Aesop lived around the year 620 B.C in Greece. Though he was born into slavery, he later earned his freedom as a reward for his wit and skills as a storyteller. His fables reflect his valuation of liberty over tyranny as well as freedom over coercion—themes consistent with modern libertarianism. Oral tradition preserved the fables until philosopher Demetrius Phalereus recorded them in Latin around 300 B.C. Today their lessons, such as “slow and steady wins the race,” and “beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing,“ permeate the literature and languages of all countries.
The Wolf, the Dog and the Collar
A comfortably plump dog happened to run into a wolf. The wolf asked the dog where he had been finding enough food to get so big and fat. ‘It is a man,’ said the dog, ‘who gives me all this food to eat.’ The wolf then asked him, ‘And what about that bare spot there on your neck?’ The dog replied, ‘My skin has been rubbed bare by the iron collar which my master forged and placed upon my neck.’ The wolf then jeered at the dog and said, ‘Keep your luxury to yourself then! I don’t want anything to do with it, if my neck will have to chafe against a chain of iron!
Lesson: Freedom should not be exchanged lightly for comfort or financial gain. Maximizing individual liberty ensures protection from coercion, of which slavery is a form.
The Rooster and the Jewel
A Rooster, scratching the ground for something to eat, turned up a Jewel that had by chance been dropped there. “Ho!” said he, “a fine thing you are, no doubt, and, had your owner found you, great would his joy have been. But for me, give me a single grain of corn before all the jewels in the world.”
Lesson: Value is subjective. Adam Smith’s modern analogy, “The Diamond-Water Paradox,” illustrates that goods do not have an inherent worth; instead worth is intrinsic. In other words, value depends on the importance the acting individual places on the good. Thus, voluntary trade in free markets increases total “wealth” taking into account personal valuations of goods. Markets with fixed prices and other such distortions are less efficient in increasing wealth.
Jupiter and the Frogs
While the frogs were hopping about in the freedom of their pond they began shouting to Jupiter that they wanted a king who could hold their dissolute habits in check. Jupiter laughed and bestowed on the frogs a small piece of wood which he dropped all of a sudden into their pond […] After studying the king, the frogs all raced over and began jumping on the piece of wood, rudely making fun of it. When the frogs had showered their king with shame and scorn, they asked Jupiter to send them another one. Jupiter was angry that they had made fun of the king he had given them, so he sent them a water-snake, who killed the frogs one by one with her piercing sting. As the water-snake was happily eating her fill, the useless creatures ran away, speechless in their fright. They secretly sent a message to Jupiter through Mercury, begging him to put a stop to the slaughter but Jupiter replied, ‘Since you rejected what was good in order to get something bad, you better put up with it – or else something even worse might happen!’
Lesson: Tyranny in the form of coercion and violence is dangerous: “Better no rule than cruel rule.” The sacrifice of any degree of freedom brings risk of oppression.