An almost true story
They were sitting together next to the pump, and the air was leaking out.
-I wonder why don't they just leave the f..g thing alone? - the Anarchist demanded. -They have proved time and again they haven't got a clue.
-You are badly mistaken - the Organizer answered. If I have a grudge against them, it's precisely that they are too hands-off. Sure, they've ordered this replacement valve, but they should have ordered at least five or more.
-And even that wouldn't help - said the Leveler - unless they raised the mechanics' salaries. As it is, these poor fellows are not even interested in fixing the damn thing.
-And I still believe our leaders - the Naive said diffidently. -Our Audacious knows what he's doing. I think he will have it fixed. He just needs a little more time.
-He's been at it for two years already - the Anarchist shot back. -What other proof do you need that he knows nothing about pumps?
-Well, look at the left side of the balloon. I think it has already reflated a little. It even feels tight at places.
-We've seen that many times already. Texan has tried that. And do you remember how it ended?
-Texan was a jerk. He was using that pump in a low-power mode and thought it would be enough. Audacious knows better that that. He understood from the start that we need the most powerful pump.
-You guys don't understand - the Leveler said. -It's just the matter of jobs and salaries, and security, and sense of optimism. What we need is someone like Dressstainer. These were the good days. We were all working, and had generally good time, and the balloon was getting bigger. I once made a bet that it would double in size in a year. I won, and ordered free beer for everyone.
-What do you know - the Greedy interjected contemptuously. -He was a bad man, sneaky as hell. And we almost chased him away for his immorality, and we would have gotten rid of him for good if you had not persuaded us to give him another chance. And his misguided strategies is what got us in trouble in the first place.
-But at least we were employed then, were we not?
-Employed as long as the balloon was growing. And that wasn't even because of Dresstainer's fine talk. Warmonger was the one who did it. Remember how he suddenly turned against our former buddy and got us cheap oil for the pump. We greased the wheels and the pump started working again - this is the whole secret. Dressstainer got all the credit even though he did nothing whatsoever.
-Hey Greedy, it's all right for you to talk like that retrospectively. Have you forgotten how Warmonger has nearly sent you to the hot desert to fight for that cheap oil?
-Well, at least we were a great company then. I was proud to know that our balloon was the biggest.
-And I don't like Warmonger at all - said the Rich. - He was no better than Dressstainer. When he took over from Actor, he promised us that bear would remain free. And what did he do then? Right, he made everyone pay a cent per bottle. Now, is that an honest leader? We were right to banish him but it's too bad his replacement was even worse.
-Look, Rich, if anyone should leave Warmonger alone, it's you - Leveler objected. -Did you forget how you were begging him to save some coins for our piggybank?
-But not in that way! - the Rich protested. -I was hoping he'd stop offering free beer to the idlers like him - he nodded at the Leveler. Instead he made things worse for everyone. That would never happen under Actor. Now, Actor was da man. It's under him that I made my first dollar. This balloon was much smaller then than it is now. He took over this thing when it was full of holes and nearly deflated. He borrowed a new pump and told us to pray and hope for the best. Nobody knew how he got the air to flow into the balloon, but when he left us, it was immense. Here was an Actor! When comes such another?
They were silent for a moment. The pump was squeeking, and the hissing sound of air flowing out was telling them mechanics were still struggling to fix the leakage.
-I really think you guys just put too much faith in our leaders - said the Austrian, who had remained silent until that moment. He was speaking slowly and his face had a thoughtful expression. -The thing that really matters is the rate they charge you for hot air. And I think our Actor was just lucky that he became our leader when Toll Man started to lower that rate. All our leaders were just riding that tidal wave without you even suspecting it. Take that away and there is no way that balloon would inflate even to half its present size.
-Thank God they don't let people like you come near that pump! - the Organizer snorted. -How does your theory account for the fact that our balloon started to deflate even with hot air being as cheap as ever?
-Why do you find that surprising? Texan just kept working this pump too hard until the fabric started to crack. This cheap air just made him think it would keep expanding indefinitely. He was wrong, and his cocksuredness was what got us into this trouble.
-Why then did Pious fail to inflate this thing? It was not for the lack of trying!
-Again, you don't understand how air pumps work. It's not just the quantity of air, it's how cheaply you can replace leaking air with new air. And Pious tried the same tricks that Actor used later on, but they all failed because Toll Man made replacing the air too darn expensive. Because Toll Man knew that in order to make air cheap, you first have to make it expensive.
-I don't understand that hot air talk at all! - the Rich said. -As far as I'm concerned it was very simple. That fool Pious was just too generous to all of you. Everyone deserves free beer and that stuff. So you became too lazy and stopped working that pump. I was helping the foreman then and it was a hell of a job. Everyone was drunk and you had to give the mechanic three beers to make him show up for work. That's what you get when you pamper the workers too much.
-I certainly did not feel like I was pampered! - the Leveler replied. I liked Pious then and I think he did many things right even though it made you feel unhappy. Yes, he had to do what he did because Provisional Leader could not get us enough cheap grease for the pump.
-I don't know what you call cheap - the Anarchist dissented. -The last time we had a true measure of prices was under Big Ears. And our balloon was growing vigorously then. Eavesdropper ruined it all when he told us to stop using seashells for transactions. That's when it started leaking air and it never stopped leaking since then! I don't know about you, but I am still collecting seashells.
-Do you think seashells will be valuable again? - the Rich seemed interested.
-I think it's already happening. In fact, when you translate cubic feet into seashells, the volume of this balloon has remained more or less constant over time.
-Maybe I should buy some from you... - the Rich wondered aloud.
-This is all very interesting - said the Naive. But I would still like to know when this thing will start growing again. I am not even asking for seashells. Even cubic feet of air will be good enough for me.
There was deep silence. The only thing they heard was the squeeking of the pump and the hissing sound of air flowing out of the balloon.