There once was a town called Allopath. It had many people, streets and cars, but due to budget limitations, there were no stop signs or traffic lights anywhere in Allopath.
Not surprisingly, traffic accidents were common. Cars would crash into each other at nearly every intersection. But business was booming for the auto repair shops and local hospitals, which dominated the economy of Allopath.
As the population of Allopath grew, traffic accidents increased to an alarming level. Out of desperation, the city council hired Doctor West, a doctor of the Motor Division (M.D.) to find a solution.
Dr. West spent days examining traffic accidents. He carried an assortment of technical gear -- microscopes, chemical analysis equipment, lab gear -- and put them all to work as part of his investigation. The townspeople of Allopath watched on with great curiosity while Dr. West went about his work, meticulously documenting and analyzing each traffic accident, and they awaited his final report with great interest.
After weeks of investigation, Dr. West called the people of Allopath to a town meeting for the release of his report. There, in front of the city council and most of the residents of Allopath, he announced his findings: "Traffic accidents are caused by skid marks."
As Dr. West explained, he found and documented a near-100% correlation between traffic accidents and skid marks. "Wherever we find these cars colliding," he explained, "we also find these skid marks."
The town had "Skid Marks Disease," the doctor explained, and the answer to the town's epidemic of traffic accidents would, "...require nothing more than treating Skid Marks Disease by making the streets skid-proof," Dr. West exclaimed, to great applause from the townspeople.
The city paid Dr. West his consulting fee, then asked the good doctor to propose a method for treating this Skid Marks Disease. As chance would have it, Dr. West had recently been on a trip to
"We can treat this Skid Marks Disease by coating the roads with teflon," Dr. West explained. "The streets will then be skid-proof, and all the traffic accidents will cease!" He went on to describe the physical properties of teflon and how its near-frictionless coating would deter nearly all vehicle skids.
The city council heartily agreed with Dr. West, and they issued new public bonds to raise the money required to buy enough teflon to coat all the city's streets. Within weeks, the streets were completely coated, and the skid marks all but disappeared.
The city council paid Dr. West another consulting fee and thanked him for his expertise. The problem of traffic accidents in Allopath was solved, they thought. Although the cure was expensive, they were convinced it was worth it.
But things weren't well in Allopath. Traffic accidents quadrupled. Hospital beds were overflowing with injured residents. Auto repair businesses were booming so much that most of the city council members decided to either open their own car repair shops or invest in existing ones.
Week after week, more and more residents of Allopath were injured, and their cars were repeatedly damaged. Money piled into the pockets of the car repair shops, hospitals, tow truck companies and car parts retailers.
The town economic advisor, observing this sharp increase in economic activity, announced that Allopath was booming. Its economy was healthier than ever, and Allopath could look forward to a great year of economic prosperity!
There were jobs to be had at the car repair shops. There were more nurses needed at the hospital. "Help wanted" signs appeared all over town at the paramedic station, the tow truck shops, and the auto glass businesses. Unemployment dropped to near zero.
But the traffic accidents continued to increase. And yet there were no skid marks.
The city council was baffled. They thought they had solved this problem. Skid Marks Disease had been eradicated by the teflon treatment. Why were traffic accidents still happening?
They called a town meeting to discuss the problem, and following a short discussion of the problem, an old hermit, who lived in the forest just outside of Allopath, addressed the townspeople. "There is no such thing as Skid Marks Disease," he explained. "This disease was invented by the roadaceuticals company to sell you teflon coatings."
The townspeople were horrified to hear such a statement. They knew Skid Marks Disease existed. The doctor had told them so. How could this hermit, who had no Motor Division (M.D.) degree, dare tell them otherwise? How could he question their collective town wisdom in such a way?
"This is a simple problem," the hermit continued. "All we need to do is build stop signs and traffic lights. Then the traffic accidents will cease."
Without pause, one city council member remarked, "But how can we afford stop signs? We've spent all our money on teflon treatments!"
The townspeople agreed. They had no money to buy stop signs.
Another council member added, "And how can we stop anyway? The streets are all coated with teflon. If we build stop signs, we'll waste all the money we've spent on teflon!"
The townspeople agreed, again. What use were stop signs if they couldn't stop their cars anyway?
The hermit replied, "But the stop signs will eliminate the need for teflon. People will be able to stop their cars, and accidents will cease. The solution is simple."
But what might happen if stop signs actually worked, the townspeople wondered. How would it affect the booming economy of Allopath? Realizing the consequences, a burly old man who owned a local repair shop jumped to his feet and said, "If we build these stop signs, and traffic accidents go down, I'll have to fire most of my workers!"
It was at that moment that most of the townspeople realized there own jobs were at stake. If stop signs were built, nearly everyone would be unemployed. They all had jobs in emergency response services, car repair shops, hospitals and teflon coating maintenance. Some were now sales representatives of the roadaceuticals company. Others were importers of glass, tires, steel and other parts for cars. A few clever people were making a fortune selling wheelchairs and crutches to accident victims.
One enterprising young gentleman started a scientific journal that published research papers describing all the different kind of Skid Marks Diseases that had been observed and documented. Another person, a fitness enthusiast, organized an annual run to raise funds to find the cure for Skid Marks Disease. It was a popular event, and all the townspeople participated as best they could: jogging, walking, or just pushing themselves along in their wheelchairs.
One way or another, nearly everyone in Allopath was economically tied to Skid Marks Disease.
Out of fear of losing this economic prosperity, the townspeople voted to create a new public safety agency: the Frequent Drivers Association (FDA). This FDA would be responsible for approving or rejecting all signage, technology and chemical coatings related to the town's roads.
The FDA's board members were chosen from among the business leaders of the community: the owner of the car shop, the owner of the ambulance company, and of course, Dr. West.
Soon after its inception, the FDA announced that Skid Marks Disease was, indeed, very real, as it had been carefully documented by a doctor and recently published in the town Skid Marks Disease journal. Since there were no studies whatsoever showing stop signs to be effective for reducing traffic accidents, the FDA announced that stop signs were to be outlawed, and that any person attempting to sell stop signs would be charged with fraud and locked up in the town jail.
This pleased the townspeople of Allopath. With the FDA, they knew their jobs were safe. They could go on living their lives of economic prosperity, with secure jobs, knowing that the FDA would outlaw any attempt to take away their livelihood. They still had a lot of traffic accidents, but at least their jobs were secure.
And so life continued in Allopath. For a short while, at least. As traffic accidents continued at a devastating rate, more and more residents of Allopath were injured or killed. Many were left bed-ridden, unable to work, due to their injuries.
In time, the population dwindled. The once-booming town of
The few residents remaining eventually realized nothing good had come of Skid Marks Disease, the teflon coatings and the FDA. No one was any better off, as all the town's money had been spent on the disease: the teflon coatings, car parts and emergency services. No one was any healthier, or happier, or longer-lived. Most, in fact, had lost their entire families to Skid Marks Disease.
And the hermit? He continued to live just outside of town, at the end of a winding country road, where he lived a simple life with no cars, no roads, no teflon coatings and no FDA.
He outlived every single resident of Allopath. He gardened, took long walks through the forest, and gathered roots, leaves and berries to feed himself. In his spare time, he constructed stop signs, waiting for the next population to come along, and hoping they might listen to an old hermit with a crazy idea:
...that prevention is the answer, not the treatment of symptoms.