“Let’s go, everybody! It’s time to make the stew!” Haney called out. The house was already roiling with activity, but at the mention of eating the food they had been smelling for hours, Haney’s husband, Roy, and children Jack and Susie rushed into focused action.
At Haney’s direction, Roy carried the hamburger meat, Jack carried the green beans and Susie carried the buttercream pie. Haney carried out her sweet tea and they all made a train out of their small home in the village of Wicket. It was everyone’s first annual Insurance Food Day. Today, everyone in town would eat like kings, according to the organizers.
Getting to the large cookpot set up next to the fountain and walked up to the contribution table.
“Haney!” Lisa smiled. “Glad you could make it. Did you bring what we said we needed from you?”
“Of course,” Haney said and all of them set their food down on the table. “According to my family’s size, here you go.”
Lisa tabulated it all. “Wonderful! Alright, here’s your ticket. Enjoy the festival and come eat as you need!”
The family set out to enjoy the paintings, crafts and performances being set up around the town square, mingling with friends and other family.
That’s when Roy got hungry, excited that everyone contributed, and so he made his way to the table. “Hey, Lisa, I’m kinda hungry. Can I get a steak and asparagus, and some wine?”
Lisa frowned at him. “Roy, you only brought hamburger meat, green beans and sweet tea.”
“Yeah, but this is insurance stew,” said Roy. “That means there’s enough for me to have that, right? You said if we brought what we had, you’d take care of the rest.”
“Yes,” said Lisa, “but you see the line?” Lisa pointed at the line of men not far from Roy, looking at him. “They all want the exactly same thing you do. And seconds.”
“Oh,” frowned Roy. “Isn’t there enough for all of us?”
“There’s enough for exactly what you brought plus just the little bit more we get through the building of interest and what your company contributed, but we also have to feed the people running the stew.”
“But you promised to take care of my hunger!” stammered Roy. “You told me that if I get hungry, no matter how hungry, you would take care of it! Isn’t that the point of insurance stew?”
“Haney asked what the least amount she could contribute,” said Lisa. “I told her. She brought exactly the minimum. And now you’re asking for the maximum. That isn’t fair.”
“Fair? There are rich people here, aren’t there? Didn’t they contribute more? They can afford to offer more than they take!”
“They brought their own stew,” said Lisa.
Roy’s jaw dropped. “They didn’t want to participate in our stew?”
“They don’t need to,” said Lisa.
“That’s- that’s unfair! And wrong! We all live in this town! We should all contribute!”
“Why is it unfair?” asked Lisa. “This stew is voluntary, and you could just stay at home and eat your own food.”
“But it’s not enough!” said Roy. “I get hungrier than what I can earn on my own!”
“Work harder,” said Lisa. “This is in case you need more, not merely want more. You’ve lived for forty years without the stew. Everyone has. And now that we have it, you demand it just fulfill all your wants?”
“Do as you like, but you’re not getting more out of here than you paid for without making someone else go hungry.”
Incensed, Roy stamped off and began yelling in the crowd.
“Excuse me! Excuse me! Who in here didn’t contribute to the stew! Tell me! I wanna know!”
After several minutes of everyone avoiding him, one older black woman stood her ground as Roy stamped up.
“You! Are you rich!?”
“Depends on whom you asked,” she said. “To some I might be wealthy, to others I might be poor. My economic state is subjective.”
“Listen,” Roy pointed down at her. “It’s not fair that we all contribute to help each other out and you don’t. It’s not fair that you have enough to eat and don’t contribute when we need what you have.”
“Need what I have, you say? How much did you eat last night?”
“Two hamburgers, double fries, liter of cola.”
“Is that so? Well, last night, I had half a burger, a few chips and water.”
“My wealth didn’t come from expecting others to provide more for me than I could provide myself,” she said. “I lowered my consumption and then saved my money, or invested it.”
“But you live in that big house up on the hill!”
“Because my early austerity allowed me to invest more, its long returns afford me the ability to eat as you do while enjoying things like a big house and no need for your stew.”
“But- but what about the rest of us!?”
“You mean, the rest of you who were perfectly capable of doing what I did but didn’t do it?”
Roy swallowed. “Well, yeah.”
“What about the rest of you?”
“We need more! Just because you have more doesn’t mean it’s fair that we don’t!”
“Yes it is,” she retorted. “It’s perfectly fair. Every human is capable of climbing. Or falling. It doesn’t matter where you start from. I was raised in a house half the size of yours, Roy Thompson. I went to school, I learned, I applied. You went the same year as I did, and you played football, goofed off and ignored your own father’s hopes to learn money. Funny that the banker’s son would learn the least.”
“How dare you! You can’t compare effort! Just because you worked harder-”
“-and smarter-” interjected the woman.
“-doesn’t mean you can have more than me! And yeah, smarter! I’m not as smart as you!”
“Your responsibility is to manage what you have,” said the woman. “If I remember correctly, you were wonderful at biology, but it required work. You stuck with construction. So you get the house you have. I knew I was good at sewing, so I embraced it and did very well at it. Today you could have a house twice as big as mine. Biology has a huge return, but you stuck with something with a third less return because it was easy. Because you got Haney pregnant early, even though I know both of you agreed it was best to wait until you got your business off the ground. Children are wonderful gifts, but they cost money to raise, and take away your ability to maximize your potential early on.”
“I hope to have children before I’m too old, but there’s no guarantee. I still have to find a husband, and that’s a sacrifice I took to have the financial return I enjoy. You have a beautiful family. I might get one. Or I might get a bunch of spoiled brats who don’t appreciate what they have. And as far as working harder and smarter, yes, it absolutely means I can have more than you. I worked the system to get it, just like you could have. As far as your insurance, you can only get what you paid for. You think it’s unfair you can’t have more? Do you understand math, Roy? I know you’re not stupid, so listen closely.
“You add hamburgers, Tom adds hamburgers, Billy adds hamburgers, but all of you are asking for steaks, steaks and steaks. Even with interest, insurance doesn’t somehow automatically grow like some magical pot. You think that because each of you is supposed to take it at different times that asking so much more means there’s more to take? Either someone will pay a little and get a lot out of it, or someone else will pay a lot and get nothing out of it. Even if your company offers twice your original contribution, you’ll still only get as much as you and the company offered in full. And this pot? You realize the fifteen people at the pot are going to eat a tenth of what you brought? Not only that, but the cost of your company contributing means less food for you, too, because that’s money they could have paid you directly instead of paying for the pot.
“You want some advice, Roy? Get rid of the pot. It only makes everyone think they can have more than they earn, and gives them the mistaken idea that they are entitled to more because the pot is so large. If you get rid of the pot, you pop the misconception like a bubble and let people get back to reality.”
“But reality is unfair!”
She began laughing and walking away. “That’s a shock only to you, young man.”