The Burgermeister and the Innkeeper

Once upon a time in ancient kingdom there was a small town far removed from the intrigues of the palace and it’s court.  As was customary for the times the town was bestowed as the personal fiefdom to the aspirant with the greatest tribute and most sycophantic fealty. By patronage this individual was installed as the Burgermeister to rule the town as the agent of the King. At least that was the plan.

Now removed as it was, the town was situated in a place that served as a crossroads between more populous centers.  Only the commerce that was deemed acceptable to the King was permitted. The transport of goods or business conducted between distant towns might only be permitted upon the King’s roads. This was done deliberately, of course, to further enrich the King and, to a lesser degree, the Burgermeister as well. As with all such schemes the parade of leeches soon followed.

Among these was an innkeeper who seized upon this golden opportunity by being the first to capture the ear of the newly appointed Burgermeister. The Burgermeister was a bit of a dull blade, but he was greedy and he was vain, two qualities that the cunning innkeeper knew exactly how to play.  By promising a generous share of the spoils the innkeeper manipulated the Burgermeister into proclaiming that the innkeeper’s establishment was to be the only approved guest house and tavern in the village. Initially there was little notice given to this arrangement as it was generally unknown to the village residents.  Day to day life in the village proceeded apace.

As time went on, however, traffic and commerce passing through the village increased. The stop became well known upon the route and word of mouth passed that brought still more through the doors of the innkeeper’s establishment. With a captive market there was little for the innkeeper to do but rake in the profits, a goodly portion of which also found their way into the coffers of the Burgermeister. With growing demand the innkeeper had need of more hands to assist in the conduct of business and in this fashion some of the wealth created from the enterprise came into the hands of the villagers as well.

All of the right ingredients were present at that place and time for opportunities to grow and create more wealth, not just for the innkeeper and the Burgermeister, but for the village as a whole. When no further employment became available at the inn and no further increase in capacity was ventured to meet the growing demand, it was only natural that some villagers grew more enterprising on their own. When it was learned that there were those operating outside of the official sanction the innkeeper demanded that the Burgermeister suppress these and apply penalties. Seeing that currency was being exchanged absent the proper tribute being rendered to him, the request was met with little need of further persuasion.

It was thus the village became locked within a paradigm of greed and hubris. There were no greater opportunities or share of wealth afforded to the remaining villagers. This in turn led to more resorting to crime, or simply moving away to ply their trades or wares in the distant cities. With time the population of the village was reduced only to those who profited from the arrangement and those who were enslaved to it’s service. Them and the luckless travelers who were still obliged to travel the road and, if stopping for food or rest, patronize the inn.

The Burgermeister and the innkeeper had fashioned a cozy little fiefdom for themselves and could not countenance ceding one ounce of the privilege.  Their myopic attention to their own good fortunes blinded them to the realities which were occurring elsewhere in the Kingdom. Populations and commerce were growing. The King and his court (and later their hereditary successors) recognized that to fully realize their rightful share of this burgeoning economy it was necessary to expand with more roads, more franchises granted to manage so that no activity might escape their control. Granting more franchises, while retaining their exclusive character, did not serve to foster competition which accrued in any way as a benefit to the consumers. The only competition spurred under the regime was between those franchises granted: this primarily benefiting the grantor.

Once these new franchises and roads were known travelers were only too happy to avoid the village altogether. The innkeeper had grown complacent under their arrangement, always expecting that the Burgermeister was responsible for insuring their ongoing success. The Burgermeister had grown rather fattened under their arrangement, always expecting that his leisure should be fueled by tribute from the innkeeper. When no travelers remained the two were left to wrestle in the mud in the middle of the street while villagers watched, trying to decide which of them to stone to death first.