Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Law of the Jungle

(Max, Nat and Zack are listening to Joe who is lamenting over a recent business misfortune.)

Joe: Can you believe it? We had set things up to import this electronic ruler...

Max: Wait! Joe, what in the name of Kokorioko is an electronic ruler?

Joe: Oh, it's the latest technology from Japan. The ruler has these electronic lights and an inbuilt speaker. You lay the ruler against the thing you want to measure, and when you have read off the measurement and lift the ruler off the surface, the lights flash on and off in different colours and the speaker plays a special ringtone.

Nat: And then...? (Raises eyebrows and spreads out hands in a questioning gesture.)

Joe: And then what? That's all. Don't you think that's cool?

Zack: Joe, perhaps we're missing something here, but... are you telling me that the lights and the ringtone play no role at all in telling you the length of the thing you're measuring?

Joe: I wasn't interested in that. All I was interested in was that our research indicated that there was a large demand for this ruler. Anyway, we had placed an order for the ruler, and we were happy because we were going to make Big Money at last!

Nat: But unfortunately for us, you're still here torturing us with stories of your get-rich-quick schemes. So something must have gone wrong along the way.

Zack: Perhaps there was no electronic ruler. Remember that this is the guy who tried to
raise funds for a non-existent party and seek investment for a spurious impurity detector.

Nat: Not to mention the time when he tried selling those 'special chargers' that were supposed to pack ten times the normal amount of charge into your mobile phone's battery. (To Joe) The slight flaw in your plan, as I remember, was that the chargers would always blow up and destroy the phone when you tried to use them.

Joe (annoyed): Why are you guys behaving bringing all this up, now? Do you want to kick a man when he's down?

Nat: OK, continue. Let's assume that your electronic ruler is real.

(Joe gives Nat a look of annoyance and continues): Anyway, when we tried to process the importation, we were told that there were issues to do with licences and regulations and all sorts of crazy stuff that nobody had mentioned before. Bottom line - it meant we could not import those rulers. And that was the end of my dreams of finally becoming a billionaire. (In an anguished voice) Why does the government have to frustrate honest, hardworking Nigerians with its stupid laws? Why? (Voice rises to a scream) WHY??? (Gets up and storms out of the bar, shaking his fists and repeatedly screaming 'Why?' as Max, Nat and Zack look on in astonishment.)

Nat (after a long stunned silence): There goes a truly embittered businessman. I've never seen him like that before.

Max: Well, do you blame him? It's bad enough to be frustrated by a competitor - but at least, you can fight back by offering superior product or service. But when the government decrees that you can't do business, what can you do?

Zack: I'm sure the government must have had a good reason. Perhaps those rulers constituted some sort of health hazard.

Max (scornfully): Health hazard my left buttock! Since when did the government become so interested in such things? More likely, the government officials saw the word 'ruler' in 'electronic ruler' and thought that Joe was thinking of importing some alternative head of state to contend against the current president.

Nat: Or perhaps one of Joe's competitors got wind of his plan and bribed someone to frustrate his plans so that he - the competitor - could take make use of those same plans. That's not unheard of in this country.

Zack: Hmm... that's possible, too. After all, this is a country where connections are all important.

Max: That's what irritates me about the way the government operates - always poking its nose into the market and banning this and that, thinking that it knows what is best. It should leave the people to decide whether they want to buy something or not.

Zack: Ah, no-o! You can't say that. What of if the thing that the importers want to sell is a health hazard? Or if the product claims to be something that it isn't? The government has a duty to protect its citizens from being killed or deceived.

Max: But it's not as if the government is even performing that duty. It would rather ban something for some flimsy reason - perhaps because it's 'immoral' or 'unpatriotic'. What it would not do is to ban it because it's a danger to health. If only the government would just concentrate on protecting people's possessions and stopping them from being taken from them either by fraud or by force. Then businesses can be free to compete against each other, and the more they compete, the better products we get.

Nat: So the whole point of getting government to get out of the market is to increase competitiveness, right?

Max: Pretty much.

Nat: And competitiveness would be increased because the government wouldn't be unfairly using its power to stop one or more businesses from competing, right?

Max: Yep.

Nat: But why should it just be the government that should be sanctioned for using its power unfairly? Shouldn't any organisation be sanctioned for such unfair use of power?

For example, let's say that I ran a company whose product was so successful that consumers were virtually dependent on it. Then if I saw a potential competitor trying to get their product off the ground, would it be fair for me to use the power I have over consumers to threaten to stop supplying any trader with my goods if I caught that trader selling that competitor's product?

Zack: No!

Max: Yes!

Nat (smiling): Aha. So we have two different opinions. In the blue corner, we have Mad Max Ugwi, and in the red corner, we have Zealous Zack Kwashi. (Claps his hands) Oya, let battle commence!

Zack: Of course it's not fair. How could such a competitor make headway if he faced a virtual lockout from being able to sell his products?

Max (shrugging): Maybe he's not supposed to make headway. There's no golden rule that says that there must be more than one business in a particular market. If the successful business is good enough, why introduce another? I'm sure if the successful business was producing rubbish products, then consumers and traders would defect to the new competitor even if the successful business threatened fire and brimstone.

Zack: The successful company may not be producing rubbish products, but if it's the only game in town, there's nothing that will encourage it produce good products. Surely that's the whole point of competition? In fact, I'm surprised that you seem to be doing a U-turn here - just a few minutes ago, you were the one hailing competition amongst several businesses!

Max: I'm not doing a U-turn - I'm definitely for allowing companies to engage in competition. In fact, what will keep the successful company on its toes will be the fact that at any time, a competitor can enter the market and challenge it. In fact, that's why it can never rest and take it easy - if it were to do so, a competitor could just emerge and easily challenge it. Or if you like, "Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown". Of course, it would be a different matter if there was no possibility of anyone else entering the market... perhaps because the government banned people from doing so.

Nat: So you don't consider the successful company's use of its 'power' to cut off the supply of its goods from disobedient traders a kind of 'force'?

Max: No, it's not - because if someone comes up with a better product, then they're not compelled to use the successful company's product. They can always switch to the new product. It would be force if they had no choice at all.

Nat: But isn't that like saying that if someone points a gun at you and tells you to hand over your money, then he's not really forcing you to do anything, because you can always connect his groin with a well aimed Matrix-style kung-fu kick followed by a double uppercut? It's possible - but it's highly improbable - because it's very difficult. And it's just as difficult for a competitor to come up with a product that is so good that it'll make people and traders switch, irrespective of what barriers the successful company tries to put in their way. So while there is no alternative product, it is force!

Zack (slapping his hand on the table): Exactly! So instead of the successful company dominating for one year then being overthrown by a competitor who has a slightly better product, you have someone dominating for twenty years before being overthrown by a competitor only because they have been able to develop a stupendously better product. And that means that the consumers have to suffer for an extra nineteen years, just because the government didn't want to intervene by preventing the successful company from using its power to scare people away from its competitor.

Max: That's an unfair description. I've already said that the successful company will not stand still for all those twenty years, because it knows that it could be overthrown at any minute by this competitor with the stupendously successfully product. So during that twenty-year period, the consumers will still be enjoying improvements in the product. And at least, you do admit that eventually, the successful company will be overthrown - after all, nobody has a monopoly on creativity.

Zack: But you admit that there is an element of force if the consumers have no other alternative. And it is wrong to allow the consumers to be subjected to this force for such a long time if the government can do something to hasten the growth of competitors - for example, by preventing the successful company from using those scare tactics.

Max: Well, there are very few products that are not only produced by only one company but also don't have alternatives. I agree that the alternatives may not be ideal - but at least, they can be managed so that if things become absolutely intolerable, the consumers can always manage the second-class alternatives. For example, if the successful company were the only company that could sell electricity to consumers, people would still have the second-class alternative of using a generator or a battery-inverter combination. Not ideal - but still an alternative.

Zack: Max, you're going to extremes to defend this anti-competitive behaviour. (Sarcastically) I suppose you'd be happy if we threw out any rule stopping companies from doing what they want. Oh yes - Nigeria would be a competitive heaven for sure!

Max: Hmm... actually, now you mention it, why not? What did the government ever do for us? Why not give anarchy a go?

Nat (alarmed): I'm sure he was just joking. How can you seriously consider that? Haven't you seen what the Law of the Jungle has done in places like Somalia? The death, the disease, the famine?

Max: Hold on. I'm talking here about organised anarchy. The problem with Somalia is that it sleepwalked into its current anarchic state without people ever being properly prepared for it. So you got people who were ill prepared to defend their property - people who had no training on how to use arms, and who were therefore slaughtered by those who did.

What I'm suggesting here is that first of all, every man, woman and child will be supplied with all kinds of weaponry, which they will be trained to use to defend their property. Once this happens, an Age of Anarchy can be declared, and Nigeria will be en route to a Golden Age of Peace and Prosperity.

Zack: Now I know that that frayed rope which has always struggled to anchor you to reality has finally snapped. You arm one hundred and forty million people with weapons and you expect peace and prosperity? Unless you are talking about prosperity for the vultures and hyenas that will feast on carcasses from border to border!

Max: Come on, Zack. We all know that Nigerians are cowards at heart. Who wants to go and attack someone when he knows that his opponent will respond with several rounds of machine gunfire? Who will be so suicidal as to try and steal someone's property if he knows he'll get a few rockets from an RPG for his trouble? No - think of it like a gigantic Mexican standoff. Nobody gets killed because nobody kills, and nobody kills because nobody wants to get killed.

Nat: I'd rather think of it as a giant keg of gunpowder. Sure, nobody gets killed as long as everyone is rationally thinking of the consequences - but this is the same country where we riot from time to time for irrational reasons mostly to do with religion or ethnicity. I tell you, once the first gunshot is fired, may God help us all! It'll be coast-to-desert mayhem!

Max: Nonsense. As I said before, the reason that riots are prolonged is because the rioters can run amok with little opposition from those they are lynching. There's nothing like returning gunfire with gunfire to douse whatever passion moved the rioters to riot in the first place. I know my idea sounds counter-intuitive - but trust me, it would work. Since people wouldn't be able to use force to get things done, they'd be force to use their brains for once in their lives.

Nat (shaking his head): I don't know - it sounds way too crazy for me. Plus there are large gaping holes in the plan - how do you train so many people to use arms responsibly, anyway? And who is going to train them - the same government who is going to be irrelevant once they're fully trained? You should know that chickens don't vote for Christmas!

Zack: Don't mind Nat - he's the original Doubting Thomas. As for me, as crazy as your idea sounds, I'm ready to give it a chance, if you can run a pilot test. (Grins evilly) This is what you need to do, though - first, get as many guns as you can lay your hands on. Then go to that flyover where all those area boys and lunatics congregate to smoke igbo after a hard day spent harassing law-abiding citizens. Propound to them your theory of Prosperity Through Anarchy, distribute your guns, and settle down there for a two-week of rational debate and intelligent discourse. If you're still in one piece after your adventure, then perhaps I'll concede that your idea has legs...


  • I see that your main characters all have surnames now.

    Nice one!

    How are you?

    By Blogger Nilla, At June 10, 2007 2:35 pm  

  • Hi Nilla,

    I'm fine, but extremely busy these days. Hope you're doing on OK in Naija.

    Actually, the main characters have had surnames for quite a while now - Max got his surname in the second post, Zack in the fifth and Max got his only in the penultimate post.

    By Blogger Atala Wala Wala, At June 11, 2007 4:19 pm  

  • Nigerians and flashy, useless stuff. The description of those rulers captures it all.

    I thought I left a comment earlier -- or I might just have read without leaving any...

    By Blogger azuka, At June 16, 2007 8:20 pm  

  • I remember seeing Nat's surname earlier, but not the others (abi I'm begining to loose

    I'm doing fine..just the occassional ups and downs.
    You're always busy..anyways hope you go on a vacation soon.

    By Blogger Nilla, At June 24, 2007 4:11 pm  

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