Once upon a time there was a very happy town. It lay in a beautiful corner of a beautiful kingdom where people were happy, from sea to shining sea. And in this town the stores were full of wonderful things from around the country and around the world. Foods fit for feasting, horseless carriages that gleamed and purred, footballs, baseballs, beach balls, deodorant and tropical fish. The ladies of the town loved their fine silks and lingerie, the men ogled fishing tackle that took their breath away, the children had electronic toys and DVDs that kept them fascinated long into the night, and they all kept in touch with cell phones.
All of these wonderful things came to the town in brightly painted wagons hauled by powerful, breathtakingly beautiful horses. The townspeople loved to get the stuff. But they thought the wagon drivers were a little scary what with their dangerous rigs and all the bad stuff they’d heard about them and read in the newspapers. The people liked their stuff delivered late in the evening when they didn’t have to mingle with the drivers.
After a time it came to pass that many of the drivers found that a life of delivering goods to this town was not all that it was cracked up to be. They worried that the cost of horse fuel was way too high. They discovered their insurance costs were rising so fast many of them soon wouldn’t be able to pay the premiums. What’s more, they said, freight rates had not gone up since colonial times. “Cleaning up all those pollutants the horses leave behind is also costing us money,” some of them said. “We could do better,” said others, “if we didn’t have to fill out forms to cross every county line, river, bridge, mountain and disused railway line.”
Other drivers said they lost money because they couldn’t drive all the way to the town without having to stop in the woods with the horses for hours “because the King’s rulebook says we must be tired.”
Finally it came to pass one day that the drivers looked at the numbers and said, “Well, we’ll be darned! If we deliver to that little town anymore it will cost us more money than we will make. What can we do?” They asked the shippers, and they didn’t know. So they asked the manufacturers, and they didn’t know. Then they asked the King, and he set up a committee. So the drivers gave up their jobs behind the reins and found other jobs where they could make enough money to care for their families and even have a little left over.
And the very next day the people in the perfect little town began to notice. They saw spaces on shelves where there had never been any. There were shortages of gingerbread and shampoo, chicken, cheese and cherries. And soon some of them began to fight with others over what was there, even arguing over products that were not very fresh. What there was to buy was costing a lot more as manufacturers and suppliers sent it to the town in a way that was far more expensive than if the drivers had brought it. In a kingdom less perfect and peaceful than this one there would have been riots, gunshots and fires.
“Well now,” said the townspeople, “how did this fine thing happen to us?” It seems they’d never really thought about the drivers. The stuff they wanted and needed had always just been there. So they said, “We want our stuff back.” The drivers said, “We want to bring it to you. We really don’t want to do these new jobs, but we have to earn a living.” And the shippers said, “We want you to have everything we can ship to you.” And the manufacturers said, “We do, too. There’s no reason to make things if we can’t bring them to your town and sell them to you.”
So what happened? This is not really a fairy tale; it’s one of those scary stories that keep you awake at night. It’s scary because, just like those late-night campfire tales camp counselors told you to scare you to death, it might, just might, happen. Unless of course all the players got together – you know, like a team – and found a way to ensure that it won’t.