Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cut Bait

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

A saying that originated—according to the first page of Google results—in ancient China (Confucius, perhaps), or with Maimonides, or maybe as late as 19th century England (with a certain Anne Isabella Richie).

It’s not worth my while trying to figure out whether the above saying is an aphorism, an adage, a maxim, an apothegm or—well—just a saying, and I certainly have no idea who thought it up. What I do know is that there is a stink (like a three-day old fish) of mock profundity about it.

In reality, the saying is an example of a false dichotomy—the fallacy that there are only two (polar opposite) positions that can be held in an argument (“Better dead than red.” “Better red than dead.”). 

The fish story is generally reeled in nowadays by those big-hearted econo-moralists who would walk past a beggar but drop $$$ into the greasy palms of the 1 percent, who—as the plot is expected to unfold—will spend the loot on factories and mills that will eventually employ said beggar. Top-down economics, Reaganomics, “voodoo economics” (in the apt phrase of George H. W. Bush, before he ate crow and became that bad actor’s running mate).

Sure, teach the starving man to fish. But if he isn’t fed first, he won’t be around to be taught. 

As John Maynard Keynes retorted to someone who was blowing on about “the long run”: 

“In the long run we shall all be dead.”

No comments:

Post a Comment