Bety Stone: Be careful whom you follow

August 22, 2009 10:48:00 PM

Betty Stone -


As I remember the story, the Pied Piper contracted with the people of Hamelin to rid the town of rats. As promised, he led them with his pipe music into the river, where they drowned; but the townspeople refused to pay him. So he then piped their children away as well. 


I think the moral is to pay one''s debts. There may be another lesson: Be careful whom you follow. 


A broker I knew once told me a story that makes that point rather well. It is an example from the days when he dealt in commodities. One of his clients was an elderly man who was in the process of turning his business over to his son. One day, however, he told his son that he had a tip that eggs would be a good buy. They bought eggs, and, sure enough, the price of eggs went up. At that, other buyers took notice and also bought eggs. 


The ripple effect took over. More and more buyers got in on the action, and the price of eggs began to soar. Finally someone asked the older man who had tipped him off. He indicated a young man who turned out to be just a floor runner, someone who knew next to nothing about what he had predicted. 


In time, of course, the price of eggs crashed just like Humpty Dumpty; and investors were left with, ahem, egg on their faces. 


Journalists are exhorted always to check their sources. Evidently that is not a bad practice for everyone. 


It occurs to me that in today''s economy, we ought to keep that caution in mind. I don''t quite know how we do that with big business and even bigger government, but at least we can develop a healthy skepticism about what we hear and read. 


There are areas where, even though we are not privy to all the decisions, we can ask questions and/or think matters through to logical results. I fear far too many of us are willing simply to buy into slogans and not do the hard work of thinking and, yes, even reading. Today our economy and our politics are in such a state that we probably cannot survive a stupid or gullible electorate. 


We have long had a pride that Americans can do almost anything with our famous ingenuity. I believe we can, but I also know it won''t happen if we cannot discipline ourselves to do the difficult thinking needed to keep us from becoming a bunch of dumb animals following a pied piper to our doom. We need to hold our leaders, on every level, accountable for the "contracts" they have made with us, their constituents. I think it will take a lot of American ingenuity just to do that.

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.