The Tame Tigers of Thailand
Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright, in the forests of the night, what immortal hand or eye
could frame thy fearful symmetry? --William Blake
The tiger is at once and everywhere a symbol of fear, of raw power, and death. He is a creature who roams with majesty, able to fell water buffalo six times his own size and weight. He is able to crush the neck and skull of a human in just a few seconds with his mighty teeth and jaws. In India he is the most feared of all those who dwell in the animal kingdom.
But in the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, 100 miles north of Bangkok, there is a major tourist attraction especially set up for those who seek the thrill of walking with these stunning beasts of nature. They do so without fear. How is that possible?
The tigers of Kanchanaburi have never tasted blood. From birth they are fed only cooked meat, so they are tame and never attack or kill anyone or anything. They are like warriors who have never seen war, or eunuchs that guard the king’s harem. They are little more than very large house cats. And while this is an amazing sight for tourists, it reflects an anomaly with nature. But this much is clear: Their condition is a consequence, not a cause.
The Thais have made the tiger their dependent. But do they blame the tiger for his timidity? No.
We have a parallel condition in the Western world, more particularly, in the United States. By holding free markets as sacred, and by making government regulation of them the enemy, we have created our own subset of dependents. This group goes by many different names—unemployed, welfare recipients, the poor, those in poverty, and, too often, by such ugly terms as lazy, welfare cheats, and worthless. But in contrast with the Thais, we created their condition while, simultaneously, we blame them for it.
Our economy is the biggest in the world, able to support and sustain our entire population in relative comfort. Our GDP totals $15 trillion, our income pool totals $12.75 trillion, and our workforce totals 150 million. Simple math shows that we have $85,000 of income per person. That is an average, but anyone who uses it needs a refresher course in statistics. The reason is because the distribution of our income is severely skewed in favor of those at the top. Indeed, the bottom one-half of our workforce receives just 8 percent of the total, or $15,292 per year for each worker. At the high end, incomes reach well into the billions of dollars each.
Our economic anomaly is also a consequence, not a cause. We could change it. But we are conditioned to watching those 75 million workers and their families (157 million in all) living in squalor while we call them names. After all, we would not know how well off we are if we did not have them around to watch, and to complain about, and to curse. We also love to blame them for the byproducts of poverty: high crime rates, excessive drug usage, prostitution, illiteracy, school dropout rates, mental health issues, obesity, murder, teen pregnancies, lower life expectancies, anger, frustration, and social immobility. It’s all their fault. All they need to do is go to work.
I am not good at concealing morals as in fables and parables. So I will ask this simple question: How do you untame a tiger? The short answer is: You feed him some bloody meat. Or, stop feeding him mush. But the long term solution is you let human intelligence, rather than greed, set limits in the market place. Learning to share equitably the fruits of all our labors can be the cause of our future prosperity.