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The Boy Who Cried Sheep

Once upon a time (and a very good time it was), there was a very optimistic young shepherd who was supposed to look after the village sheep. Everyone liked him because he was so positive, except for some silly curmudgeonly old farts who kept saying, \”What about the wolves?\”
\”Wolves?\” said the young shepherd, \”What wolves? Look, this is a no-brainer, all right? These sheep are all going to give birth to triplets in the spring, right, including the rams, and that makes all the sheep worth a gold piece each.\”
He was a kind young shepherd too. When some villagers couldn\’t afford to buy a whole sheep, he sold little pieces of paper allowing them to own a leg or a tail or even an ear. It was great. Everybody felt very rich.
Then there were a few odd incidents; a couple of sheep had suddenly disappeared. The sheep dogs couldn\’t explain it, though they seemed unusually uninterested in food the day after the disappearances. They denied that any such thing as a wolf had been seen, despite a few bits of grey fur stuck in the brambles. The smartest sheepdog explained that wolves were actually just legends and the probability of such things existing, given the size of the mountains and the rarity of sightings was effectively nil, and therefore they didn\’t exist.
But still, people were a little nervous. So to help everybody, the young shepherd started selling a new kind of paper. This was a Collateralised Sheep Obligation: instead of buying an actual leg of an actual sheep, investors could buy a notional bone from the averaged bone-yield of the entire herd, should any (mythological) wolves attack them. Once they realised that holding a bit of average sheep was much safer than owning an actual one, the villagers loved this idea and they all invested heavily, even though they had to borrow from each other to do it.
So the price of CSOs soared to such heights that some villagers started pawning their chairs and tables to invest in them and then borrowing against their holdings of CSOs.
\”What if the wolves come back?\” asked the curmudgeonly old farts in the pub.
\”Wolves?\” said the sheepdogs. \”Those silly old stories. In our modern system of scientific shepherding there will be no more wolf attacks ever.\” And off they went to have dinner with some friends of theirs who were quite like them but greyer.
So the villagers carried on buying CSOs. Often they borrowed against the ones they\’d bought by borrowing against the ones they already had.
Just a few curmudgeonly old farts (or COFs) still sat tutting in the back of the pub.
\”I saw something grey lurking about by the sheep pen,\” said the old man, \”I\’m absolutely certain of it.\”
\”No, you didn\’t,\” said the young shepherd quickly. He kept an eye on the COFs because of the bad effect they had on villager morale. As cover he bought another round of drinks. \”Look, it was a rabbit, right? The sheepdogs say so. In fact they\’ve just rated the whole herd AAIAAA+++ on contravulpine protection levels – you can buy a certificate to prove it.\”
Some of the drinkers bought the bits of paper he was waving and some didn\’t.
\”What about the big wolf attack we had last year?\” asked the worst COF of the lot. In fact the young shepherd privately thought of him as a COB (curmudgeonly old bastard, obviously). \”When the whole herd nearly got wiped out? And nobody would lend anything to each other and we all nearly starved to death? What about that?\”
\”No, no, gramps,\” said the young shepherd, \”That was a once in a generation attack of rabies in the rabbit population which was basically just a correction that can\’t happen again.\”
\”Yes but what if the wolves…\”
\”All right, rabbits, rabid rabbits if you insist, young fellermelad, what if the rabbits do it again? Eh?\”
The young shepherd lured the COB into a corner with a pint of cider. \”Listen gramps,\” he said quietly, \”Let\’s say, just for argument\’s sake, that the impossible happens and the rabbits – not wolves, which are contrary to all our scientific ovine-aggregative modelling – let\’s say that the rabbits accidentally bump a few sheep so they die of heart attacks…\”
\”What\’ll happen to all of us, eh? We own them sheep?\”
\”No, no, the risk is already factored into the price of your CSO squareds, all right? So anyway, if the worst does happen and the herd looks like it\’s…er… populationally challenged, what I\’ll do is…\” The young shepherd looked even shiftier than normal and dropped his voice to a whisper, \”What I\’ll do is I\’ll go and ask the King for more sheep, OK? And he\’s got to give them to me because… well, just because. OK? Got that?\”
\”So what\’s in it for him?\”
\”He\’s the King. And he can\’t let the herds go down or it looks bad for him.\”
\”So like last year he\’ll give us more sheep, only some of them will be a bit… goatish.\”
\”Er… no, they\’ll be good sheep.\”
\”Where\’s he getting them from then?\”
\”The royal herd, OK? And he can get more from the other royals, OK, because they\’re all friends. All right?\”
The COB lowered his voice even more. \”What happens,\” he asked, \”when they all run out of sheep because the wolves… sorry, rabbits… have et all the sheep?\”
The young shepherd just shook his head and laughed. \”Sorry, gramps,\” he said, \”You just don\’t understand modern shepherding, do you?\”
Gramps nodded, drank all the cider the young shepherd had bought him and went off and planted an allotment. Which he fortified.


  1. Koko says:

    Utterly BRILLIANT piece! I am sending it to all my friends, those of a financial bent and others who simply appreciate good satire!

    You have a new fan. I luckily stumbled upon your work via an Amazon thread. I look forward to future blogs and am hurrying off to Amazon to begin buying your books!

    1. Patricia says:

      Hi – thanks so much for your comment. I’m afraid I only just discovered it because I’m fairly technologically challenged. Well, very techo-challenged actually. PS Finance is hilarious, isn’t it? No really. You couldn’t make it up if it hadn’t happened.

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