I Like the Game of Bridge

I like the game of bridge. I especially like the mind games you play with your opponents, when you lead a weak card to a strong card, and then when they play an even weaker one you let your first card ride. That way you win one trick, and still have the strong card in reserve to win another trick later on. The practice is called taking a finesse. Bridge players say that the smaller and weaker the card that you use to win the trick, the deeper the finesse.

But I digress. What I was going to write about today is one of the things I would find myself thinking about when I woke up at 3.30 in the morning – paranoia. Let me give you an example.

Suppose you owned a large oil producing place somewhere, say in the far north of a country, and wanted to get that oil out from where it was to a place where you could sell it and make a lot of money. You also wanted to pay taxes and employ people and help your national economy to grow, because those are all outcomes of good business, but mainly you wanted to make a lot of money. But to do so would mean that you would have to run a pipeline in a straight line to the big refineries who would buy the oil. A straight line because that would be the least cost, and thus the greatest profit.

But of course then you had to fight and argue with people who lived in the area where you wanted to put the pipeline, people who were concerned that it might leak into their rivers, or explode near their homes, or cause other sorts of horrible things to happen.

So then you thought of another option, to run the pipeline to the sea and ship it by tanker across the ocean to a different group of big refineries who would buy the oil. That pipeline would go across unsettled lands, across forests and mountains and other natural areas. An area with nobody living there, or at least nobody important because otherwise they would live in cities and have real jobs. An area where a pipeline wouldn’t cause any problems.

But of course you then had to fight a wider public who basically didn’t care about you making lots of money and just wanted those wild places to exist, even though they didn’t live there, just because they selfishly wanted something to look at, and sometimes visit. People who were financially supported by other people who were jealous of all the money you would be making.

So you made your first proposal, the straight line one, knowing that there would be a significant amount of resistance. And there was. And as the resistance strengthened, so you floated the second idea. You especially talked about the potential economic impact to those few people who lived in the area. You talked of the jobs to be created, and the taxes to be paid. You didn’t talk of old history, of oil tankers running aground, of oil wells blowing up, of pipelines rupturing, or of the great amount of money you would make for your shareholders.

When the first idea was blocked by the government of an adjacent country, who decided they didn’t want the straight line running straight across their country, you accepted their decision. You started to argue even more strongly for the second pipeline, the one that would not disrupt any important people, and you were pleased when your own government supported you because of the taxes and the jobs you would provide. After all, there are a lot of forests and mountains and rivers in other parts of the country, we don’t need all of them.

So a big consultation was started, and lots of media coverage happened, with balanced reporting meaning that your side was presented as fully as the side of those who were against your plan. And while all the noise of that argument was going on, the government of the adjacent country quietly announced that you could reapply for a straight line pipeline with a little kink in it. So you did.

But in the consultation, all the noise was around the point that the economic health of the country, the jobs and taxes, would be jeopardized if the pipeline didn’t go across those mountains and rivers and forests, and that the new tankers were much safer now and so wouldn’t hit underwater islands or go off course. Only cruise ships did that any more.

So the pipeline through the forests to the coast was approved, and you were able to start building it and begin the process that would eventually make you lots of money.

And then the adjacent government approved your straight line with a kink in it pipeline, and you were able to start building it and begin the process that would eventually make you even more money.

And you were rich.

And so where there had once been resistance to one pipeline, now there were two pipelines, and even more oil could be extracted and exported. And then I wondered whether I was being paranoid. Surely that hadn’t been the plan all along?

And I applauded such a deep finesse.

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