Deadliest Catch: Lessons for Liberty

Deadliest Catch shows a primal struggle for survival. Do the crabs in the show hold any lessons for free people? Photo: Deadliest Catch

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2012 - I’ve been watching episodes of “Deadliest Catch” on the rerun box. I don’t know why, exactly; it’s the same thing, episode after episode: several boats go out in usually lousy weather, with a mix of deckhands that range from capable to doofus. Captains are usually veterans, but sometimes must rely on shear stealth or plain luck. Equipment fails or is misued; deckhands get injured. The crab pots are either full to exploding, or are home to three crab, a cod, and a starfish.

Nothing changes, week after week, but still I (and millions of others) watch. Is there some subliminal lesson in this crab-catching quest?

The answer, as any experience morphs into a parable, is, “Yes, if you’re looking for one.” Maybe I’m looking, but here is my interpretation of the Deadliest Catch parable:

The ships are the various governments. Their captains range in skill and experience, but they all have a common goal: to catch as many crab as they can. They fish scientifically, mapping what’s known of crab migration, or they just follow each other around, banking on the other’s superior experience; or sometimes they just go out “somewhere” and drop their pots (their crab traps).

The crab represent taxpayers in “free, democratic” societies. They must be lured into the trap; nobody pushes them in. They voluntarily enter the trap, looking at the bait, which they see as “something for nothing,” the same trick governments use, to get more taxpayers into their own traps.

Once on the ship (once they’re in the government’s clutches), the deckhands (bureaucrats), experienced and dumb alike, sort the crab, and the dead and too-small go back into the ocean. A dead crab can’t be sold (a dead taxpayer can still have his estate rendered, however!), and a too-small crab can grow bigger and more-profitable, to be captured and eaten later. Besides, these smaller crab have been given a valuable lesson: it’s OK to reach for a handout; there is no consequence!

The “keepers” are protected from the elements, because a dead crab brings no revenue to a fisherman. They are dropped down a huge funnel from which they cannot escape, glimpsing their last moment of freedom and daylight. From there, they drop into a holding tank, where water is circulated to keep them healthy until they are sold. When the holding tanks get crowded, though, the crab fishermen don’t stop fishing; they just cram more crab down the hole, knowing that more will live than die; their overall take climbs, even though their efficiency drops. If a few crabs die, more will take their places.

Once the crab are off-loaded at the processors, the boats go back out to sea, looking for more crab; the ones they already caught are on their way to tables, cans, and feedlots, and they are of no further use to the ships. Their lives have been converted into printed paper, which pays the debts of the crabbers.

Unlike in crab fishing, there is no “crab” (worker) too small for a government to drop down the hole. And there is no season, and no limit. Will overfishing bring a collapse in the taxpayer base? Are there too many boats, too much government, constantly fishing with more pots, better equipment, and more deckhands (all paid for with the lives of the “something for nothing” crabs)?

The crabs in the sea can still save themselves, but only by not taking the bait. By catching their own food and not looking for handouts, crabs can remain free. If enough crabs do this, the fishermen won’t be able to afford better equipment and techniques, and the fishermen’s numbers will dwindle.

Author’s note: I’m not at all against crab fishing! I just wish my fellow voters were smarter than seafood.


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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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