Monday, May 27, 2013

Cakes, A Parable

The Baker's Cakes

The town's baker was just getting by. People liked the cakes he baked well enough, but every time a couple came back from visiting the city, they raved at how great the cakes were. "Sometimes we go to the city just for the cakes!" said one lady to her friend a little too loudly.

The town's baker wanted to be better. He took out a loan, and studied at the city's culinary school. He learned to bake better cakes, and when he came back to town, the people exclaimed, "These cakes are great!" and bought them for birthdays, weddings, graduations, and dinner parties. The baker even got regulars coming in for his cupcakes nearly every day! His business improved, people were happier, and the baker easily paid off his loans and no longer had to worry about his bills. Maybe he would even retire early!

Everyone lived happily every after, until...

The Baker's Rival

The baker was jealous. A French Pastry Chef had moved into town just down the street. The Pastry Chef made world-class cakes. The town baker just couldn't compete in quality. And to add insult to injury, the Pastry Chef put these fancy French decorations on the cake that just screamed "I'm French, and I know how to bake the best cakes in the world!" The locals loved him, and while the town baker was still doing well, the French Pastry Chef was doing spectacularly well.

The city folks were driving into town just to taste the Pastry Chef's cakes! "Be sure to buy from the baker with the fancy French decorations on the cake -- they're the best in the world!" they would tell their friends when they got back to the city.

Well, two can play at that game, thought the town baker. Those fancy French decorations weren't all that expensive, so he began to buy them and put them on his cakes, too. Now some city folks would buy his cakes over the French Pastry Chef's cakes. It worked. The city folk were confused, and the Pastry Chef lost some of his business.

"That Imitator is stealing my business!" said the Pastry Chef. "I'll just put expensive, French-imported decorations on my cake, now." And he did. The town baker couldn't buy them and put them on his cakes, too. He was doing well, but not THAT well; he just couldn't justify the cost, even considering the business he stole.

The customers didn't like the expensive decorations any better than the old ones -- which they didn't like better than no decorations at all. They only cared about tasty cake.

Now everyone was worse off. The town baker's and the Pastry Chef's costs went up to pay for decorations customers don't care about. Customers had to pay higher costs that were partially passed onto them by the bakers. And people could tell the two apart just as well as they could before the decoration arm's race began.

Everyone lived less happily ever after, until...

The Baker's Problem

The town was on a health kick. Sales of cakes were way down for both the town baker and the French Pastry Chef. In fact, things got so bad, the town baker had to close up shop. I guess it is an early retirement, after all, he thought.

After he closed up shop, the townspeople were sad. There were no more lovely smells of freshly baked cakes wafting from the bakery anymore. Even though they didn't eat as many cakes as they used to, they still loved the smell of cakes. "Why don't we pitch in a little bit each and pay the baker to bake more cakes? We don't have to buy them, just smell them?" they told each other. It was a great idea. If everyone pitched in a little, the baker could bake more cakes, the townspeople could smell the cakes baking, and the townspeople and the bakers would be better off.

The day of the collection came and went. No one donated any money to the baker. "Why should I donate when everyone else is, too?" thought one selfish man. "The cakes would still be baked if everyone else donates, I would get to smell their beautiful aroma, and I would get to keep my money!" Of course, that thought was not thought by just one selfish man, but by every man and woman in town. No one donated, and everyone was sad.

To solve the problem of the missing cake aroma, the town council convened and passed a unanimous resolution to fund the baking of cakes. Everyone voted in favor of its passage, and the townspeople were happy there would be more cakes to smell again for just a small increase in taxes. The baker was happy. He could still be in business thanks to town's subsidy. The Pastry Chef was happy, too. He didn't go out of business, but with the subsidy for cake baking, he could bake more cakes, as well.

"Thanks to the good government of the town council, I don't have to retire too early!" the baker told the town at the signing ceremony. "I guess the town can have their cake, and smell it, too!"

Everyone lived happily ever after.

The End?