Oscar the Orange Grower, or Why Wealth Redistribution Doesn’t Work

This story was inspired by the last presidential debate, starring ‘Joe the Plumber’, and by the many comments from small business owners who responded to this pajamasmedia piece.

Oscar had an orange tree in his backyard. One day, he put the oranges in the basket on his bike to sell them at the fruit market. He paid the ten cents to cross the toll bridge, and sold all his oranges that day. He counted his money and started making plans. Selling oranges became a regular thing, and Oscar set aside the money for the fares. The rest was pure profit.

Oscar kept thinking. He looked at the orange tree and saw its roots were in dry and dusty earth. He spent some money and did the work to water and fertilize his tree. Now he had so many oranges he had to make two trips a day on his bike to sell them all. So he bought a trailer to hold all the oranges. The time and toll money he saved soon paid off the investment in the trailer.

He bought another orange tree, and when it bore fruit he invested more money into his oranges. He needed more people to drive the oranges to the market, so he bought another bike and another trailer. When he had enough money, he hired someone to take the oranges to the market and now he had some real money.

He slowly added more bikes and more workers for his orange selling business. After time, he had paid ten people to sell his oranges and help tend his trees. He spent all his time overseeing the work.

But a new road commissioner took charge of the toll bridge. He wanted to change things. Currently, everyone paid ten cents to cross the bridge. But the commissioner thought that was unfair. He felt that ordinary people should not have to pay to cross the bridge. Only bikes with trailers—obvious commercial enterprises—should have to pay for the privilege. As he said, they are the only ones making money by crossing the bridge so they should be the only ones to pay. He wanted to take the extra money that he gathered and help poor people.

He bikes with trailers to pay a dollar for every crossing. Now Oscar had to start making plans. When he started out, he only had to pay bridge toll to sell his oranges. But as the business grew, he spent money on water, fertilizer, and a trailer. Now he had to pay his workers, collecting the money from the orange sales to cover all the expenses incurred by production and sales of oranges.

Oscar added up all the expenses with the new bridge toll. He thought about how hard he worked to keep everything flowing. He liked selling oranges, but it had been a long time since he himself had sold an orange. Now that the tolls were so much higher, he couldn’t make as much money with all his employees. Too much of his money would pay for tolls now; it didn’t make sense to work so hard for someone else.

He thought some more, and decided to live off the oranges from just one tree. He could go back to making two trips a day on his bike. If he didn’t use a trailer, he wouldn’t’ have to pay a toll at all. He would be quite comfortable.

He fired all his workers and went back to a peaceful life. His workers had no more money, so they went to the road commissioner. He’d said that he would distribute the new toll money to the poor, and they were poor now.

But without the bike trailer traffic there was no extra toll money, and the road commissioner turned them away.