Another Perspective

The Grasshopper and the Ants

With apologies to Aesop, compiler of the Obama fables.

By 3.9.10

Once upon a time, there was a happy-go-lucky grasshopper who lived only to have fun. All through the long summer days, he would sing and dance, and laugh at the industrious ants who were busily preparing for winter. But then cruel winter came, and the grasshopper was starving. In desperation, he approached the ants' nest and begged for food. "You should have danced less and worked more," the ants scolded him, but then, being basically kind-hearted creatures, they decided to give him a few of their hard-won crumbs.

The next summer was exactly like the one before: Once more, the ants worked without pause, while the grasshopper sang and danced. When winter came, he appealed to the ants again, only this time, he brought his 10,000 children along with him. "It's thanks to your kindness," he said, "that I made it through the winter, and was able to father these little ones. Surely, you won't let us all starve to death."

The ants convened a meeting of their Council to decide what to do. On the one hand, they felt a certain responsibility for the grasshopper and his huge brood; on the other hand, feeding 10,000 growing grasshoppers could make a serious dent in their winter provisions.

Finally, one Council member had a brilliant idea. "Let's just take some food from the hardest-working ants. They've got more than enough, and won't mind sharing their good fortune with the needy grasshoppers."

The Council-of-Ants thought this was a splendid plan, and quickly acted on it. As a result, the grasshoppers survived the winter, the ants congratulated themselves on their compassion, and hardly anyone noticed that the hardest-working ants, whose food had been seized, left the nest in disgust.

Summer came around once again, and once again the grasshoppers danced and sang, while the ants toiled and saved. But without the hardest-working ants to do the heavy-lifting, the ants did not get very much accomplished, and barely accumulated enough food to get themselves through the winter.

And then, one cold and snowy day, the ants heard an ominous rumble approaching ever-closer. It was the sound of a million grasshoppers, all converging on their tiny ant-hill. "Since time immemorial," Grandfather Grasshopper solemnly declared, "the ant people have shared their winter provisions with the grasshopper people. We demand that you do so now, immediately, or we'll destroy your nest, and take by force what is rightfully ours."

This is how the Dilemma of the Welfare State, aka the Entitlement Crisis, came into the world.

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About the Author

Joseph Shattan is the author of Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War.