Short stories

On the cause of poverty

Monkeys, who know nothing about private property in land.

Edmund Vance Cooke  (1866-1932)
An ancient ape, once on a time, 
Disliked exceedingly to climb, 
And so he picked him out a tree 
And said, "Now this belongs to me. 
I have a hunch that monks are mutts 
And I can make them gather nuts 
And bring the bulk of them to me, 
By claiming title to this tree." 
He took a green leaf and a reed 
And wrote himself a title deed, 
Proclaiming pompously and slow: 
"All monkeys by these presents know". 
Next morning when the monkeys came 
To gather nuts, he made his claim: 
"All monkeys climbing on this tree 
Must bring their gathered nuts to me, 
Cracking the same on equal shares; 
The meats are mine, the shells are theirs." 
"But by what right?"  they cried, amazed, 
Thinking the ape was surely crazed 
By this", he answered;  "if you'll read 
You'll find it is a title deed, 
made in precise and formal shape 
And sworn before a fellow ape, 
Exactly on the legal plan 
Used by that wondrous creature, man, 
In London, Tokyo, New York, 
Glengarry, Kalamazoo and Cork. 
Unless my deed is recognized, 
It proves you quite uncivilized." 
"But", said one monkey, "You will agree 
It was not you who made this tree." 
"Nor", said the ape, serene and bland, 
"Does any owner make his land, 
Yet all of its hereditaments 
Are his and figure in the rents." 
The puzzled monkeys sat about 
They could not make the question out. 
Plainly, by precedent and law, 
The ape's procedure showed no flaw; 
And yet, no matter what he said; 
The stomach still denied the head. 
Up spoke one sprightly monkey then: 
"Monkeys are monkeys, men are men; 
The ape should try his legal capers 
On men who say respect his papers. 
We don't know deeds; we do know nuts, 
And spite of 'ifs' and 'ands' and 'buts' 
We know who gathers and unmeats 'em, 
By monkey practice also eats 'em. 
So tell the ape and all his flunkies 
No man tricks can be played on monkeys" 
Thus, apes still climb to get their food, 
Since monkeys' minds are crass and crude 
And monkeys, all so ill-advised, 
Still eat their nuts, uncivilized. 
  1. Summary: Short Stories
  2. Summary of pages in English: The Land Problem
  3. Main page: Grundskyld - Henry George
December 2005