A grim fable for the fiscally frightened

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“No fairy tales, please” – New Brunswick policy specialist Donald Savoie, a long-time advocate for debt reform in government, on public attitudes towards political promises during the run-up to next year’s election, Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Sept. 21, 2013.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, in the land between the rising and setting sun, there lived a troll under a covered bridge, next to Perdition Highway, known locally as The Road to Nowhere.

Unlike most trolls, who are fierce and lean, this one was lazy and fat. He spent a good deal of his time, days and nights, fantasizing about his next meal, which was, in fact, never very far away. So bottomless was his appetite that the villagers in the area called him Poor Black Hole.

“Look how hungry he is,” they would say. “He must have a tape worm.”

But no matter how much or how frequently they fed him, Poor Black Hole was never full. Indeed, he grew so big his bulk threatened to break the deck of the bridge above him; still, he couldn’t get enough to eat.

“I need more,” he would cry. “Can’t you see that I am wasting away.”

Clearly, Poor Black Hole had body image issues. But the villagers were too polite to mount any sort of intervention. So, they continued to empty their pantries and drain their cupboards in the hope – vain though it was – that he would finally shut up.

Eventually, the people’s plight came to the attention of the king, who worried that his subjects would soon run out of the staples they needed to survive.

“We must do something about Poor Black Hole,” he told his chancellor of the exchequer. “He’s sucking the life out of my tithe-payers. At the rate he’s going, there won’t be anything left for roads or schools or hospitals.”

The chancellor, a pragmatic sort of fellow, agreed. “It is a serious problem, o sire,” he said. “The circumstances are drastic and they require drastic measures. I suggest that the royal court stop giving the people their special dispensations whenever they demand. They only hand them over to the troll, anyway. Then, we should increase the levies on every adult man and woman in the kingdom and use the money to raise an army with which to vanquish the filthy beast.”

The king pondered awhile and then turned to his faithful servant and said, “I’ll get back to you,” whereupon he promptly fell into a deep slumber.

Days passed, then months, then years. And as the king slept, the people grew poorer and the troll grew fatter. Eventually, the bridge over Poor Black Hole’s head cracked and tumbled to the ground. He didn’t mind, just as long as his meals came fast and furious, which, of course, they did.

Meanwhile, other bridges cracked and tumbled to the ground. Schools closed. Emergency rooms shut down. Roads became impassable. Perdition Highway, long the most heavily travelled thoroughfare in the realm, failed under the weight of its traffic.

When the king finally awoke, he was dismayed and a tad rueful.

“I guess I should have gotten back to you earlier,” he told his chancellor, to which the weary factotum replied in a voice that was barely audible: “You think?”

What, the king demanded to know, could they do now? The treasury had been emptied, the courtiers disbanded. Worse, perhaps, the villagers were revolting on rumours that their royal favours were about to be cut off.

Their land was a shambles and they were in constant danger from foreign carpetbaggers and moneylenders. But they were entitled to their entitlements. Weren’t they? Apart from anything else, these were how they fed the troll.

“Maybe,” the king ventured, “we should just tell everybody to move. . .you know. . .lock the gates, haul up the drawbridge, shutter the windows before things get really bad.”

The chancellor furrowed his brow and, pulling a parchment from his satchel, declared, “Sire, it may already be too late. I have a report that indicates that the villagers are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to protect their state perks. . .apparently, they’ve started to feed Poor Black Hole something new.”

The king raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?” he asked.

Sighed the Chancellor: “Their young.”

And they all lived. . .well. . .must I spell it out?

The End.

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