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The impressive journey of ‘Jonathan Gullible’
By Grassroot Institute @ 6:00 PM :: 1455 Views :: Education K-12

Schoolland details impressive journey of ‘Jonathan Gullible’

from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

A popular free market economics book that got its start on Hawaii radio is making the leap from the page to the screen. 

“The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible: A Free Market Odyssey,” written by Grassroot Scholar Ken Schoolland, is being made into a three-seasons animated video series by an international production team affiliated with Liberty International, according to Schoolland, who also is an economist and professor at Hawaii Pacific University.

Speaking earlier this month with Joe Kent, executive vice president of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Schoolland said the first season is pretty much ready to go, and will feature eight stories taken from the book.

He said the book uses satire to illustrate economic principles, and grew out of 90-second radio spots he created for a local business news station back in the 1980s.

“It was just down the street, over on Bishop Street, that I first recorded it,” Schoolland said.

Now, some 50 years later, the book has achieved global success, with “hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide and lots of productions in theater, in Africa, in Brazil, Slovakia, Kazakhstan,” he said.  

The animated series boasts a multinational production team and features voice actors from the free market movement. 

As for the power of the book’s satirical approach, Schoolland summed it up with a quote from George Orwell: “Every joke is a tiny revolution.”

To learn more about the “Jonathan Gullible” series or to support its production, visit www.jonathangullible.com. To see the 22-minute conversation between Schoolland and Kent, click on the image below. A complete transcript follows.

TRANSCRIPT

Joe Kent: Aloha and welcome to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. I’m Joe Kent, executive vice president of the Grassroot Institute, and we’re here today with Ken Schoolland. He’s an economist and professor at Hawaii Pacific University and author of “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible: A Free Market Odyssey.”

So, it’s so great to have you here, Ken.

Ken Schoolland: Thank you, Joe. This is terrific.

Kent: Well, your book is a worldwide phenomenon. It’s in many, many — how many countries?

Schoolland: Well, it’s been published in 57 languages. We have a 58th language — Pashto in Afghanistan — that will be coming out very soon. But it’s been published in 90 — over 90 — editions of the book, because many of them have gone through second printings and upgraded, and we’ve had theatrical productions produced in five countries, two of which are musical productions from different chapters in the book.

Kent: And now you have a video series, is that right?

Schoolland: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. We have an animated film series that’s going to be in three seasons, eight episodes in each season. And it’s going to give pretty much a comprehensive view of the whole book, all of the stories in it. It’s embellished for, you know, for video.

Kent: So now, for those that don’t know, “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible” is, you know, every chapter is a different lesson about economics or economic principles. And it’s told kind of as an allegory, is that right?

Schoolland: Yeah, actually it’s quite interesting that it was just down the street [in Honolulu], over on Bishop Street, that I first recorded it. I was doing all news, well, 90-second radio spots on an all-news business radio station many years ago, back in the ’80s. 

And straight commentary wasn’t getting across too much to the community, but when I decided to do it as a dialogue in sort of satire of the policies going on during the day, the listenership peaked up a lot and it was really good.

And so then later Sam Slom [president of Small Business Hawaii] thought, well, this is a good idea, why don’t we put this into a book and publish it and start circulating it.

Kent: Oh, that’s awesome. And sometimes people view it as a children’s book, but it’s not necessarily a children’s book. There’s childlike examples and stories in it, but actually it’s for readers of all ages though, right?

Schoolland: Exactly. Like I said, it was started for an all-news business radio station here in Hawaii. It was picked up and serialized in the “Hong Kong Economic Journal.”

That’s the premier intellectual journal in Hong Kong. Sedem Weekly, the Bulgarian business magazine, The Boss magazine in Nepal. A lot of newspapers and journals have picked it up. The Keizai Seminar magazine in Japan. 

So for an intellectual crowd it was much appreciated, because with satire and humor you can get around the censors and sort of break down the resistance. That was one of the great things about Milton Friedman. He was always able to talk about the economics.

Kent: The economist Milton Friedman.

Schoolland: Yeah, the economist Milton Friedman. Because he was so able to disarm people with his humor and smile and all that, he was able to get around the resistance that people had to free market ideas that often build up.

Kent: Well, you need humor sometimes to laugh at some of these really tough policies that we deal with. And certainly in Hawaii, you know, our government is pretty heavy-handed with its regulations compared to other states and sometimes other countries. 

And so what kind of reception have you found here locally for the book? Or has it been better internationally?

Schoolland: Probably better internationally because, I mean, it’s gone great guns with hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide and lots of productions in theater, in Africa, in Brazil, Slovakia, Kazakhstan.

Kent: Why is that, do you think, that it’s caught fire so much in so many countries?

Schoolland: I think that a lot of places are just discovering free markets for the first time. 

The first international edition was published in Russia — in St. Petersburg, Russia — right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. And they didn’t have any idea what taxes and property were because their society had been so controlled and owned by the government, controlled by central planning. And they just wanted to know what free market ideas were all about. 

So they picked up an interest in it. And across Eastern Europe, they were interested.

It was the first free market book published in Iran. The mullahs passed it as, “Oh, it’s just a storybook, you know, let them read it.” And then, of course, through the stories, they got free market lessons in Vietnam and China, lots of places around the world.

Oh, in Afghanistan we’ve had the Dari edition, the Pashto edition; Pakistan, six editions, three in Urdu, two in Sindhi, one in Balochi. 

And, well, I think people are pretty excited to explore free market ideas, so much so that I’ve had these women in Afghanistan say that it brought them to tears to see how it reflected the kinds of policies that go on around them all the time.

Kent: So principles are universal, and also government intrusions are unfortunately universal too, and I suppose they see some of that in the book. 

So can you give us an example about, you know, how some of the chapters, some stories from the chapters, are examples?

Schoolland: Well, yeah, there’s one where Jonathan is encountering a guy who’s walking on his knees. It’s painful and it’s slow, but he offers to help him and the guy says, “No, no, no, I’m trying to reduce my tax.” And Jonathan is puzzled: “Why is this?”

Well, there’s a tall tax in the island of Corumbo because we feel that it was unfair that some people are tall. You know, the society favors tall people in hiring and in promotion and marriage and in death, especially in politics. You know, The Economist magazine actually came out one time explaining that 23 out of the past 25 presidential elections were won by the taller candidate.

So people like to vote tall, but they felt that it was unfair that some people were favored by height. So they were going to level the playing field by taxing people according to their height to encourage them to walk on their knees, or they could really reduce their taxes by crawling. 

And Jonathan’s puzzled. “People will do this stuff, uncomfortable and miserable things, just to lower their taxes?”

“Oh yes, taxes control and rule people’s lives.”

And I got this idea, actually, talking with a tax accountant who was advising me on all the ways I could shape my life to fit the tax code and I thought, “Really, people do shape their whole lives regardless of the pain to their personal choices and decisions to fit the tax code.” 

And that’s what politicians, in fact, do.

Kent: Well, and it’s interesting, because I deal a lot with tax wonks and at the Department of Taxation and so on. They talk about that, which is interesting. So they’re well aware of what they’re doing, which is if you’re making more, we’re gonna take more from you, and if you’re making less, then we’re gonna give the, you know, the money from this person to that person. 

But then at a certain point, there’s kind of a glitch in the tax code where it actually makes some sense sometimes to make less money to get more so that your tax bill isn’t so high, right? So yeah, people, you know, this is a great story and allegory then.

Schoolland: The irony about this is that when you ask people, “What do they think about the honesty and integrity, the ethical standards of politicians?”, they rank them very low. 

One survey that I saw ranked all the occupations of people in the world and ranked politicians about down at the bottom, next to prostitutes and car salesmen. They didn’t think anything of them.

Except then when government makes up these tax codes to shape people’s behavior, they revere politicians’ actions and say, “Well, those are the values that should be shaping our lives,” which is contrary to their own values.

Kent: Right, right. So what about the video now? So is this going to be a series of videos? Is it a movie? So what’s your vision for this video series?

Schoolland: It’s gonna be a, well, a three-season story of Jonathan’s adventures on this island. I mean, like “Gulliver’s Travels,” he gets tossed about in a storm and gets stranded on this remote island where, [adopts narrator’s voice] “As you may recall, we last left Johnathan Gullible on a remote Pacific island after his boat was tossed about by a terrific storm one day.” [back to normal voice] And then each of these episodes is a different kind of …

Kent: I have to say, that was a good little narration. You must have done that a lot. [laughter]

Schoolland: I did that a lot, yeah, on radio. [laughs]

Kent: OK, so there it’s narrated but also it’s depiction of some of these chapters. So is it multiple chapters within a season then?

Schoolland: Yeah, there’s eight episodes in a season and three seasons for the whole book.

Kent: Oh, so you’re doing the whole book.

Schoolland: The whole book will be done. Yeah. And in an episode, they may have two or three of the chapters incorporated into each episode.

Kent: So who came up with the idea, then, to make this into, like, a cartoon series?

Schoolland: For years, people have been attempting to do a film out of it. Animation, I’d say this is probably the fourth start at making this as a film. 

We had some false starts in the past, one of which was a movie. A former student of mine was the director for a cast of 25 local personalities and staff that were … 

Kent: Wow.

Schoolland: … We were actually making a film out of it, but it was … Then she got married, so we didn’t have the money or funds to keep going with that. 

But that’s often the trouble with it. These things are very time-consuming and costly. And this time, I think we’ve got good support for it. We’re connected up with some international distribution through the Free to Choose [Network] people [and] the Students for Liberty and various other organizations [that] have shown interest.

Kent: But you’re still looking for some support to help the project go. Is that true?

Schoolland: Yeah, yeah, we can always use support. I mean, I’d say we’re solid for our first season, but we still are seeking support for the second two seasons.

Kent: Where can people go then if they’d like to support you?

Schoolland: Well, actually I’m delighted to always have great connection with Grassroot Institute. They can always find me through that. I teach at Hawaii Pacific University, and I can be reached there.

Online,  jonathangullible.com is the website for the book and you can find a lot of material about the book there and how to reach me. 

Also Liberty International is the one that’s hosting or actually doing the production work. We have a big production team, part of it in Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, India, Poland, the United States — quite a team internationally that’s working on this project already.

Kent: Wow. So who put the team together then?

Schoolland: Liberty International. Jacek Spendel is the president of Liberty International, and he’s the one that spearheaded this project. And we’ve had enormous support from local donors.

Kent: So let’s watch a scene from the cartoon and could you set up what’s going on?

Schoolland: Yeah. It starts out on the island where Jonathan is from. He’s going out to enjoy an afternoon sailing and then he gets tossed up in a storm and driven off-course, way to another island. And that’s a strange island that has all these strange people and strange policies and behavior to experience.

Kent: OK, so let’s watch the scene from “The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible.”

[Video begins] 

Jonathan Gullible: Come at me, Storm! I’m ready for you!

Kent: Well, that was some amazing footage of the animation and the voice acting, especially was impressive to me. Who did the voices for this?

Schoolland: We’ve got some very good characters from the free market world, I’d say. We’ve got Johan Norberg, the economist from Sweden; Walter Block, an economist in the U.S.; Austin Peters; Tom Woods. We’re going to have Tom and Terry and Matt Kibbe voices in here. [Unintelligible]

Quite a number of very well-known voices that are going to be partaking in this. And the idea is that we’re going to be really making fun of kinds of policies that get in the way of free markets all the time.

Kent: That’s great. And the animation looks amazing too. How do you put a team together to make animation like that? What was involved?

Schoolland: Well, we have a team director, Gabriel Caprav in Argentina, who has a whole crew of artists and sound team and all that, that put this together in Argentina. So they’re doing most of the work there. 

Also Brazil and Ecuador, it’s pretty much of a Latin American team. 

But then our management is being done out of Poland and India.

Kent: Wow. And am I correct in that you used artificial intelligence too to help with some of the animation?

Schoolland: Not with the animation, but with the ideas for the background and so on. For example, they tell them, qe give to AI some suggestions about what kind of background they get, they draw out this magnificent stuff and then we characterize it and put it into drawings and all that with artists.

Kent: So it’s kind of a mix of human talent and using computers and everything. That’s amazing.

Well, after Jonathan Gullible finds himself in the storm and goes in the water, he goes to an island. And what’s the first sort of story that happens next?

Schoolland: First thing on the island, he finds that this woman is being dragged off by these big burly men. And Jonathan is alarmed. He tries to help but he’s brushed aside. They’re much stronger than him. 

So he goes up the path to find some people who can help him rescue this woman, and he gets this clearing where a whole bunch of men are doing strange things by beating trees with sticks.

And he goes up to the guy that seems to be in charge and says, “Help me rescue this woman.”

“Oh, no, no, she’s been arrested.”

“Arrested? Why? She didn’t seem like a criminal. What was she arrested for?”

“Oh, she was threatening jobs of all these tree workers here. As you can see, we knocked down trees by beating them with sticks. At times, a hundred men can knock down a good-sized tree in a good month.

“But she came to work with a sharp metal piece attached to the end of her stick and she was able to cut down a tree all by herself in less than an hour. Clearly this threat to our traditional employment had to be arrested.” 

Jonathan says, “Well, but why not use her new idea and then and then use all the saved time to do other things — build tables and chairs and boats and houses?”

“Oh no, the purpose of work in this society isn’t to have new things, it’s to have stable and secure employment.”

Kent: Well now I want to stop you there because I want to watch a little bit of that part of the video, too, and we can see where that goes.

[Video begins]

Guy in Charge: We are tree workers. We knock down trees for wood by beating them with these sticks. Sometimes a hundred men working round the clock can knock down a good-sized tree in less than a month.

But that insufferable woman, she came to work this morning with a sharp piece of metal attached to the end of her stick. She cut down a tree in less than an hour, all by herself. Think of it! Such an outrageous threat to our traditional employment had to be stopped.

Gullible: But her invention allows people of all sizes and strengths to cut down trees.

Guy in Charge: What do you mean? How could anyone encourage an idea like that?

This noble work can’t be done by any weakling who comes along with some new idea.

Gullible: But sir, these good tree workers have talented hands and brains. They could use the time saved from knocking down trees to do other things. They could make tables, cabinets, boats or even houses.

Guy in Charge: Listen, you. The purpose of work is to have full and secure employment, not new things. You sound like some kind of troublemaker.

[End of video]

Schoolland: And you could see this kind of thing around, I mean, if you ask people, “Have people ever hesitated about new ideas because it would change the way people will do their work?” I mean, even AI that you mentioned, a lot of people find that very, very threatening.

Kent: Right, and I would assume that eventually they’re gonna try to ban it, or actually there have been some union negotiations in California, at least, with the writer’s strike there, they were trying to get the movie companies to sign contracts to say that they would not use AI. 

So that’s interesting, though, and ironic because you’re using AI to try to — you’re not a big movie company, thankfully — because now you can use AI and you’re able to partially make something, make this.

Schoolland: Yeah, yeah. And in Hawaii, not too long ago, We had, I don’t know if you were here at the time, but a garbage truck would go down the street and there were two guys standing on the back of the garbage truck, one guy driving. And they would pick up the garbage and toss it into the back and everything.

And then they put up this new truck with a hydraulic arm and it could all be run just by the driver.

Well, the guys who were standing in the back and getting paid to pick up garbage cans protested and said, “We’re gonna go on strike and prevent this from happening.” 

But, you know, of course they accommodate them and we’ll find you employment somewhere else and so on. But all the time throughout history, people have resisted new ideas because they felt threatened by change.

Kent: And, of course, protectionism. 

Schoolland: Yeah, exactly, exactly. 

Kent: And there’s so many different fields this applies to. It’s really like a principle. I mean, we’ve seen it in Uber versus the taxi, ride-sharing versus the taxi companies; and then you have short-term rentals versus the hotels; and then even the Jones Act, which Grassroot Institute, we talk about all the time. 

Our viewers probably know what that is. It’s a shipping law. That’s a protectionist as well.

But it’s also the same old arguments that they all use too and you’ve sort of boiled them down into cartoon form.

Schoolland: They can’t so often see going forward, but they can see what would happen if we went backward. Milton Friedman was once noticing that a team of Chinese workers were using shovels to build a road and and off to the side was a tractor that wasn’t being used. 

And he says, “Well, why don’t you use the tractor?” And they said, “Oh no. Well then, what would all these guys do for work and everything?” He says, “Well, if the purpose is just to have work, why don’t you have them use spoons instead of shovels?” [laughter]

Kent: Yeah, that’s interesting. Well, so what do you want next for, what’s the next step for Jonathan Gullible then?

Schoolland: Well, we hope to get it good distribution worldwide so that there’ll be a fun appreciation for Jonathan Gullible, and, I mean, for free markets. And who knows, maybe we’ll have another sequel to this later on. 

Everybody’s always asking me what happens next, but you know what, it’s not nearly as much fun writing about an island where things are done right.

Kent: [Laughs]

Schoolland: You know, it’s not so funny. It’s always hilarious talking about how things are done badly. 

I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, called “Hammer and Tickle,” [about] jokes that brought down the Soviet Union. And the guy who wrote this makes a collection of all the stories that people used to tell, mocking the Soviet leadership, especially Stalin. 

Of course, tyrants hate mockery more than anything. They don’t like to be laughed at. So, 25 years for telling a joke, 10 years for laughing at it, and five years for not reporting it. 

You know, there [was] always this humor that was a great way of undermining. And that’s throughout history. Satire has been one of the most effective ways at undermining tyrannical and pompous leaders who try to control people’s lives.

Kent: Well, like Roger Rabbit said, “Sometimes the only weapon you have is a joke and a laugh.” And sometimes that’s the best weapon too. I mean, the deal is they get to run our lives, but we get to make fun of them. [laughter]

Schoolland: So, George Orwell said, “Every joke is a tiny revolution.”

Kent: Yeah, that’s great. Well, thanks for this tiny revolution. And if people want to find your work?

Schoolland: Yeah, jonathangullible.com is the place to go online. You can reach me through Grassroot Institute. I’m affiliated with all the things you do. I’m very proud of all the work you do here. And I’m teaching at Hawaii Pacific University as well.

Kent: Well, thanks so much for making this and for joining us, Ken. We really appreciate it.

Schoolland: Thank you, Joe.

 

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