A Few Things Ill Considered

The Fisherman and the MBA

Via my father I came across this anonymously authored modern day parable, which I think is a good analogue for the economic growth vs sustainability argument:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican
village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the
small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American
complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how
long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied “only a little while”.

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more
fish.

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate
needs.

The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your
time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my
children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each
evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a
full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You
should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger
boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several
boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of
selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly
to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would
control the product, processing and distribution.

“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move
to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will
run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is
right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the
public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions.. Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal
fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with
your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the
evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your
amigos.”

Yes, I know it is just a story but the principal is quite real and applies to all the resource extraction industries I can think of (mining, logging, fishing, peat harvesting, etc). And of course in reality when applied to our global society, rather than an ironic chuckle we are left with collapsed fisheries, dried out clear cuts, pollution, and no pleasant place to retire to!

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P
    January 9, 2008

    This amply demonstrates the principles of need and want. The fisherman doesn’t need what the MBA is selling, but the MBA needs what the fishermen is selling.

  2. #2 Mark @ TalkClimateChange
    January 10, 2008

    As an MBA who runs a climate change website I can fully appreciate this story.

    But incidentally I remember being told this story as part of a class during the second week of my MBA..

  3. #3 coby
    January 11, 2008

    Hi Mark,

    I’m curious: what was the pedagogical reason for telling this story in your class? What lesson did your MBA instructor want you to get from it?

  4. #4 Dave Briggs
    January 15, 2008

    Yes, I know it is just a story but the principal is quite real and applies to all the resource extraction industries I can think of (mining, logging, fishing, peat harvesting, etc). And of course in reality when applied to our global society, rather than an ironic chuckle we are left with collapsed fisheries, dried out clear cuts, pollution, and no pleasant place to retire to!

    This is a poignant, philosophical idea that is worth considering at least a few times in a row! LOL
    Dave Briggs :~)