EDITOR’S NOTE | By Bret Bradigan
The Ant & The Grasshopper
The Economic Value of Leisure
People from all over the world come to Ojai to play, to unwind and relax. They shrug off their burdens here. Relaxation is key to our economy, identity and allure.
When one of the Scripps brothers was building his fortune in the early years of the 20th century, buying newspapers in often-remote western towns, he’d sniff the air as soon as he arrived at the train station. If he liked the smell, he’d often either buy or start a newspaper. It’s a pretty good rule. Clean air means no factory smokestacks befouling the air. No factories means the town’s economy is likely more diversified, that it is not a company town, subject to mercurial ownership or commodity prices.
In the absence of a big company, many small towns rely on small craftsmen and farmers for its economy, or tourists, or both. In Ojai, it’s been explained to me by Tony Thacher that our economy is a three-legged stool — one leg is farming, the second is our splendid schools and the third is tourism.
Somerset Maugham’s short story, “The Ant & The Grasshopper” twists Aesop’s fable into a tourniquet. The story’s premise is that of two brothers, one a machine of conscientiousness and competency, the other a charming rogue, a wastrel. The hard-working brother plots his life toward prosperity and respectability, dedicating himself to his studies. The other floats along on the sheen of his charm, chasing women and avoiding work. The hard-working brother becomes a bank president, the other depends on the hard-working brother’s good-will to bail him out of one scheme after another.
Set in London in the late 1920s, the plot twist is the Great Depression. The bank has a run, the hard-working brother ruined. The charming rogue marries a rich widow. In this world turned-upside down, knowing how to have fun and be charming — to know about wines and ballroom dancing, fluency with leisurely pursuits, are marketable skills.
Being a place for serenity, contemplation and finding (and reminding of) our purpose are among Ojai’s marketable skills, what sets us apart. I wonder if Ojai, during the next economic downturn, will be well placed to endure because of it. If, in this next telling of the fable, it is Ojai that is the grasshopper