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A PRIORI: A presumption made before an analysis is undertaken, often based on experiences, beliefs, or deductions from seemingly self-evident propositions about how the world works. This is a Latin for assumption or axiom. A similar sounding, but opposite term is a posteriori, which is derived from observation or facts. For example, in the study of economics of crime you might assume, a priori, that people are basically "good", because that just seems to be part of human nature, and conclude, a posteriori, that people are more likely to commit crimes when the threat of capture and conviction is lower.

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by Orley M. Amos, Jr.
Professor of Economics
Oklahoma State University
Go to: Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Chapter Two: A Kind, Loving Instructor

It was quite clear to Tyler that Professor Francis had some torturous fate in store for him. Tyler was undoubtedly being prepared for a cannibalistic feast. He expected the professor to appear at any moment with carving knife and bib.

To prepare for this certainty, Tyler huddled childlike in a ball on the orange path, clutching legs with arms and burying face in knees. This position was obviously designed to ward off ferocious attack by professor or beastly being.

Much to Tyler's surprise, several long moments passed without any sign of a flesh-hungry professor. Perhaps the Western State rumors were not totally accurate. Perhaps the professor did not personally eat inquisitive students, but only sent them into the deadly jaws of a gruesome creature--probably a man-eating dragon. More long moments passed as Tyler huddled in his protective crouch without the serious loss of appendages.

Tyler's amazing survival ability not only gave him confidence, it gave him time to think. His defensive strategy, while clearly fruitful to this point, did not seem to be a viable long-term solution. It was time to be more assertive. An annoying thought also crept into Tyler's mind. Professor Francis might not be interested in gnawing on his bones and placing his head in a trophy case. Maybe, just maybe, this was, as the professor had said, some sort of way to learn economics.

'Follow the path,' the professor had instructed. As more long moments passed, Tyler realized that he had no other options. Professor Francis could probably devour him whenever and wherever he chose.

Tyler slowly uncurled from his defensive ball and rose to his feet. He began what he hoped to be a short trip along the dusty, orange path. He had no idea where he was going. He still was not clear as to why. He was only sure of one thing, the professor had something in store. Tyler truly hoped that it was economics, and not a man-eating dragon.

Tyler had convinced his legs to carry him only a few steps down the path when he heard a faint animal-like sound in the trees to his right. He stopped, breathless and motionless, staring in the direction of the sound. This was clearly the end to life as he knew it. He expected to see a man-eating dragon burst from the dense foliage at any moment.

When a sudden flutter came from the trees, Tyler threw his hands over his head and fell to the orange dirt.

But he remained alive.

He uncovered his head slowly for a peak at the monster that was certainly preparing to gorge on his flesh and gnaw mercilessly on his bones. Perched on one of the glowing green stick plants that jutted from a clump of turquoise brush was the strangest looking creature Tyler had ever seen. It had the unmistakable body of a large, green frog and the face of what appeared to be a calico cat. Protruding from the cat's snot, however, was an orange, duck-shaped beak. This bird theme was also exhibited by the brown feather-covered wings folded beside its frog body, and a fluffy, feathery plume protruding from the top of its head. As it perched on the green plant, looking directly at Tyler, its throat enlarged, emitting a frog-like 'croak', and its wings stretched to a full two-foot span. This hodge-podge of a creature then tucked its wings back along its body and settled onto its perch. The green glow of the stick-plant perch did nothing to eliminate this creature's sinister appearance.

Tyler and the flying duck-billed, frog-cat creature stared motionless at each other for several moments. Then, as if bored by the encounter, the bird- frog blinked its eyes and looked away. A moment later it flapped its wings and sprang into flight, finding another perch, beyond Tyler's view deeper into the foliage.

Relief swept over Tyler as he rose cautiously to his feet and once again tried in vain to brush the orange dirt from his clothes. While he was thankful that his flesh was still connected to his bones, this encounter did nothing to eliminate his apprehensions. He wanted to scream for the professor. He wanted to go home.

Tyler, however, was coming to the realization that the only way to get home was to move along this winding, orange path--probably the quicker the better. He turned away from the spot the strange flying duck-cat creature had entered the dense foliage and continued his trek. As he walked his eyes grew more adjusted to the green twilight. Tyler was still trembling several steps later when he saw a rectangular purple object tacked to the smooth, yellow trunk of a small umbrella tree next to the path a few yards ahead. As he cautiously approached, he saw that the purple object was a sign. Tyler recalled the professor saying 'follow the signs.' This must be one of them. Tyler hoped the sign would lead him safely out of this strange place. The sign was simple, and seem to need no explanation. It read:

Test #1
100 meters


This notion of a test changed things. The thought of a test under normal circumstances twisted Tyler's stomach into a knot. Exams given by Professor Francis were the worst of the lot. Most students, Tyler included, left the professor's exams questioning not only the decision to take economics, but also their birth. The thought of a test here, in this bizarre place, amid yellow, umbrella-shaped trees and strange flying frog-cats, could be anything. Tyler envisioned a test pitting man against beast, with only the victor walking free. As he walked ever so slowly along the path, each test Tyler envisioned ended with his bloodied body being gnawed by monsters with unspeakably hideous features. With no other option at hand, he slowly, quietly, walked onward.

Rounding yet another of the bends in the path, Tyler saw movement through the trunks of the umbrella trees a short distance ahead. He adjusted his dirty glasses, but failed to determine what it was that moved. As he grew closer he thought he could see a small creature of some sort. Perhaps it was rabbit, or a wild dog. Yes, it seemed to have long ears, like a rabbit, but it was larger than any rabbit he had every seen. Then it became clear that the creature was standing upright and wearing clothes. Clothes! This creature was wearing bright green clothes. This observation reduced Tyler's anxiety a little. But only a little. Wild, ferocious, student-gnawing creatures certainly did not wear green clothing. In any case, Tyler remained on guard. Clothes or no clothes, the vision of his bloodied body persisted.

When Tyler had quietly moved to within a few yards of this green-clad, long-eared creature, he saw that it looked more like a human than a rabbit, even though it was a trifle small. At its full height this creature would stand only waist high to Tyler. Tyler studied the creature further, concluding that it more closely resembled a monkey that a human. With the exception of a prominent human-shaped nose, this creature looked like a monkey with long pointed ears. But even with it's human-like qualities, it's ears were definitely long and pointed. The green clothes covered most of the creatures body, with only a bit of light, fluffy, grey fur protruding from the openings of the sleeves and trouser legs.

Tyler came to a crouching stop, near the yellow trunk of an umbrella tree, thinking that the creature was unaware of his presence. That was one, but only one, of the reasons why Tyler was startled when the creature spoke.

"Ah, Mr. Martin," the creature said without looking up, somewhat reminiscent of Professor Francis.

Tyler remained motionless for a very long moment, all but hoping the creature had been talking to another Mr. Martin. When the creature spoke again Tyler felt like the proverbial child caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

"I have been waiting for you, Mr. Martin. Professor Francis said that you would be along."

Tyler nodded slightly, at last showing an admission of his existence.

"We must get started," the furry creature said. "We have much to cover and I have a great deal of work yet to do."

Tyler was still several feet away from the creature, completely awed by the happenings. He attempted what might have passed for intelligence speech at another time, "I... uh... what... what's going on here?"

"We have no time for questions," he motioned for Tyler to move closer. "Come here. Mr. Martin. We must get on with this. You have a great deal to learn."

"But what... who are you?" Tyler persisted.

"Please, please, Mr. Martin, we really no have time for your questions."

When Tyler failed to budge the creature resigned to at least a brief explanation.

"You are here to learn economics, are you not, Mr. Martin?"

Tyler nodded reflexively.

"Well, I am here to help you learn."

Tyler started to nod once again in his trance-like state, but caught himself and said, "But who are you and where is here?"

"Oh, very well," the creature sighed. "I really wish they would give you students a better orientation. I am your instructor, and you are in Leornia. You have come to Leornia to learn. That is the reason for Leornia, to learn."

Tyler nodded again, somewhat relieved by the explanation and took a step towards the self-proclaimed instructor. He stopped, however, upon realizing that he knew only slightly more after the explanation than he did before.

"Well, where is... uh... this Leornia?" he demanded.

The instructor was obviously disturbed by this departure from the intended subject matter. The instructor said, "I am not here to discuss the location of Leornia. I am here to test your knowledge of economics. Now, if you don't mind we really must begin."

"But," Tyler protested, "I don't want to learn economics. I just want to go home. There must be some mistake. You've got to let me go home."

The instructor produced a clipboard from behind his back, then said, "No, there is no mistake. You are Tyler Martin, are you not? You are a student of Professor Francis at Western State University?"

Tyler nodded in agreement.

"Then there is no mistake," the instructor said allowing no room for debate. "Now, please. We must get on with your lesson."

Tyler realized further protests on his part would be pointless. He did, however, remain partially hidden behind the yellow trunk of the umbrella tree, clinging to it like a security blanket.

The instructor waited momentarily for Tyler to come closer, to the proper position, for the examination. When he realized this would not happen he turned his attention once again to the clipboard he held in his furry paws. He studied it for a moment, then looked up at Tyler.

"Now I have some questions for you. Mr. Martin. You must try to answer them to the best of your ability. These questions constitute the first phase of your test."

The instructor looked at his clipboard again, still apparently annoyed by Tyler's position next to the tree. Finally the instructor said, "Mr. Martin, would you please come over here so I can properly administer this exam."

Tyler shook his head and did not move.

The instructor sighed.

"Very well Mr. Martin, here is the first question. 'If you could have anything in the world to make you completely satisfied, what would it be?'"

Tyler paused, obviously bewildered. "That's it?" he asked, "That's the question?"

"Yes it is, Mr. Martin. What is your answer?"

"Are you sure that's the question?"

The instructor nodded.

Tyler's apprehensions faded. He thought about the question. It was a surprisingly easy question. Tyler chuckled slightly as he felt a great burden lifted from him. With the strangeness that had been thrust upon him in the past hour he had expected, at the very least, a life-threatening question. A question that might deal with the very essence of life and economics. Yet, this question seemed so simple. Tyler began to laugh aloud. 'What would make me completely satisfied?' he pondered.

Tyler considered the question for a moment. He was starting to become quite hungry. A cheeseburger and cola would taste great. Or perhaps a pizza. But, then he mentally laughed at this trivial response.

"What would make me completely satisfied," Tyler asked to clarify the question.

A cheeseburger and cola would taste good, but it would not satisfy him completely. He decided to go for the ultimate. A brand new Porsche, that would be the ultimate. Or maybe a cruise around the world, and a private estate on a tropical island? Then, as if on cue, a thousand items began passing through his head. A thousand items that Tyler wanted. But the more he thought about each, the more he realized that none alone, nor even all of them together, would satisfy him.

Sweat beads began to form on Tyler's forehead as he recognized the life-ending possibilities that might come with no answer. He finally said, "I can't think of anything that would make me completely satisfied?"

"Nothing?" the instructor queried cautiously.

"Yes, nothing," Tyler said feeling defeated and resigning himself to whatever fate may await him. "There are so many things that I would like to have. But, there is nothing that would make me completely satisfied."

"Nothing?" the instructor asked a second time for absolute clarity.

"Yes, nothing," Tyler said bitterly.

"That is the correct answer, Mr. Martin," the instructor said marking on his clipboard.

"What?... I don't get it?" Tyler said. "What do you mean that's the correct answer? I didn't give you an answer."

"Oh, but you did. And it was correct. There is nothing that will make you completely satisfied. Perhaps you may be content for a short period, but you can never be completely satisfied. There is always more that you will want. And as you suspected, that question actually did deal with the very essence of life and economics."

Tyler was relieved, but puzzled. He accepted the instructor's decision without further discussion.

"Now for your second question, Mr. Martin." The instructor looked once more at his clipboard, and asked, "What are scarce resources?"

Tyler envisioned the professor standing in front of class talking about scarce resources. Surprising himself, Tyler realized that he recalled some of the professor's lecture.

"I know what they are," Tyler said with limited confidence. "Let me see, scarce resources, which are often called factors of production, can be classified as capital, like factories and machinery--that's one. Another scarce resource is land, which is all of the raw materials, minerals, vegetation, and other things that naturally occur on the land. And a third is..." Tyler stopped for a moment and thought. He knew there was a third. But what was it?

'There was capital, and land,' he thought, mentally checking off each. There was another one. He could remember the professor listing the scarce resources on the chalkboard.

"LABOR!" he finally blurted out as it came to him. "Labor is the third resource." He felt very proud of himself. "Labor is a scarce resource because it takes people to operate the machinery." Then he added hastily, "And sometimes entrepreneurship is considered as a separate resource. Entrepreneurship is a special type of human effort that takes on the risk and responsibility of bringing the labor, capital, and land together to make stuff."

"That is a satisfactory answer, Mr. Martin," the furry instructor said, showing no sign of being impressed with Tyler's response.

Tyler's confidence was growing by the moment. His correct responses to the instructor's first two questions gave Tyler the feeling that he could answer any economic question posed. Yes, Tyler knew it all.

Then the instructor examined his clipboard once again.

"You have identified the scarce resources," he said, "now tell me why they are scarce. What is scarcity, Mr. Martin?"

"Scarcity?" Tyler asked. "What do you mean scarcity? Land, capital and labor are scarce. They're scarce resources."

"We have established that they are scarce resources, Mr. Martin. You must now tell me why they are scarce," the instructor persisted.

"Why?" Tyler repeated. He did not recall the professor saying why the resources were scarce. Perhaps Tyler missed it when he was talking to Lisa Catchings about the Thetas' all-weekend pool and pajama party. Yes, of course, that must have been the day the professor had talked about scarcity.

The seconds ticked away. Even though a clock was nowhere around, Tyler could still sense the seconds, then minutes, quickly pass. Tyler felt the time grow long. Sweat reappeared on his forehead. 'Scarcity,' he thought, 'what is scarcity?' Then he remembered the professor talking about scarcity in his office just moments before he was exiled to this land of weirdness. What had the professor said about scarcity? It had something to do with fried chicken.

"We have little time, Mr. Martin," the instructor prodded, interrupting and destroying what little concentration Tyler had remaining.

The sweat on his forehead became more profuse. His palms grew wet and his mouth grew dry. His glasses began to slip annoyingly down his nose. His grip tightened around the yellow trunk of the umbrella tree. He could no longer concentrate on scarcity. All that came to his mind was the vision of hideous monsters lurking just off the path, waiting to pounced at his incorrect answer. Tyler thought he saw a movement off to his left. He jumped abruptly. No, not a monster, just that flying frog-cat that he had seen earlier coming to rest a green stick plant. Perhaps the frog-cat was preparing for an attack. Tyler noted how much that flying bird-frog-cat creature sort of resembled a small dragon.

Finally Tyler said, "I don't know the answer. I don't know what scarcity is. It has something to do with fried chicken. But I can't remember what."

"Are you certain t hat you do not know the answer?" the instructor asked.

Tyler shook his head. He then closed his eyes, covered his head with his hands, and pressed closer to the yellow trunk, waiting for the attack. But none came.

"Very well, if you don't know, then I guess you don't know," the instructor said as he reluctantly marked on his clipboard.

Tyler opened his eyes and gave a mental sigh. "What will happened to me?" Tyler asked, not certain that he really wanted to know.

Once again the instructor looked at his clipboard, and nodded. He returned shortly, dragging a large, purple bag along the red carpet-grass. The bag was about three times the size of a grocery sack--almost as big as the instructor--and closed at the top with a short, purple strap. The instructor struggled as he drug the bag across the orange path to where Tyler clung to the tree. Tyler began to back away.

The instructor left the bag within Tyler's reach and disappeared into the trees once again. He quickly returned, dragging a second purple bag almost identical to the first. He pushed the second bag next to the first.

"What is this?" Tyler asked hesitantly.

"Jewels," the instructor answered.

"What?!," Tyler was dumfounded. "I don't understand."

"Yes," the instructor continued, "there are diamonds, rubies, several very large emeralds, and I believe the first bag even includes some pearls, if I'm not mistaken." The instructor eyed the first bag setting on the orange ground. "Yes, of course, pearls. These are yours to keep when you finish your lesson and leave Leornia. I understand that they are quite valuable in the your world."

"But," Tyler protested, "I answered the question wrong. Why did you give me jewels? There must be millions of dollars worth of stuff here."

"No time for explanations, Mr. Martin," the instructor said as he checked his clipboard again. "You have one final question to answer."

"But, I don't understand," Tyler said, a little hesitant to continue questioning his good fortune, but still very confused.

"You will understand, Mr. Martin. Very soon, you will understand," he said. "Now one more question..." When Tyler did not continue his previous line of inquiry, the instructor asked, "What is opportunity cost?"

By this time Tyler's thoughts were several million dollars away from economics. He vaguely remembered the professor saying something about opportunity cost. But now he had two bags filled with valuable jewels. These jewels had to be worth millions, maybe billions, of dollars. He could have anything in the world that he every wanted. No, he could have everything in the world that he wanted. Then Tyler recalled the instructor's first question. Perhaps not everything, but certainly he could have a lot. Tyler's mind raced through a wide assortment of sports cars, yachts, and other goods that could be bought with his new found wealth. He could hardly wait to tell Lisa Catchings and the Thetas. As his thoughts raced, he knew somewhere in the back of his mind that it was important to answer a question about opportunity cost. However, the front of his mind could go no further than the two bags of precious stones at his feet.

After a long, long moment of silence the instructor cleared his throat and said, "Mr. Martin, I am waiting for your answer. You have to give me answer before I can let you pass."

The thought of remaining on this path for an extended period of time brought Tyler's attention away from the two bags.

'Opportunity cost' he thought silently to himself.

"Yes, Mr. Martin," the instructor said, "Opportunity cost."

Tyler looked up at the creature. "What?... oh..." he said, not realizing he had been thinking aloud. "Um... yes... opportunity cost is..."

But he could not remember. It had something to do with giving up something, but what and why, he did not know. He finally confessed, "I don't remember about opportunity cost," and was ready to return one or both of the bags.

"I can see why the professor sent you," the instructor said as he made marks on his clipboard. "You need a great deal of help."

Tyler stood speechless. Then he asked, "Do I get another bag?" But as the words came from his mouth, he knew he had asked the wrong question.

"No, Mr. Martin," the furry guy said as he checked his clipboard, "You do not receive another bag, but you do get a bit of advice. There is very little food on your path. If you become hungry, and you will, you can safely eat the purple fruit that you will find beside the path. But let me warn you that there is no other food. You should take as much fruit with you as you can carry. The journey along the path is a long one. You will need the fruit to complete your lesson in Leornia."

"Purple fruit?" Tyler asked, once more confused.

But the instructor could not answer; he had scampered into the trees and out of sight.

Go to: Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Copyright © 1997, 2002 by Orley M. Amos, Jr. All rights reserved. Not to be quoted without permission of the author.


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