Left Blog

Today’s left ideology made here.

Parable of the water tank (1897)

As if our whole society was a creature of habit, it has repeated good times and catastrophes over and again. Like, addicted.

Free markets always deliver boom-bust cycles which are devastating on the down side. As recently as 2000 we crested into an unprecedented economic boom, and now eight years later, we have a frightening collapse.

Each century our nation aggrandizes on Social Darwinist principles, with rabid competition, complete with precipitous  inequalities, later to collapse economically.  We don’t learn from the previous crashes, so the cycle doesn’t change.

In 1897,  somebody got the insight there’s also a connection between the rich and the poor in America that never changes.

He was Edward Bellamy and they called him nasty names for publishing his  book  ‘Equality.’ It contains the following story, which is written in mock Biblical language. In style, it is a remarkable parody. Then, as now, criticizing capitalism or charity earns you energetic hostilities, but the writing was bold because in that era (the Gilded Age) unions were illegal, and agitating could get you arrested.   

This story was printed on pieces of paper and widely circulated as a separate pamphlet. Originally penned in 1897, it is now a historical document:



 The Parable of the Water Tank

by Edward Bellamy

“There was a certain very dry land, the people thereof were in sore need of water. And they did nothing but seek after water from morning until night, and many perished because they could not find it.

Howbeit, there were certain men in that land who were more crafty and diligent than the rest, and these had gathered stores of water where other could find none, and these men were called capitalists.  And it came to pass that the people of the land came unto the capitalists and prayed them that they would give them of the water they had gathered that they might drink, for their need was sore.  But the capitalists answered them and said:

“Go to, ye silly people! Why should we give you of the water we have gathered, for then should we become as ye are, and perish with you.  But behold what we will do unto you.  Be ye our servants, and ye shall have water.”

And the people said, “Only give us to drink, and we shall be your servants, we and our children. ” And it was so.


Wages and prices

Now, the capitalists were men of understanding, and wise in their generation.  They ordered the people who were their servants in bands,  with captains and officers, and some they put at the springs to dip, and others did they make to carry the water, and other did they cause to seek for new springs. And all the water was brought together in one place, and there did the capitalists make a great tank for to hold it, and the tank was called the Market, for it was there that the people, even the servants of the capitalists, came to get water.  And the capitalists said unto the people:

“For every bucket of water they ye bring us, that we may pour it into the tank, which is the Market, behold, we will give you a penny; but for every bucket that we shall draw forth to give unto you that ye may drink of it, ye and your wives and your children, ye shall give us two pennies, and the difference shall be our profit, seeing that if it was not for this profit we would not do this thing for you, but ye should all perish.”

And it was good in the people’s eyes,  for they were dull of understanding, and they diligently brought water unto the tank for many days, and for every bucket which they did bring, the the capitalists gave them every man a penny; but for every bucket the capitalists drew forth from the tank to give again to the people,  behold,  the people rendered to the capitalists two pennies.

And after many days the water tank,  which was the Market, overflowed at the top, seeing that for every bucket the people poured in they received only so much as would buy again half-a-bucket. and because of the excess that was left to every bucket, did the tank overflow,  for the people were many, but the capitalists were few,  and could drink no more than others. Therefore did the tank overflow.

And when the capitalists saw that the water overflowed,  they did say to the people  “See ye not the tank, which is the Market, doth overflow?  Sit ye down, therefore, and be patient, for ye shall bring us no more water till the tank be empty.” 



But when the people no more received the pennies of the capitalists for the water they bought,  they could buy no more water from the capitalists,  having naught wherewhich to buy. And when the capitalists saw that they had no more profit because no man bought water of them, they were troubled.  And they sent forth men into the highways, the byways, and the hedges, crying “If any thirst let him come to the tank and water of us,  for it doth overflow.” For they said among themselves “Behold, the times are dull; we must advertise.”

But the people answered saying  “How can we buy unless ye hire us, for how else shall we have wherewithall to buy?  Hire ye us, therefore, as before, and we will gladly buy water,  for we thirst, and ye will have no need to advertise.”

But the capitalists said to the people “Shall we hire you to bring water when the tank, which is the Market, doth already overflow?  Buy ye, therefore, first water, and when the tank is empty through your buying, we will hire you again.”

And so it was because the capitalists hired them no more to bring water that the people could not buy the water they had brought already,  and because the people could not buy the water they had brought already, the capitalists no more hired them to bring water.

And the saying went abroad, “It is a crisis.”

And the thirst of the people was great, for it was not now as it had been in the days of their fathers, when the land was open before them for everyone to seek water for himself,  seeing that the capitalists had taken all the springs, and the wells, and water-wheels, and the vessels, and the buckets,so that no man might come by water save from the tanks, which was the Market. And the people murmured against the capitalists and said: “Behold, the tank runneth over, and we die of thirst.  Give us, therefore, of the water, that we perish not.”

But the capitalists answered, “Not so. the water is ours.  Ye shall not drink thereof unless ye buy it of us with pennies.”  And they confirmed it with an oath, saying, after their manner,  “Business is business.”

But the capitalists were disquieted that people bought no more water, whereby they had no more profits,  and they spake to one another saying,  “It seemeth that our profits have stopped our profits, and by reason of the profits we have made we can make no more profits. How is it that our profits are become unprofitable to us, and our gains do make us poor?  Let us therefore send for the soothsayers, that they may interpret this thing to us.” And they sent for them.

Now the soothsaysers were men learned in dark sayings,  who joined themselves to the capitalists by reason of the water of the capitalists, that they might have thereof and live, they and their children.  And they spake for the capitalists unto the people, and did their embassies for them, seeing that the capitalists were not a folk quick of understanding, neither ready of speech.

And the capitalists demanded of the soothsayers that they should interpret this thing unto them, wherefore it was that the people bought no more water of them, although the tank was full. And certain of the soothsayers answered and said, “It is by reason of overproduction.” And some said, “It is a glut.”  But the signification of the two words is the same.  And others said, “Nay, but this things is by reason of the spots on the sun.”  And yet others answered, saying, “It is neither by reason of glut, nor yet spots on the sun, that the evil hath come to pass, but because of lack of confidence.”




And while the soothsaysers contended among themselves according to their manner, the men of profit did slumber and sleep, and when they awoke they said to the soothsayers, “It is enough. You have spoken comfortably to us. Now go forth and speak comfortably to the people, so that they be at rest and leave us also in peace.”

 But the soothsayers, even the men of the dismal science, – for so they were named of some – were loath to go forth to the people lest they should be stoned,  for the people loved them not. And they said to the capitalists:

 “Masters it is a mystery of our craft that if men be full and thirst not, but be at rest, then shall they find comfort in our speech, even as ye. Yet  if they thirst and be empty,  find they not comfort therein, but rather  mock at us,  for it seemeth that unless a man be full,  our wisdom appeareth unto him but emptiness.” But the capitalists said, “Go ye forth. Are ye not our men to do our embassies?”


Starvation because of abundance


And the soothsayers went forth to the people and expounded to them the mysteries of overproduction, and how it was that they needs must perish of thirst because there was overmuch water, and there could not be enough because there was too much.  And likewise spoke they to the people concerning the sun-spots, and also wherefore it was that these things ha come upon then by reason of lack of confidence.  And it was even as the soothsayers said, for to the people their wisdom seemed emptiness. And the people reviled them saying, “Go up, ye bald heads! Will ye mock us?  Doth plenty breed famine? Doth nothing come out of much?” And they took up stones to stone them.


And when the capitalists saw that the people still murmured, and would not give ear to the soothsayers, and because they also feared lest they should come upon the tank and take of the water by force, they brought forth to them certain holy men (but they were false priests), who spake unto the people that they should be quiet and trouble not the capitalists because they thirsted. And these holy men, who were false priests, testified to the people that this affliction was sent to them of God for the healing of their souls, and if they should bear it in patience and lust not after the water, neither trouble the capitalists, it would come to pass that after they had given up the ghost they would come to a country where there should be no capitalists, but an abundance of water.  Howbeit, there were certain true prophets of God also, and these had compassion on the people, and would not prophesy for the capitalists, but rather spake constantly against them.




Now, when the capitalists saw that the people still murmured and would not be still, neither for the words of the soothsaysers not of the false priests,  they came forth themselves unto them, and out the ends of their fingers in the water hat overflowed in the tank and wet the tips thereof, and they scattered the drops from the tips of their fingers abroad among the people who thronged the tank, and the name of the drops of water was charity, and they were exceeding bitter.


“The forces”


And when the capitalists saw yet again that neither for the words of the soothsayers, not of the holy men who were false priests,  nor yet for the drops that were called charity, would the people be still, but raged the more,  and crowded upon the tank as if they would take it by force, hen they took council together and sent men privily forth among the people and all who had skill in war, and took them apart and spake craftily with them, saying:

 “Come, now, why cast ye not your lot in with the capitalists? If ye will be their men and serve them against the people, that they break  not in upon the tank, then shall ye have abundance of water, that ye perish not, ye and your children.”


 And the mighty men and they who were skilled in war harkened unto this speech, and suffered themselves to be persuaded, for their thirst constrained them, and they went within unto the capitalists, and became their men, and staves and swords were put into their hands, and they became a defense unto the capitalists, and smote the people when they thronged upon the tank.


Luxury and waste


And after many days the water was low in the tank, for the capitalists did make fountains and fishponds of the water thereof, and did bathe therein, they and their wives and their children, and did waste the water for their pleasure.

 And when the capitalists saw that the tank was empty, they said “The crisis is ended”; and they sent forth and hired the people that they should bring water and fill it again.  And for the water that the people brought to the tank they received for every bucket a penny, but for the water which the capitalists drew forth from the tank to give again to the people they received two pennies, that they might have their profit.  And after a time did the tank again overflow even as before.


The agitators


And now, when many times the filled the tank until it overflowed, and had thirsted until the water therein has been wasted by the capitalists, it came to pass that there arose in the land certain men who were called agitators for that they did stir up the people.  And they spake to the people, saying that they should associate,  and then they would have no need to be servants of the capitalists,  and should thirst no more for water.  And in the eyes of the capitalists were the agitators pestilent fellows, and they would fain have crucified them, but durst not for fear of the people.


Their message


And the words of the agitators which they spake to the people were on this wise:

 “Ye foolish people, how long will ye be deceived by a lie, and believe to a hurt that which is not? For behold, all these things which have been said unto you by the capitalists and the soothsayers are cunningly devised fables. And likewise the holy men, who say that it is the will of God that ye should always be poor and miserable  and athirst, behold, they do blaspheme God and are liars, whom he will bitterly judge, though He forgive all others.  How cometh it that ye may not come by the water in the tank?  Is it not because ye have no money? And why have ye no money?  Is it not because ye receive but one penny for every bucket that ye bring to the tank, which is the Market, but must render two pennies for every bucket ye take out, so that the capitalists  may have their profit? See ye not how by this means the tank must overflow, being filled by that ye lack and made to abound out of your emptiness?  See ye not also that the harder ye toil and the more diligently ye seek and bring the water, the worse and not the better it shall be for you by reason of the profit, and that for ever?


The evil recognized


After this manner spake the agitators for many days unto the people and none heeded them, but it was so that after a time the people harkened.  And they answered and said unto the agitators: 


“Ye say truth. It is because of the capitalists and their profits we may by no means come by the fruits of our labor, so that our labor is in vain,  and the more we toil to fill the tank,  the sooner doth it overflow, and we may receive nothing because there is to much, according to the words of the soothsayers.  But behold, the capitalists are hard men,  and their tender mercies are cruel.  Tell us if you know any way whereby we may deliver ourselves out of our bondage unto them.  But if ye know of no certain way of deliverance,  we beseech you to hold your peace, and let us alone, that we may forget our misery.”

 And the agitators answered and said “We know a way.”

 And the people said, “Deceive us not, for this thing has been from the beginning, and none hath found a way of deliverance till now, though many have sought it carefully with tears. But if ye know a way, speak unto us quickly.”



The remedy


Then the agitators spake unto the people of the way.

 And they said: “Behold, what need have ye at all of these capitalists, that ye should yield them profits upon your labor? What great things do they, wherefore ye render them this tribute?  Lo! It is only because they order ou in bands  and lead you out and in and set you tasks, and afterwards give you a little of the water yourselves have brought and not they.  Now, behold the way out of this bondage!  Do ye for yourselves that which is done by the capitalists – namely the ordering of your labor and the marshalling of your bands, and the dividing of your tasks.  So shall ye have no need of the capitalists, and no more yield to them any profit, but all the fruit of your labor shall ye share as brethren, every one having the same; and so shall the tank never overflow until ever man is full, and would not wag the tongue for more, and afterwards shall ye with the overflow make pleasant fountains and fishponds to delight yourselves withal, even as did the capitalists; but these shall be for the delight of all.


How to apply it


And the people answered: “How shall we go about to do this thing, for it seemeth good to us?” And the agitators answered: “Choose ye discrete men to in and out before you and marshal your bands and order your labor, and these men shall be as capitalists were; but behold they shall not be your masters  as the capitalists are, but your brethren and officers who do your will, and they shall not take any profits, but every many his share like the others, and there may be no more masters and servants among you, but brethren only. And from time to time, as ye see fit, ye shall choose other discreet men in place of the first  to order the labor.”

 And the people harkened, and the thing was very good to them. Likewise seemed it not a hard thing.  And with one voice they cried out, “So let it be as ye have said, for we will do it.”


“The end of all things”


And the capitalists heard the noise of shouting, and what the people said,  and the soothsayers heard it also,  and likewise the false priests and the mighty men of war, who were a defense unto the capitalists; and when they heard they trembled exceedingly, so that their knees smote together,  and they said to one another, “It is the end of us!” 

Howbeit there were certain true priests of the living God who would not prophesy for the capitalists, but had compassion on the people; and when they heard the shouting of the people and what they said, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy,  and gave thanks to god because of the deliverance.

And the people went and did all the things that were told them of the agitators to do. And it came to pass as the agitators had said, even according to all their words.  And there was not more any thirst in that land,  neither any that was a-hungered, nor naked, nor cold, nor in any manner of want; and every man said unto his fellow, “My brother,”  and every woman said to her companion, “My sister,” for so were they with  one another as brethren and sisters  which do dwell together in unity.  And the blessing of God rested upon that land forever.”




Some American citizens are going hungry, according to figures released by the Department of Agriculture [1] because they don’t have enough money to buy food. America is exporting food to foreign countries. America also contains the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the world.

18% of American children live in poverty, but media attention is about giving poverty aid to foreign countries. Here.

1.  Nord, M., Andrtews, M., Carlson, S. Household Food Security in the United States, 2004. United States Department of Agriculture report ERS-ERR-11, October 2005.



















  1. A clever story but a few I find is that he forgets the “inventors” who by their dilligence and being in a capitolist society find ways of increasing the size of the water tank ( market) by making new items. Consider the last 20 years all the products that exist today managable cell phones, laptop computers and such. – although 1877 to 1897 saw many inventions also minor things like light bulb and telephone.

    Also he considers it a zero sum game. Lastly he fails to see that under the prior system, and all other systems lossely called ‘despotism.’ Under these, the despot (king, comissar, shah, iatola, etc) doesn’t pay you and the punishes you for not working, and working. Whoever said it that capitoliusm (or was it democracy?) is the worst – except for all the others had it right.

    Comment by A different Alan | March 19, 2009 | Reply

  2. I agree this story does not account for the positives of capitalism, of which there are many.

    I still say there is a lot of application to what caused the recession the U.S. is facing now, though. Is it not true that the american middle-class consumption makes up for the majority of the U.S. economy? You may have noticed if you fell into that category, that during the “economic boom” of 2000, that minimum wage was not keeping pace with inflation. No one that I know making a blue-collar wage remembers an economic boom during that time.

    So no one could buy the clever man/inventor/capitalist’s beautiful products and now we are looking for water.

    The way out now is for unemployed people to become their own employers, and find your own water. Good luck to us all.

    Comment by Jeff | March 23, 2009 | Reply

  3. What does ‘Islam’ mean?”

    The Arabic word ‘Islam’ simply means ‘submission’, and derives from a word meaning ‘peace’. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God. ‘Mohammedanism’ is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad (SAW) rather than God. ‘Allah’ is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.

    Comment by vanceMade | June 16, 2009 | Reply

  4. This site rocks!

    Comment by Bill Bartmann | September 3, 2009 | Reply

  5. Water is necessary for every one either a dog or a man, but because of contamination everybody should save water in the water tank.

    Comment by water tanks | November 17, 2010 | Reply

  6. Nice Article about water tank..thanks for sharing this with us.
    In fact in all posts of this blog their is something to learn .
    your work is very good and i appreciate your work and hopping for some more informative posts

    Comment by water tanks | December 15, 2010 | Reply

  7. very informative post. thanks for sharing it

    Comment by ibc | September 9, 2011 | Reply

  8. Well written article, thanks for posting.

    Comment by jasonalonzo | March 8, 2012 | Reply

  9. wow! even water tanks have parable :) Well, the good thing about them is that they serve as a catching basin to conserve rainwater and use them to other thing like cleaning our cars!

    Comment by Rainwater tank | April 14, 2012 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: