The Dream Machine

The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible, A Free Market Odyssey - Chapter 10
The Dream Machine

by Ken Schoolland

As you may recall, we last left Jonathan Gullible on a remote Pacific island after his boat was tossed about by a terrific storm. One day ...

How would Jonathan ever get home? He was a hearty, honest lad, willing to do any kind of work. Perhaps he might find a job with a ship's crew. Surely an island had to have a harbor and ships in it. As he pondered the problem, a thin man struggled to load a bulky machine onto a big, horse-drawn wagon. He wore an eye-catching red suit and a stylish hat with a large feather stuck in the band. Catching sight of Jonathan, the man hollered, "Hey kid, I'll pay you five kayns to help me load."

"Kayns?" repeated Jonathan curiously.

"Money, paper payola. Ya want it or not?"

"Sure," said Jonathan, having no better idea of what to do. It wasn't work on a ship, but he needed to earn his keep. Besides, the man looked shrewd and could offer some advice. After much pushing and shoving, they managed to heave the unwieldy machine on board. Wiping his brow, Jonathan stood back panting and looked at the object of his labor. The machine was large with beautiful designs painted all over. On the top was a large horn, such as the one Jonathan had once seen on a hand-cranked phonograph back home.

"Such beautiful colors," said Jonathan, feeling dizzy while staring at the intricate, pulsating patterns. "And what's that big horn on top?"

"Come around front, and see for yourself." So Jonathan climbed up on the wagon and read the sign painted with elegant gold letters: "Golly Gomper's Dream Machine."

"A dream machine?" repeated Jonathan. "You mean it makes dreams come true?"

"It sure does," said the sharp-faced man. He twisted out the last screw and removed a panel in back of the machine. Inside were the works of a simple phonograph. Instead of a hand crank, it had a spring with a wind-up key. A switch turned the turntable on.

"There's nothing but an old music box in there," declared Jonathan.

"What'd you expect," said the man, "a fairy godmother?"

"I don't know. I thought it would be a little, uh, mysterious. After all, it takes something special to make people's dreams come true."

A sly grin spread across the man's thin face and he gave Jonathan a long hard look. "Words, my curious friend. It just takes words to make some dreams come true. The problem is you never know just who will get the dream when you wish for something."

Seeing Jonathan's puzzled expression, the man reached into his pocket and produced a crisp white, tiny business card. He introduced himself in his staccato nasal twang, "Tanstaafl's the name. P.T. Tanstaafl." Just then he noticed that he had given Jonathan the wrong card, one that read "G. Gomper" instead. He snatched it back. "Excuse me, son, that's yesterday's card."

Shuffling through his wallet he found another card of a slightly different size and color presenting today's name. He then pulled out a poster with elegant gold lettering that he pasted over the original name on his sign. It now read, "Dr. Tanstaafl's Dream Machine."

The man explained smoothly, "People have their dreams, right? It's just that they don't know how to make dreams come true, right?" Dr. Tanstaafl nodded his head every time he said "Right?" Jonathan began nodding dumbly in unison.

"So you pay money, turn the key, and this old box plays a certain subtle instruction over and over again, right?" Tanstaafl nodded again, Jonathan followed with a bob. "It's always the same message and there are always plenty of dreamers who love to hear it, right?"

"What's the message, Mr. Tanstaafl?" asked Jonathan, suddenly conscious of his head bobbing up and down.

The man corrected Jonathan, "Please. Doctor Tanstaafl. As I was saying, the Dream Machine tells people to think of whatever they would like to have, and ..." The man glanced around to see if anyone else was listening, "Then it explains to the dreamers what to do. And in a very persuasive manner, right?"

"You mean it hypnotizes them?" asked Jonathan, his eyes widening.

"Oh no, no, no, no, no," objected the man. "It tells them that they are good people and that what they wish for is a good thing, right? It's so good that they should demand it, right."

"Is that all?" Jonathan said in awe.

"That's all."

After a moment's hesitation, Jonathan asked, "So what do these dreamers demand?"

The man pulled out an oil can and proceeded to oil the gears inside. "Well, it depends a lot on where I put this machine. I frequently put it in front of a factory like this one -- Bastiat Builders." He jerked a thumb in the direction of a squat two-story building across the street. "And sometimes I set up by the Palace of Lords. Around here, people always want more money. More money is a good thing, ya know, 'cuz prices are always going up and people always need more, right?"

"So I've heard," said Jonathan, rolling his eyes in sympathy. "Do they get it?"

The man pulled back and wiped his hands on a rag. "Some do -- just like that," he said with a snap of his fingers. "The dreamers stormed down to the Palace and demanded laws that would force the factory to give them a threefold increase in pay and benefits."

"What benefits?" said Jonathan.

"Like security. More security's a good thing, right? So the dreamers demanded laws that would force factories to buy insurance for them. Insurance for sickness. Insurance for unemployment. Insurance for death, right?"

"That sounds great," exclaimed Jonathan. "Those dreamers must have been very happy." He turned to look back at the factory and noticed that there didn't seem to be much going on. Faded paint made the buildings look tired and no lights shined from the dirty, broken windows. Pieces of shattered glass lay scattered over the sidewalk.

The man finished his oiling, replaced the back panel and tightened the screws back into place. With a final wipe of his rag over the polished surface of the box, he bounced out of the cart and went to check the harness. Jonathan jumped down and turned to the man repeating, "I said they must have been very happy -- I mean to get all that money and security. And grateful, too. Did they give you a medal or a banquet to celebrate?"

"Nothing of the sort," said Dr. Tanstaafl curtly. "I nearly got tarred and feathered. They almost destroyed my delicate Dream Machine last night with rocks, bricks, and just about anything else they could throw. You see, their factory closed yesterday and the workers' blamed me."

"Why'd the factory close?"

"It seems the factory couldn't earn enough to pay the workers' raises and benefits. Now they've got to retool and try making something else."

"But, then," said Jonathan, "that means the dreams didn't come true after all. If the factory closed, then nobody gets paid. And nobody gets security, either. Nobody gets anything. Why, you're just a swindler. You said that the Dream Machine ..."

"Hold on there, chap. The dreams came true. What I said was," stressed the man slowly, "that you never know just who will get the dream when you wish for something. It so happens that every time an old factory closes here on the isle of Corrumpo, that very dream comes true across the waters on the Isle of Nie. A new factory recently opened there, just a week's sail from here. Plenty of new jobs and security over there. As for me, well, I collect my money from the machine no matter what happens."

Jonathan thought hard about the news of Nie, realizing that there was another island, one more prosperous than this one. "Where's this Isle of Nie?" he asked.

"Far east over the horizon. The people of Nie have a factory just like this. When factory costs rose here, the factories over there got a lot more orders. They understand that having more customers is the best way of getting more of everything -- pay and security. The workers on Corrumpo can't just demand more from the customers. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, ya know. Everything has a cost."

Dr. Tanstaafl chuckled as he tied the machine down with straps. He paid Jonathan for his help then climbed onto the driver's seat and shook out the reins. Jonathan looked at the money he had been given and suddenly worried that it was soon going to be worth less. It was the same legal tender the couple had shown him in front of the Official Bureau of Money Creation. "Hey, Dr. Tanstaafl, wait."

"Yeah?"

"Could you pay me with some other kind of money? I mean, something that's not gonna lose value?"

"It's legal tender, pal. Ya gotta take it. Do you think I'd use this stuff if I had a choice? Just spend it quickly." The man yelled at his horse and he was off.