Where did all the money go?


While the wealthy, privileged and middle classes worry about losses in the stock market, the world's underclasses worry about food costs and shortages.


John Crusoe Robinson IV, DVM, struggled with the left oar. The oarlock was partially broken and his left hand was now blistered from the imbalance of effort required to keep the rowboat tracking toward the island. In the boat was a cooler containing 22 injections of killed rabies vaccine usable for most mammals — even humans in a pinch.

John glanced behind him at the palm trees lining the beach. He looked frantically across the main body of the island while attempting to land on an advantageous section of the beach.

His journey was coming to an end, and he could see someone waiting in the surf.

The boat seesawed and finally washed ashore, much to his relief.

The figure on the beach rushed over.

"Hey, fella, you arrived just in time."

"Who are you?" demanded John.

"My name is I.M. Inflation. I've been waiting for you all my life. I also know why you've come here."

"I'm looking for Jughead. He wrote me about all the dogs and monkeys," John said.

"Well, he is here but I am the one who needs to talk with you first. I realize you have come to vaccinate the island dogs and monkeys for rabies, and all the islanders are waiting for you. But first you must understand that island law allows a person to own only one monkey or one dog as a pet. I am here to talk about finances."

"Great. Who is paying for the shots?"

"Well, that's just it. There is a grand total of $200 on the island. As you see, no one here has any real need for money. Every year or so, some American dollars wash up ashore and we divide them among everyone. This year $200 washed up."

"How many people live here?" asked John.


"That means we will charge $10 for each vaccination. Seeing that you and your fellow islanders have no other use for the money, I think that is a fair exchange."

The islanders proceeded to bring their one dog or their one monkey to Dr. Robinson, and he charged them $10 per animal.

I.M. Inflation finally came over to the vaccination table and whispered to Dr. Robinson.

"Jughead is the last man on the island. He is very rich, and has six pets. You have used up 19 vaccines. You allotted only one per person, and he has six animals.

"I have two extra vaccines, and thus can vaccinate only three of his animals."

"Doctor, your vaccine is now a scarce commodity, so you can raise your price," said Inflation.

"You are right; he must pay my price. I will charge him $12 per vaccine and he will have to choose which pets he wants to protect."

And so Dr. Robinson vaccinated three more animals, returning to the mainland with more than $200.

June 2000

Dollar signs danced in Crusoe's head as he rowed to the island a year later.

A different person was there in the surf to greet him — the largest islander he had seen.

"Where is I.M. Inflation?" inquired Crusoe Robinson.

"I will tell you later. I am new to the island, and I am I.M.'s half brother by a different father. My name is Brutal Deflation."

"I am here to greet you and help you set up for this year's clinic."

Where are we heading?

John pushed quickly onto shore, gleefully unloading his entire operation next to the beach and mixing vaccines at a frantic pace. He was using modified live vaccine this year because he got a very good price.

Brutal watched.

John looked up.

"I brought lots of extra vaccine this year in hopes that all the island dogs and monkeys will be vaccinated," offered the doctor hopefully.

"That remains to be seen. Things are quite different this year."

"How so?"

"We have many dogs and monkeys, but only $50 remains on the island," lamented Brutal.

"How can that be? I.M. Inflation told me that at least $200 washes up every year."

"Yes, but that is what I need to tell you. I.M. took off with $200 a week ago and swam to Cuba. We haven't heard from him since."

"But you still have $50?"

"Another $50 washed up last week."

"Well that's it, then. We will vaccinate as many dogs and monkeys as we can for that $50."

"Well, not exactly," said Brutal. "Our rich friend Jughead found the money and put most of it under his mattress. He gave out $20 for the rest of the islanders to vaccinate their pets."

"Why? That's crazy!"

"He says he is the bank and wants to save for our rainy days. But we need no money, and it rains every day, so that does us no good."

John was sputtering now. "Well, it does your pets no good, either. Jughead is hoarding the money. I cannot come to your island for such a pittance. Anyway, I have 50 vaccines, and there are 19 remaining islanders — 20 if we count you. If I charge $5 per vaccine this year maybe I can survive."

"Where did you attend grade school, Dr. Robinson? There is only $20 available. You can only charge a maximum of $1 per vaccine if everyone shows up."

"But that is way below cost. I need my toys like everybody else."

"We have no toys here — only pets and people and $20," sniffed Brutal Deflation.

Suddenly a few of the islanders appeared from the depths of the palms, along with a small cadre of dogs and monkeys.

"Where are all the dogs and monkeys from last year?" John asked.

"I thought this might happen," said Brutal.

"Some of the islanders are keeping their dollar because they think they might need it someday. Or they might give it to Jughead for safekeeping."

"That makes no sense. Jughead will take their money and give them no interest."

"There is an island insanity this year," replied Brutal.

A small islander then appeared with a monkey. "How much?"

"Five dollars," JC squeaked.

"I have one dollar. Do you have change?"

"What change are you talking about?"

"I need to keep some money this year. Everyone is in a panic."

And so it went. John left the island with $5 and a bunch of spoiled vaccinations.


» I.M. Inflation was found dead in a river of credit-card debt.

» Brutal Deflation left the island, and is now working as the press secretary for Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke.

» Jughead's mattress was attacked and looted in the "island panic of 2001."

Later he was excommunicated and sent to mainland North America to serve time working for Ralph Nader.

» J. Crusoe Robinson IV, DVM, retired (closed his practice) and is running for president. He is a single-issue candidate hoping for a federal bailout of the entire veterinary profession.

Dr. Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois. He owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. Dr. Lane completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles. He also offers a broad range of consulting services. Dr. Lane can be reached at david.lane@mchsi.com.

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