The Ayn Rand Letter
Vol. III, No. 9 January 28, 1974
There is an old fable which I read in Russian (I do not know whether it exists in English). A pig comes upon an oak tree, devours the acorns strewn on the ground and, when his belly is full, starts digging the soil to undercut the oak tree's roots. A bird perched on a high branch upbraids him, saying: "If you could lift your snoot, you would discover that the acorns grow on this tree."
Fable writer Ivan Krylov monument in Saint Petersburg
A Poem: The Sow Under The Oak Tree
A poem by Ivan Andreyevich Krylov, translated by Yana Kane
Beneath an oak a sow pigged out on acorns,
Then napped under the shady canopy,
At last, refreshed, she set her snout to digging,
Baring the roots that fed the ancient tree.
“Stop! Stop!” called out a raven from the branches.
“The oak tree’s roots are damaged when you dig.”
“What do I care if this useless stump does wither?
Acorns are all I’m after,” said the pig.
The oak tree’s voice then joined the conversation.
“Ingrate!” said to the swine the mighty tree,
“If you could lift your snout up from your grubbing,
You’d see that all the acorns come from me.”
An ignoramus mocking education,
Scoffing at science, is blind just like that sow,
Failing to see that on the tree of knowledge
Ripened the comforts he’s enjoying now.
A Hog under an Oak
A Hog under a mighty Oak
Had glutted tons of tasty acorns, then, supine,
Napped in its shade; but when awoke,
He, with persistence and the snoot of real swine,
The giant's roots began to undermine.
"The tree is hurt when they're exposed,"
A Raven on a branch arose.
"It may dry up and perish - don't you care?"
"Not in the least!" The Hog raised up its head.
"Why would the prospect make me scared?
The tree is useless; be it dead
Two hundred fifty years, I won't regret a second.
Nutritious acorns - only that's what's reckoned!" -
"Ungrateful pig!" The tree exclaimed with scorn.
"Had you been fit to turn your mug around
You'd have a chance to figure out
Where your beloved fruit is born."
A paragraph from Alexander Volokh: Twenty-Five Years Of Environmental Regulation: What Americans Have Learned
Even in the absence of the legal system to settle disputes, the very existence of private property was often an effective conservation device. For example (or rather, for a counterexample), many of you may remember the fable by Ivan Andreyevich Krylov about the pig beneath the oak, who ate its fill of acorns and started to dig up the roots of oak. "But this will harm the tree, you know," from the oak's branches said the crow. "Without its roots, the tree may dry." "Oh, let it!" was the pig's reply. "What do I care? The roots don't matter. I just want acorns -- for they make me fatter." In America, we call this the story of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. Economists call this problem "The Tragedy of the Commons" -- when a resource is collectively owned, no one has an incentive to invest in the improvement of that resource. Instead, they have an incentive to chop down the tree and take the acorns before they are ripe, because if they don't, someone else will. This is why Americans have dirty public parks. On the other hand, private ownership of the resource encourages responsible stewardship. This is why Americans have clean private lawns. If the pig had been a shrewd businessman who owned the oak and had secure property rights, he would have waited until all the acorns were ripe, and probably would have planted more trees and sold the excess acorns.
Click for additional illustration of the Krylov's fable "Pig under the oak" by aleks-klepnev found at Diviantart.