Friday, June 21, 2024

Puzzle corner (1950)

A Short Story from the June 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our problem this month is adapted from a chapter in Edward Bellamy’s book, “Equality,” entitled, “The parable of the Water Tank.” Through a certain land there flowed a clear and pleasant stream and to this stream the people came to draw their water as and when they desired. There came amongst these people those who suggested that this state of affairs was far from good. They hinted that one day the stream might dry up and, as a precaution against this possibility, they proposed the building of a water tank to hold a reserve supply. This was agreed to by the people and the proposers took charge of the operations and also control of the tank. They arranged, and enforced, a plan whereby the people should draw water from the stream in buckets and pour it into the tank. For this they were to receive one half-penny per bucket. When the people required water they would not go to the stream but to the tank where they would be supplied at the price of one penny per bucket. Those who owned and controlled the tank would be exempt from the need to assist with the filling operations but would have access to the water in store. This arrangement went on until the tank became full, when the owners cried "Halt.” The next day the people came for water with their buckets but the owners asked first for the price of one penny. The people pointed out that as they were not now allowed to put water into the tank because it was full they earned no half-pennies and, in consequence, they had no pennies to pay. But the owners sneered and turned them away without water. To protect the tank and its contents from the thirsty people, the owners engaged men to act as policemen and soldiers, they engaged economists and soothsayers to explain to the people and to pacify them, they engaged clerks and officials to measure the water and keep accounts, they engaged servants and slaves to help them to enjoy the privilege and luxury that their position entailed. They bathed in the water, they drank it, they wasted it, until the level fell. Then they cried out to the people to come with their buckets to the stream to get more water to refill the tank. So the process started over again. ½d. a bucket put in and 1d. a bucket taken out. Soon the tank was again full and the people were once more turned away thirsty because they were not allowed to earn the pennies per two buckets that would entitle them to draw one bucket out. This is the state of affairs now. The stream still flows through the land, the tank is rapidly filling again, and hundreds of people are talking, questioning and seeking a solution to the problem of a land with plenty of water and plenty of thirsty people. There is a solution, a very simple solution. We do not intend to give it here. We think the workers are wide awake enough to see it. At least, those who read the Socialist Standard should be.
W. Waters

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