What happened when the farmers tried to protect their chickens: a fable.
By Stanley Bing
FORTUNE -- Once upon a time there was a farm that produced high-grade eggs for the entire world. This farm, nestled in the hills on the southern end of the very western coast, was small considering the quantity of eggs it produced, but it was successful and proud of its output. The proprietors had grown fat and prosperous, which they felt was only right and just, since their eggs were admired from one corner of the globe to the other. They spent day and night at their art, and took exceedingly good care of the chickens that produced their valuable product.
Occasionally a fox would venture onto the farm and seize a random egg, or if it got lucky an actual hen, which would then pay the ultimate sacrifice. As time went on, the number of foxes sustaining themselves off the farm increased, until the farmers became alarmed, not only for their business, but also in a simply moral sense, since in their world the theft of chickens and their offspring was a serious crime. On a utilitarian level, an increase in the problem could cost jobs and depress pricing.
The world at large, however, did not much care. "These farmers are fat and rich in spite of a few foxes," people said. In truth, there were few who would not enjoy a free egg or chicken leg if they happened upon one. Besides, foxes must live too, and a stolen egg tastes as good as one that costs $1.99 and is protected by copyright software.
After some time it became clear that there would be a decent business housing, sustaining, and preserving foxes. Coincidentally, there was already an impressive community of establishments dedicated to mining the personal information of customers, whose grounds were perfect for this purpose. Many were located in a valley just north of the farm. This verdant land, once festooned with redwoods and fruit orchards, had been transformed into a giant parking lot dotted with glass and steel cubicles. There, many foxes came to be housed among the data miners. And the proprietors of these establishments became rich themselves, and developed complex and beautiful intellectual frameworks to justify their activities.
Before long, farmers in Russia, China, and New Zealand noticed the vast potential of the fox business. They built huge ranches that did nothing but provide a conduit for millions and millions of stolen eggs and the chickens that extruded them.
At this point, the proprietors of the little farm on the southwestern coast became fearful for their business model and roused the authorities. A law was called for and drawn up. And the new law was very far-reaching and scared many people who had never eaten a stolen egg in their lives. "This is like dealing with a lion that has escaped from the zoo by blasting some kitties with a flame thrower," said one observer. And the people grew very uneasy about the whole situation and Twittered with increasing nervousness.
Seizing this opportunity, the data miners and fox protectors grew bold, and roused the public to paranoia and trepidation. The egg merchants and their friends ran for the hills, for not only were they fearful of public wrath, but they also knew there were Anonymous hacktivists who would and could destroy their entire computer systems while at the same time revealing their personal medical records, e-mail, and payroll information to anybody who wanted to look at it online.
And so that law was not passed -- in fact NO law was passed -- and even to discuss the possibility became injurious to one's health, and the gigantic egg-poaching operations continued to thrive, and the data miners rejoiced and prepared for their initial public offerings, and all was again right for everybody but those artists and businesspeople who actually produce eggs legitimately for a living.
Morals: None required.
This article is from the February 27, 2012 issue of Fortune.