Little Tyber: A Fable (Part II)

For a long time all appears to go well in Little Tyber. But then something truly insidious begins creeping into the Tyberian marketplace. Let’s call it reality.

The Tyberian merchants have badly misjudged the demand for Tyberian goods. Not only is the Tyberian population in the community not large enough to support the blocks and blocks of Tyberian-only businesses, but the number of Tyberians in the entire country isn’t large enough, either. Tyberians are less than 1% of the country’s population, and most of them will never visit Little Tyber. Worse, even people from Tyber don’t come as often. When they travel, they want to visit other cultures. Being able to say “I bought it in Little Tyber” has lost its cachet.

The tourist market is also disappearing. Other People from other places are unwilling to come to Little Tyber to look at window displays of traditional Tyberian clothing that they will never buy or wear. Tourists don’t want to make the long trip from downtown just for Tyberian food that they can get back home or at a restaurant closer to their hotel. The floats at the Little Tyber parade have become tacky, too, and sometimes there’s nobody on them, so it’s not such a big draw, either.

Once tourists have seen the displays of traditional Tyberian clothing and eaten traditional Tyberian food, there’s nothing else for them to do except buy phone cards, bottled water, or lottery tickets at one of the many convenience stores in the multicultural shopping districts. Little Tyber does not have museums, art galleries, or theaters so there are no cultural offerings, even for residents.

The merchants ignored the power of Internet shopping as well. Tyberian goods can now be purchased online for less money. Nobody has to drive to Little Tyber for hard-to-find items because there are no hard-to-find items anymore. Tyberian shoppers come mainly to buy groceries at one of the many Tyberian supermarkets. In the winter, they often don’t come at all. They shop locally or on the Internet rather than spend hours driving through ice and snow to shop in Little Tyber in subzero weather.

But there’s a bigger problem. Tyberians themselves now want better schools, cleaner streets, better housing, and a place in more upscale communities, and they begin to move to the suburbs, where the merchants live. They don’t shop only at Tyberian stores anymore. The merchants are dismayed by the lack of gratitude shown by their own people. The merchants gave them a neighborhood of their own and now they’re leaving. Other People are moving in and this is not helping the Tyberian businesses.

The cumulative effect of ignoring 70% of the neighborhood—its immediate market—has caught up with the Tyberian merchants. They are losing money, and are uncomfortably aware that they’ve been losing money for years. The whole shopping district is in decline. Storefronts and commercial buildings are shabby, dirty, and unappealing. Ugly signage stands out more amid the many store vacancies. Tyberian stores begin to close.  The merchants, especially those with multiple businesses, decide to act in their own interests, as they usually do.

Refusing to change their business model and carry goods that would appeal to Other People, the merchants demand more community sacrifice to save their businesses. They need Tyberian shoppers from outside the community to support their stores, and they want nightlife and outdoor cafes and ATMs and parking lots. They want “community events” designed to attract tourists, like more Tyberian parades and 5K runs. So desperate are they that they are even willing to allow other ethnic groups in the community to hold their own parades in Little Tyber. The merchants begin to encroach on residential areas to build the things they want. They believe that no sacrifice is too great to demand from the Other People.

There’s yet another blow. The Powers That Be, who sat silently for years, fearful of being attacked as racist if they interfered with the merchants and their plan to repopulate the community to support Tyberian businesses, now act against the threat posed by Tyberian voters. Threatened political interests always have the last word, and soon the largest Tyberian precincts are redistricted out of Little Tyber. The Tyberian population drops to about 23% of the neighborhood. This is not good.

Their voting strength diluted, their businesses dying, their dreams of taking political and economic control of the community near collapse, the merchants settle on a solution. They secretly recruit a young Tyberian to move into the community to attract the Tyberian vote. His mission is to either dethrone the Powers That Be or deny a first-round victory while the merchants offer support to either the Powers That Be or the Powers That Might Be in exchange for retaining their influence and their stranglehold on the local economy.

The merchants’ candidate is new to both politics and the community and gives the game away early. He talks too much. He tells of his plans to bring more Tyberians and Tyberian businesses to the community. His statements are met with outrage by the Other People. The merchants’ candidate says he was misquoted and clams he will represent the Other People, too. He has enough campaign money to spend on marketing to make his new claims seem believable, and the merchants will give him as much money as he needs to make them sound like truth. There are rumors that he is also receiving help from the Powers That Be. No one knows for sure because dirty political deals are always coated with a thin veneer of respectability, and those in on the deal are always mistaken for respectable people.

Meanwhile, the economic slide in Little Tyber continues. Stores open and close every few months. The street is full of vacant storefronts, shuttered restaurants, and empty buildings. Almost every block is the same—convenience/grocery stores, cell phone/electronics shops—and there just aren’t enough customers, yet new convenience stores and phone stores continue to open. Strange hybrid businesses appear: Tyberian bread shops that sell cell phones and cigarettes, traditional Tyberian clothing stores that sell phone cards and pots and pans. Tyberian merchants with multiple businesses are heard discussing whether or not to leave the shopping district.

The Tyberian merchants blame everyone but themselves for what’s happening and believe that the only way to fix the mess they’ve made is to take political power and then continue to do business as usual. They think they have the votes to do it, or at least enough votes to play the spoiler and then collect their due from the Powers That Be.

Either way, the Tyberian merchants do not intend to change a thing. They will not accept that the laws of supply and demand apply to Tyberian businesses. They will not admit that the Tyberian business model has created too much supply for too little demand, and that their target market is so ethno-specific it cannot be expanded beyond the laws of nature. They’re going to try anyway. They don’t want to be just one part of a larger multicultural community. They want the whole thing for themselves.

 The Moral of Our Story

 Ethnocentrism in a multicultural world is a destructive force.

 The Tyberian merchants wanted to create a Tyberian market.

Creating a Tyberian market meant destroying a community of Other People.

The market is dying.

The community is damaged.

 Restoring the inclusive marketplace will restore the community.

Neither can thrive without the other.




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