currency-destroying monetary policies.

Although I know the saying generally means "take short-term economic events with a grain of salt," I want to leave you today with a famous quote by John Maynard Keynes because it's related to both interpretations of the fable:

In the long run, we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestuous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.

Until next time,
Luke Burgess Signature
Luke Burgess

As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bull and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells: The Downfall of Tesla?