By Tim Hardy
Once upon a time, a mighty river ran between two kingdoms that was difficult and frightening to cross.
One day a magician created a spell and gave it away to everyone for free.
When you cast the spell, two trees appeared, one on each side of the river and anyone needing to cross needed only to pluck a leaf from one to appear standing next to the other on the far bank.
People who believed in magic became very excited by the potential of this new spell. They thought it would change relations between the kingdoms forever. Then excitement gave way to greed. They began to hoard leaves from the first trees the magician’s spell had created. They became obsessed with these leaves, paying vast sums and conspiring to steal them from one another, all the while justifying themselves with the thought that eventually the tree would run out of leaves and no one would be able to cross the river using this pair of trees without having a leaf.
This was a different kind of spell: mass delusion. And anyone who tried to point it out was mocked for not understanding leaves.
Then slowly, one by one, they began to understand that the leaves from the original trees were not the thing that was going to change the world: it was the original spell that was free and could be owned by nobody.
And one by one they began to sell their leaves, trying not to dissuade the others, hoping there were enough deluded buyers remaining. A quiet terror grew among the investors whose eyes were now open but who would scare the market if they sold all their leaves at once. Then one day, the number of sellers who had realised their mistake outweighed the number of buyers who were still enchanted with dreams of unimagined wealth for nothing and a panic spread throughout the marketplace.
And the latest in a long run of financial follies was over but the original spell remained.