From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.
IN HONOR OF the fifth anniversary of his celebrated Magazine on the World-Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting some favorite articles and advertisements from the past five years. This particular little story, rather sneakily, has become the most popular article Dr. Boli has ever published, largely by popping up in search engines when people are searching for another similar story and (apparently) failing to find it.
ONCE THERE WAS a little Dutch boy who discovered a leak in the dike.
What should he do? From a single leak, a terrible breach might grow. The whole country could be flooded, and everyone he knew would drown.
So he did the only thing he could think of. He stuck his finger in the dike, and the leak stopped.
Of course, now he was stuck. He couldn’t move, because as soon as he did, the leak would start again.
So he stood there for quite some time. He was rather tired, and his finger felt a bit numb from the effort of holding back the North Sea, but he knew he was doing his duty.
At last the Burgomaster happened to pass by.
“Young man,” he said with a certain amount of sternness, “why are you poking your finger in the dike?”
“I am stopping a leak,” the boy explained. “I saw the dike leaking, so I stuck my finger in the hole.”
“Heroic boy!” the Burgomaster exclaimed. “You shall be rewarded! Meanwhile, keep your finger there while I call the Burghers together.”
So the Burgomaster called a meeting of the Burghers, and they agreed that the boy had heroically saved Holland.
“And now,” the Burgomaster asked, “what shall we do about the leak?”
“It seems to me,” one of the Burghers replied, “that private enterprise has already found an admirable solution to the problem. The boy has stuck his finger in the dike, and the leak has stopped. You might describe it as voluntary self-regulation. There is no need for expensive government action.”
So the Burghers voted to award the boy a Certificate of Good Citizenship, which the Burgomaster was delighted to be able to present to him the next day.
“Thank you,” the boy said politely, “but I still have my finger in this dike.”
“And we appreciate that,” the Burgomaster replied. “I may confidently speak for the whole Council of Burghers in saying that your heroic action is universally admired.”
So the boy stood there with his finger in the dike for a few more days.
It was not long, however, before another leak sprang in the dike, a little bit farther down the way.
“What shall we do?” the Burgomaster asked the Burghers. “There is another leak.”
“As private enterprise has so admirably solved the previous problem,” one of the Burghers responded, “the solution to this new leak is obvious. We need only persuade another heroic boy to stick his finger in it.”
So they went into the local school and found another boy who, after much persuasion, was willing to stick his finger in the dike.
It was, however, only a few days later that two more leaks appeared. This time it was much harder to persuade boys to stick their fingers in the holes; and when, a week later, half a dozen more leaks appeared, no volunteers were to be found.
“What shall we do?” the Burgomaster asked the Council. “Private enterprise seems no longer to be adequate. We may have to repair the dike itself this time.”
“Nonsense,” said one of the Burghers. “The solution that worked before will work again. We must simply force private enterprise into action.”
So the Council visited the school and dragged a number of young boys by the ears to the dike, where they were forced to plug the leaks with their fingers.
But the dike, which was old and poorly maintained, continued to spring new leaks here and there, so that it was all the Burghers could do to find more boys to plug up the leaks with their fingers. At last the Burghers compelled every little boy in the Low Countries to stick his finger in a hole. All economic activity came to a halt, as it is well known that young boys are the leading consumers of skates and cheese, on which the economy of Holland depended at that time.
“What shall we do?” the Burgomaster asked the Council. “We have run out of heroic little boys. At this rate, we may have to plug the leaks with our own fingers.”
“That would be moderately inconvenient,” one of the Burghers remarked.
So the Council voted to remove the North Sea by digging a new seabed somewhere in Germany; and they voted themselves a number of solid gold spades, befitting their dignity, for the purpose. And if you go to suburban Wilhelmshaven right now, and look into the field to your right as you drive westward on the Friedenstrasse, you will see a number of Dutch burghers very busy with their spades, trying to dig a new bed for the North Sea. It is lucky for them that the people of Wilhelmshaven have mistaken the burghers for a party of archaeologists looking for ancient Saxon remains, which has allowed them to continue the work uninterrupted.