Remember Albania: A Fairy Tale

Remember Albania: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a very poor country, tucked away on the Adriatic Sea, called Albania. Many people assumed it was poor because it had been a hard-core communist country, depending on government to regulate corruption and economic affairs. But in fact the benefits of capitalism, individualism, and entrepreneurial skills had penetrated its whole way of life, though not so deeply as they had its ex-communist neighbors.

As a result, there arose in the ranks of new entrepreneurs a man who sold people on the idea that they could make money the easy way, not by working for it but by putting their money to work—what little they had. They should invest it, he said, in a big profit-making scheme of his own invention. The people liked the word “profit,” they’d heard it was a good thing. So they invested, slowly at first, since it was their first experience with this kind of enterprise. But as they saw others making profits without putting in a day’s labor, they plunged en masse toward the promised rewards of his enterprise.

Suddenly, however, a panic swept the nation. The enterprise had collapsed without warning, taking their invested savings with it. Nobody knew what happened to the money. “Who has it? We want it back,” they hollered. But the money was gone. “It’s the government’s fault,” they decided. “It should have warned us. Now it’s got to get our profits back for us.” But the former communists who sat in the state house replied, “We have a new regime here. Things have changed, and we are no longer your daddies. So take care of yourselves.” “Caveat emptor,” they kept shouting at their angry and bewildered pursuers. When this didn’t make them shut up, they switched to a magical slogan they’d seen but weren’t sure how to pronounce: “Laissez-faire!” they shouted. The people stared blankly for a moment, then continued to shout back.

Well, the people, mad as hell, took action. Lacking individualism, they did not take responsibility for their losses and heave their guilty bodies off bridges. Instead, they rose up and with one voice denounced the government, demanded a new one, and told their leaders to get out of town. They rioted, not here and there, but everywhere. Any place you looked, you saw rioting Albanians. For weeks they marched, shouted slogans, struck the nation’s plants, closed businesses, and did whatever came to mind to break this regime. But alas, their foe had the force of arms and the backing of allies in what people said was the free world. So the regime stood, and the people fell. The free-world allies held a moment of prayer, and returned to their usual business.

History can note, however—though it won’t—that the people of Albania became the only ones in the modern world to wage a near-revolution against caveat emptor and laissez-faire, even though they had no idea what they meant. Think about it.


tote | University of California Press Lima