"Well, look who's here!" said the ragweed seedling to the cherry tree seedling. Springtime had come to the newly-cleared vacant lot. "Ya wanna race? I bet I can grow faster than you!"
     "So sorry, no," said the cherry seedling.
     In the rain and sunshine of the next month, Ragweed grew six feet tall, while Cherry grew only six inches.
     "How's the weather down there?" taunted Ragweed.
     "Cool, moist, and shady, thank you," answered Cherry.
     "Shady! You mean, dark! My leaves are big and numerous, and there is not much light left for you. Look at us ragweeds, the best plants in the field." The lot was deep in ragweeds. "We have the biggest GNP of any plant species, and our economy is the healthiest in the field. Look at you -- you've had just as much time as I have. Where is your economic growth?"
     "I am growing slowly, but carefully, and am preparing for the future. And I could grow faster if you didn't keep all the sunlight for yourself."
     "Why shouldn't I keep it all for myself?" glowered Ragweed. "You deserve to go bankrupt. This is free enterprise, little tree: whoever can consume the raw materials of the earth fastest deserves his success!"
     "But Mr. Ragweed, you are squandering the sunlight, the water, and the soil in your pursuit of fast economic growth."
     "So what? It's free, isn't it?" He popped open yet another new leaf. "And if we ragweeds don't use up the resources, someone else will! I couldn't grow this fast if I worried about leaving something for future generations."
     "It is true, as you say, Mr. Ragweed, that the resources are there for the taking. But not for the earning. You are growing big not because of your skill but because the ground is fertile."
     As summer drew to a close, Ragweed dusted the earth with pollen from spikes high in the air. As autumn advanced, he produced hard brown nutlike seeds, and its leaves turned brown. Cherry began to yellow -- but without producing any seeds.
     Again Ragweed boasted. "Where are your seeds, little tree? You talk about the future, yet you produce no seeds."
     "But you are dying, Mr. Ragweed! In a couple of weeks you will be only a dry stalk. You have wasted your resources and now you must die."
     "But my seeds will germinate next spring. I have taught my sons to be good consumers like me. They will show you no more mercy than I have. Goodbye!"
     The next spring Cherry unfurled her leaves as she soaked up water with the deep roots she had grown the previous year. The second generation of ragweeds had to start from seeds. By midsummer, however, they had caught up with Cherry.
     "Our Dad told us about you and how you have no business sense," said Ragweed's sons.
     "Your father didn't leave you much," said Cherry. "His philosophy was, Eat the sunshine, drink the rain, for tomorrow I die. Spend it now, or somebody else will. He left many sons, all poor."
     "Hey, we're still doing as well as you!" retorted Ragweed's sons. And sure enough, Ragweed's sons overtopped Cherry and preached to her about free enterprise.
     The third year Cherry leafed out and cast shade on Ragweed's grandsons. Cherry could have asked, "How's the weather down there?" but instead she mourned the fate of the Ragweed Dynasty and the waste of resources that had come to nothing.
     Ragweed's grandsons looked up in hatred. "Why are you shading us? Give us a fair chance too! Don't you have any respect for the principles of free enterprise?"
     Cherry quivered her branches in amazement. "Now that you are losing the game, you decide you don't like free enterprise so much after all! The entrepreneur now wants a handout. You see, all along, I was the true practitioner of free enterprise. When I started growing, I was planning to stay here for many years. If I wasted the resources, or polluted the land, I could not do this. I had to be efficient, even if it meant slower economic growth. What this land needed," Cherry looked around, "was a forest. Ragweeds can grow tall, but a forest grows taller, and makes better use of the sunlight, holds water in the soil, and keeps the soil from blowing away. I made my business decisions by counting the costs of depleting the raw materials as one of my business expenses. If I harmed the world for future generations, this is one of the things I have to pay for. I decided that what was good for the health of the land was good for me. This decision meant that I was smaller than your grandfather -- but not smaller than you! And now I am wealthy, someday to be taller than any ragweed ever dreamed. But I have not grown at the expense of the other plants of the field. The violets will live just fine in my shade; it is only the greedy ragweeds that cannot grow there. Your grandfather planned ten minutes ahead; I planned ten years ahead. So sorry."
     Ragweed's grandsons did not live through the summer.

copyright 2008 Stanley A. Rice

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