Desire, Justice, and the Bounty

On the Virtue of Greed & Envy

“As his eyes opened, lying in his bed not too long ago, Stefan knew he was surrounded by traitors, and that all was well with the world.”

Greed and Envy, on one summer day,
Sauntered abroad, in quest of the abode,
Of some poor wretch or fool who lived that way.
Along the road,  barely heeding where it tended,
Their way in sullen, sulky, silence wended.

For though twin sisters, these most charming of creatures,
Rivals in hideousness, and monstrous of features,
Wasted no love was there between them,
and to sinners they were silent preachers

— Liberally adapted from Victor Hugo’s “L’Avarice et l’Envie


The Classroom

“Why on earth would anyone build a creature without a head?” asked Professor Milton. Today was the first day of classes, and in a graduate computer science class, Milton was stressing to his students the first and most important question they would ever ask in any of his classes: Why? 

He’d been teaching this Distributed Systems course for almost four decades, and he still started it with the ‘Why?’ lecture. He hoped it would teach them the importance of clarity of purpose, especially when building complex software systems that could touch every living being on earth, and which all too many people built all too sloppily. But he also hoped it would weed out those students who’d signed up imagining they were going to learn how to become container code monkeys, churning out apps without a second thought to overall form, let alone broader function and potential impacts. But he had just reached a point he always relished, a point they consistently got wrong. 

It wasn’t that Milton enjoyed “gotcha” questions. He didn’t, and he felt genuinely uncomfortable seeing his students struggle. But he lived for the moments when the scales fell from their eyes and they saw a new perspective on something they thought they already knew. That little spark of delight and wonder was a welcome change to the usual jaded cynicism they wore like a badge of honor at this age. But when he asked why some systems are designed to operate without a designated leader, without a head, working instead as a cooperating group of peers. The students always seemed to obsess about performance and miss the real reason. 

And sure enough, a hand was raised all-too-quickly. “It’s to make systems scale in size, capacity, and speed!” said the student, now positively beaming with pride at his three, wrong, answers. It was almost painful to watch. Almost.

Milton smiled, feigning delight at this gem of ignorance, and very gently asked “and so when you decide on which movie to watch with a group of friends, that decision goes faster when you consult each other about it like a committee, than if one of you just made the decision? And as for scalability, are you telling me that a movie selection committee of peers with no chairman, no head, will reach a decision faster as the size of the group increases? really?”

Appropriately chastened, the young student would be more careful with future answers. But Milton was not done. Pointing out the flaws in students’ answers was easy, helping them understand how they got there was the important part.

“Your answer is a good one, but for a different question. Had I asked you why we build large computer systems out of many computers, then yes, scalability and increased performance could indeed be our goals. But what I asked was not about a distributed system in general, but rather, why worry about designing a system that did not have a designated leader. Improved scalability and speed can all be realized by building a large computer system with a single designated coordinator, or hierarchy of coordinators, and resilience can be gained by having alternate leaders ready to replace a coordinator should they fail.”

“But eliminating a leader, like assassinating Caesar, comes with some gory headaches. Like the cost of continuously coordinating decisions amongst the leaderless peers. So why would we eliminate the leader from our grand design, and so embrace the Ides of March?”

There was an awkward silence. Milton’s tendency to wander off into classically-inspired analogies was  entertaining, but somewhat unsettling. The students felt off-balance, and never quite sure what to think in the moment. And that’s exactly what he wanted. To force them to try to get their bearings and doubt their footing, in a safe story where there was no shame in being lost. They just got to blame their weird professor, rather than doubt their abilities when they were uncertain about their potential answers.

“Alright, friends, engineers, computer scientists, lend me your ears, and let me put it this way: according to Mark Antony, why did Brutus go along with killing Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play? Was it not because he was an honorable man? Were not the conspirators, all those senators, honorable men? If you found yourself in Caesar’s shoes, or a citizen of Rome, would you trust Brutus? No, Mark Antony’s speech saw to that. It turned the crowd against the conspirators, since he was cleverly manipulating the crowd. Playing on their emotions to cast doubt upon the senators’ honor and motives, which oddly enough is the very reason you would want to avoid having a dictator, and a large part of the answer to my question.”

“You eliminate the leader from your design when you don’t want to entrust any single person, or any subset of the group, with the role of leader. You do it, not because you fear the leader will drop dead and need to be replaced, but because you do not want to have a single leader to begin with, and one very good reason to not have a single leader is if you fear their corruption and malfeasance, and not their death.”

“In other words, you build such systems when you do not have, or do not want to have, a higher authority to which you can appeal. When instead, you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know, or don’t want to know, who to completely trust.”

The Wake-Up Call

As his eyes opened, lying in his bed not too long ago, Stefan knew he was surrounded by traitors, and that all was well with the world. He woke up just like this every morning knowing he’d likely been betrayed in one way or another. He wasn’t paranoid. It was just a fact he knew, and he knew it because he knew the kind of people he worked for and who worked for him. In a way, he supported and hired them because they were traitors, so he’d known they’d betray him from his first day on the job. He just didn’t know who or how yet, and so Stefan was careful. He made sure his fingerprints weren’t provably on anything that could incriminate him, and he was surprised at how easy it was to achieve his heart’s most ghoulish desires through little more than maneuvering the worst of the worst. Placing them into positions where they could prove their loyalty by abusing the power he made sure they knew he had granted them. It was so easy, and nobody could touch him. Which is why he knew they’d betray him, want to get him, maybe even try to get him. But he also knew they never would, even though every last one of them was a corrupt traitor right down to their soft, pliable, thoroughly rotten souls. As Stefan’s eyes opened, he knew he was surrounded by traitors, and Stefan was happy. 

Then the phone rang.

It was his mother, sounding worried. “Stefan, did you see the news? You’re on the Bounty! Those demon-rat bastards are out to get you. Be careful! Be very careful. You are being careful, right? You haven’t done anything they can use against you? You’re o.k.! You’re o.k., right? Please Stefan, tell me you’re …”

“I’m fine, Mom!” he cut her off sharply. She always worried too much. It was annoying. “Seriously, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s just more libtard stupidity. They probably just gamed the site to try to make us look bad. You know what they’re like,” he said quickly, trying to reassure her. Then in his sternest big-boy voice he added, “Their nonsense will not be tolerated!”

He knew she always got a kick out of the “will not be tolerated line.” It was from his most famous early TV appearance as part of the new administration. His political opponents mocked him for it, but they quickly stopped laughing when they saw he meant it. When he went after their precious immigrants. He showed them.

He got off the phone, and rushed to check the Bounty site. He’d lied to his mother. He’d suspected they might do it, but now that it was happening he was worried what the Bounty might be asking for. He was sure they couldn’t touch him in federal courts, and even if they tried, Barney (or Ba Ba Flab Sheep as he sometimes liked to call him behind his back, when he wasn’t calling him Huckleberry Hound) could be counted on to run interference as usual. But maybe, just maybe they’d figured something out through one of the states. They were harder to control than the federal prosecutors, since they didn’t answer to Barney.

His eyes were still a little blurry as he scanned for the post, and his head was throbbing slightly. He’d drunk too much last night. He needed it after the restaurant. Not that he’d had a chance to eat anything, making a quick escape shortly after arriving. Getting away from that scene those bastards had made. He winced, partly because of the pain in his head, but mostly at the memory of those customers chanting “baby cages” at him and the manager apologizing profusely, but somehow managing to do less than nothing to stop them. The manager had looked foreign. Maybe it was best that he didn’t get a chance to eat there. He was sure the wait staff were grinning at him as he was being shown to his table. It was a French restaurant, but who knew these days. They probably had illegals in the kitchen itching to contaminate his food (as if their mere handling of it wasn’t bad enough). And then he remembered the other diners. The gasps. The whispers of “shame” and “it’s him” turning into a chanting mob trying to humiliate him. Filthy immigrant-lovers. To hell with them all.

His eyes refocused on the Bounty page with its prize banner front and center, listing its current eye-watering total balance, followed by the legal disclaimer explaining how the prize was only awarded upon conviction, and how the convicting prosecutor would need to verify eligibility, and so on, until he came to the list of the watched. And sure enough, his mother was right. But he wasn’t just there among the watched. He’d just replaced the president at the top of the list. His shock was mixed with a sense of pride. He’d always known he was destined for better things, and the role of a senior advisor was prestigious enough, but here was a little recognition that confirmed he really was the power behind the God-emperor’s throne. “That bloated orange lard-ass would be nothing without me,” he thought smugly to himself as he started to read the blurb. He felt good. But he also started to feel that old feeling well up again. It had been gone for the last few months and now it was coming back. He was scared, and that little seed of fear quickly grew into a choking vine as he read the post, and realized that the banner was red. He’d earned sweep status. Nobody had managed that since the Bounty was still only in the six figures. But rather than pride at this particular achievement, he felt a chill, as vulnerable and fragile as if his bones had been turned to ice.


A History of the Bounty

When the Bounty was first launched, the payouts were small, but when the sweep was established people could really dream of big money. It had started as a simple cash for crime-stoppers scheme, a crowd-funding site, aimed at raising funds for cash rewards that were offered to help solve crimes. Its size grew, as did its flexibility.  Since the Bounty was funded by members of the public contributing directly to the site, it shifted from a site hosting a collection of separate, local, rewards into a single large Bounty fund. This allowed it to leverage funds that went unused, for crimes that couldn’t be solved, to amplify rewards for crimes that could. This was before the idea of sweeps was introduced, explicitly giving it the appeal of a lottery scheme.

The more “the Bounty” grew to resemble a game, the more it caught the public imagination, as players bought ballots which they used to vote on the prize they wanted. But unlike a lottery, the prizes were not the payouts themselves, they were the targets of public prosecution, those individuals whom the players hoped to see prosecuted and convicted for a crime. They were “the watched,” as picked by the great unwatched. Each individual had a particular Bounty, but people could assign their money to any number of prizes they wished, and could specify the targets by name or title. Initially the most common prize was a generic “the government,” thereby making the money available to anyone who helped deliver the head of any government employee. At first, people objected to the seemingly blood-thirsty tone of this competition, fearing that it created a threat to public servants. But such criticisms were quickly discredited. The fact that the Bounty was only paid upon successful prosecution, and that the prosecutors (who could not profit from it) had to identify the critical evidence and the winner who provided it, made it clear that there was no financial benefit from anyone directly harming a target. The only way to win was to contribute evidence that in turn had to be deemed credible in a successful trial. That some psychologists and social scientists found that the Bounty served to defuse public frustration, and thereby offer a relief valve for anger that could otherwise prove murderous, only helped cement the Bounty’s position as a mechanism of public accountability.

Without a specific individual assignment on a ballot, only a tiny fraction of each contribution to the Bounty would go towards the payout for an individual prize being caught. Imagine the total Bounty offered for “the government” being divided by the total government workforce, and you can easily see why the payouts for catching individual government employees were initially so disappointing. But the Bounty quickly grew, and simultaneously, people’s contributions started to become more targeted. The tax man became a particularly popular prize category, and that’s why tax collectors maintain their reputations for honesty so tirelessly (and why they command such high salaries, as few people can handle the stress of being in that position).

But it was the sweep that really captured the public imagination, brought out the gold lust in people’s hearts, and skyrocketed the Bounty to a level where even tiny fractions became the kind of substantial payouts it currently offered on its prizes. Everyone pouring money into it wanted a shot at the real payout. The idea behind it was simple enough: if a particular prize was nominated by more than two thirds of the contributions, that prize became a sweep, allowing the winner to collect not just the portion of the Bounty specifically assigned to their prize, but to sweep the bulk of the overall Bounty account. No more winning a fraction of a fraction of the Bounty. With a sweep, people had a shot at a massive payday.

For a while, the president was a popular choice of prize. And being a government employee, that means that it was easy for a president to be deemed a sweep prize. But as people realized that bounties were invariably funded by those who did not vote for a particular president, the generic “government employee” prize became less popular, and people started to game the system in a way that both kept the money pouring in, and yet made a sweep designation very unlikely (since it would require a particular president or party to be “prized” by more than two thirds of the population). This trend became clearer to more people when they started adding Supreme Court justices to the list of the watched. Roughly equal amounts were pledged to the Bounty on the heads of the conservative members of the court as on those of the liberal members. And this partisan bidding tended to balance out, and the contributors had grown savvy enough to avoid listing categories that included their political favorites. Pledges that would have once gone to “government employee” prizes were now more likely to be split between “Democrat government employee” and “Republican government employee,” making it very difficult for any individual prize to become a sweep. But keeping “your team” from becoming a sweep did as much to keep the money pouring in as the hope for a sweep had done to trigger the start of this flood. And the fact that it continued was how the Bounty came to be the promise of a payout that dwarfed the annual GDP of most smaller nations.

Not Just Another Manic Monday

Stefan reached the White House, and walked down the long hall to his office.

“Wow! To be worth that much? CNN just ran a story about how this sweep is the largest cash prize ever offered. Ever. Seventy five billion dollars. Can you imagine?”

“It must suck to be him. That’s enough money that people will be falling over themselves to catch him. Enough for them to make sure they can, if you know what I mean?”

“Don’t worry, sir. This can’t be legal. The courts’ll definitely stop this farce.”

He heard those words, but didn’t really register who had said them, as he got to the morning staff meeting. He needed to focus. And as he thought that, he focused on one of his colleagues in particular.

“Hey Alvin!” he called out to the chief of staff, no the acting chief of staff, who stared daggers back at him before quietly muttering, “You know that’s not my name, Stefan!”

“Oh come on! You know you love it, you wascally wabbit. But more importantly, your boss, my boss, and everyone’s boss whether they like it or not, loves it. When he’s not golfing. So just quit your whining and report in, you worthless asshole!”

“Tough talk, Hair von-Spray-On. I’d say you should be careful someone doesn’t record you describing him like that, but with the Bounty focused on you today, I’d say you have billions of other things to worry about. It’s just under the annual GDP of Guatemala isn’t it? Seventy five billion dollars for whoever gets you. So just keep it up, Nosferatu, I’m sure everyone is just falling over themselves to cover up for a slimy little wannabe-Goebbels like you.”

“No Rick, calm down, there’s no call for that.” It was Ellie, smiling as if there was nothing at all wrong in the world. That’s all Stefan needed: her alternative-smiles offering him alternative comfort, and about as welcome and helpful as a real kick in the teeth.

“Thanks Ellie,” he replied “but seriously, do either of you know if Blotus has heard about it yet?”

She held back a giggle, while the acting chief of staff just continued staring at him. “Blotus” was one of her favorites, and to tell the truth, which on occasion she could do, even Rick loved the game. They all played it when they didn’t have to pander and pretend in front of their boss. It was a welcome relief valve, and helped them feel a little less soiled by association. But love the game as she might, she couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be if calling the president names was indeed a felony. She could be the richest person on earth with one little recording of Stefan talking about him behind his back.

And then Rick spoke up, “actually he’s taking it pretty badly. He feels you’ve really let him down with this, Stefan.”

“I’ve let him down!” he snapped. “Are you kidding me? That’s what he’s worried about? How are we going to handle this? That’s what I want to know right now. Is there anything Barney can do? Can we declare the Bounty a terroristic interstate threat? Freeze it by executive order? People are going to do everything they can to get me. This is terrorism isn’t it?”

“Actually, it’s not.” Rick was taking a little too much pleasure in this, for he smiled as he explained “since the Bounty is only offered to those who contribute evidence or arguments that lead to the conviction of the prize for a felony, it is not actually calling for anyone to harm you in any legal sense. The counter argument is that if there is no wrongdoing on your part, then you should be untouchable.”

“Are you touchable, Stefan? Inquiring minds want to know, especially Sir gropes-a-lot” Rick added with glee on his face as he joined back in their long-running game (and also using a nickname he’d borrowed from a late night show). He was cheering up immensely at his tormentor’s predicament, and the clear stress it was causing him.

“Keep smiling you f—-ing chipmunk,” Stefan snarled “just make sure you do your damn job, which is what? hopefully more than just staying out of sight like vermin, and making sure not to cough when Orange Julius-wannabe-Caesar is on camera. But for the life of me, I don’t know what you’re good for. Aren’t you the moron who went and told a press briefing about the the very quid pro quo we were trying to deny for God’s sake? And if that wasn’t bad enough, you useless chipmunk, you then tried to walk it back, letting all who might have a shred of doubt know for certain that you knew it was a crime.”

“Well, I’m good enough to break the really bad news for you,” Rick said, with positively maniacal joy in his eyes at this point, “I’ve already checked on whether it might be possible to freeze the money, tricky since it’s offshore, but not impossible to do if we got enough people behind it. And that’s where your goose is cooked my slimy little friend. Nobody likes you, aside from the colostomy bag with a twitter account who employs and loves you because he’s too big a great white dope to see you for the conniving little snake that you are. Even the vile cronies you pushed into key positions only pretend to like you for what they think you can do for them. What do you think every single person who might be able to help you is thinking about right now? Whether they should help you out in the hopes that you can help them advance to … what exactly? Is there anything you can do for anyone that would be worth more than getting a shot at the whole Bounty? Every member of Congress who might be asked to vote on a measure against the Bounty won’t favor helping you over the chance that they, or a potential new donor, might get a hold of that much money. You did read the terms of the post didn’t you?

Neither your boss nor Barney will help you. The Spraytanic Verses won’t help you, simply because he doesn’t care enough about you to bother taking that kind of heat. The Lowliest Bar of Justice can’t help you because it’s open season on you internationally, not just in the US, so no amount of inaction or obstruction he can pull off would protect you from a bounty hunter dragging your sorry ass to the Hague to stand trial for crimes against humanity. And Congress wouldn’t bother because regardless of which party controls either house, they’re all agreed on the fact that you are definitely not worth saving at the expense of losing out on a shot at that much cash, or being seen as taking that shot away from their constituents and donors. And they can feel good taking such a position, getting to act out naked greed and calling it the moral high ground. It’s every politician’s dream position. You put children in cages, set up a plan that ensured they’d wind up at the mercy of people who saw them as less-than-human, and who saw them as a way to make a quick buck, and you took pleasure in it.”

Rick was positively shouting at this point, “Do you think any one of the disgusting bottom-feeders you helped profit from that atrocity wouldn’t turn their own mothers in for that kind of money? You think they won’t greedily hand over anything they thought bore the merest whiff of evidence against you, you sick slimy bastard!”

Stefan’s eyes had been gradually bulging as the bespectacled little man’s voice had risen. The louder the diatribe grew, the wider his eyes got, and the faster and more prominently a little vein at his temple was throbbing. It was at that final sentence that Stefan realized his fist had connected with the now-screaming little man’s face.

He looked on in shock as he realized that his fist had broken Rick’s glasses, and Rick’s nose. He felt the sticky wet pain in his fist as agents, guards, or marines rushed into the room and leapt upon him. He couldn’t tell who was who in the confusion, but as he was being restrained and knocked to the floor, his eyes fixed on what seemed like the brightest point in the universe. Ellie’s false smile seemed to light up the whole room for an instant, until he realized it was the flash of her phone’s camera. And he suddenly knew why she was smiling.

Assault was a felony, and she had her phone in hand.

As Stefan’s eyes closed, he knew he was surrounded by traitors, he was not happy, and all was not well with his world.

Back in the Classroom

Professor Milton took a deep breath, and asked “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? or ‘who watches the watchmen’ if you prefer. Figuring out how to construct a system that runs correctly in the absence of an overseeing coordinator can sometimes help answer that tricky question. If you don’t know who to have watching the watchmen, make everyone watch them. Or better yet, construct your system in such a way that the most problematic nodes are forced by the normal operation of your system to endure the most rigorous scrutiny.”

“Sometimes you will build a system with a few individual components — let’s just call them nodes — that play important roles. And if you want to make sure the system continues to run when one of those critical nodes fails or gets corrupted, you make sure you have watchers in place. As I mentioned earlier, these special roles could be coordinators, critical central controllers for a large system, but you could make them more resilient by having a replacement ready to step in. But I oversimplified. That only works if you know that a critical node has failed, like a person dying, but what if it simply runs incorrectly, like a person in a position of trust suddenly going on a crime spree. In other words, what if a node doesn’t just crash and stop working, but rather its code is corrupted and it starts doing things it shouldn’t. Then in that case, we’d need to have some other node monitoring its behavior and stepping in if it detected deviations from correct operation. So you’d need not just a stand-by, but a watcher. And if you’re worried the watcher could be corrupted themselves, then simply having watchers watching watchers ad infinitum would be ridiculous. So maybe you think we should have two watchers, each watching the leader, and each other?”

“But if one of our two watchers reports that the other has failed and is acting suspiciously, can we accept that? To whom do they report? Well, we have a leader, and two identical stand-ins who are monitoring that leader and each other. So we could just make the leader available to break conflicts when the two watchers are in disagreement. And presto, you’ve just described a very simple, triple-modular-redundant, arrangement of nodes. Three nodes doing the same work, and checking that the other two are producing the same output. In the event of a disagreement, whichever node is in the minority is the one that isn’t working correctly.”

“And we see systems like that in government bodies that are set up with checks and balances, or oversight agencies. Ultimately everyone is answerable to someone, which in our system of three government branches ends with an arrangement where each branch acts as a check and balance for the other two. So you can build a system with leader nodes, but the question of coordinating amongst peers (or co-equal branches) would still come up if you didn’t want to place all your trust in a single corruptible entity. You could also build a large scale system with seemingly no leaders at all, and coordinate amongst everyone. This latter arrangement is like the Bounty, and needs to be carefully matched to the nature and purpose of its individual nodes.”

“There’s some theory we’ll discuss in this course, but what I don’t want you to lose sight of is why we are here. You build a system for a purpose, and you build it using components that you put to the best use possible to achieve that purpose. And it’s important to understand the domain to which you’ll apply your design, and the nature of the components with which you build your system can be key to its feasibility and success. In the case of the Bounty, which is designed to exploit greed and betrayal amongst corrupt and corruptible people, that works remarkably well.”

One particularly bright student, Angela, seemed troubled. Milton suspected he knew why, but thought he’d try to prompt her with a question instead. “You’re all old enough to perhaps remember the last time we had a presidency caught up in a massive corruption scandal? By an odd coincidence, that guy was also a baby-caging bloated xenophobe accused of selling out the country, and even known for wearing unbelievably garrish make-up that he seemed to think made him look good.”

“Funny how history echoes and repeats itself,” he muttered, before continuing.

“That guy was the first US president tried for crimes against humanity, and handed over to the international criminal courts by his own successor no less. Even though he’d been facing a litany of corruption and money laundering charges, he’d been extradited as a show of good faith to our allies abroad, and to set an example to those who might try to emulate him at home, and yet that clearly didn’t work given the latest news. He was punished, but too few of his enablers saw any consequences. Do you kids know the Geraldo Bolton cultists?”

The odd question, delivered with an abrupt sharpness, woke one young student who’d started to doze off. Yes, the students knew of the mustachio’d men who raised funds by harassing passersby on street corners and transit stations. One could hardly miss a handful of men in ridiculous mustaches, shirtless and flexing like embarrassing Victorian bodybuilders, while one of their number aggressively asked for donations to their “Bombs for Babies” war fund, or their “Steroids for News Anchors” initiatives. They were just really really weird.

“You may be old enough to have heard of the time when that bizarre cult started, but you are definitely too young to remember one of the original mustache aficionados who started it. He was at one point a trusted advisor in the presidency of the Orange menace, but turned against his master. Many today think he helped bring him down, but historians will tell you he refused to come forward when it mattered most, even though he did denounce his master eventually. While only he can know his true motives for certain, the fact that he withheld damning revelations until he published a book, and was set to profit from that publication, led many to believe that he only spoke out to make money. And that was one of the incidents that inspired the creation of the first Bounty. The fact that it relied upon the corrupt being greedy, that it understood the nature of the components upon which it was built, and the purpose to which it was being used, is the key to its staggering success.”

Milton looked towards Angela, and saw that she still seemed troubled. And so he asked her directly whether she had a question. When she answered, he was very impressed.

“But the last person to win it, that Ellie lady, was complicit with the guy she turned in for the reward. I mean I get that he was a particularly slimy character, but she wasn’t really that much better was she? and got a ton-load of cash for basically selling out her colleague.”

Milton was impressed, and delighted, because she was challenging the example he gave as flawed. He usually had to wait a couple of lectures before the students were confident enough to do that. And while she may be right, Milton offered a defense for the Bounty anyway. He decided to tell Angela and the class of Victor Hugo’s poem. The poem about Greed, and her twin sister Envy.

“These twins were a model of the ugliest form of sibling rivalry, a contest in monstrosity and hideousness. Hugo described a trip these two sisters took, wandering down a road, reaping the unfortunate souls who would yield to their irresistible charm, for charming and enchanting these sisters truly were. And yet they were a miserable and unhappy pair. One never having enough no matter how much she gathered, and the other evermore hating the growing hoard her sister held, for it was always made of that which she herself did not possess.”

“As Hugo’s poem tells it, they are met one day by the god, Desire, and to them he offers the grant of any wish that they can name. But before they could blurt out their hearts’ fondest wishes, Desire explained that only one of them would get the requested riches. The first to speak would get what she asks, but for the second the reward would be doubled. Instead of speeding the asking of wishes, as any good person would expect, this condition completely silenced these two sisters. Greed could not speak, for fear of settling for less than more, while Envy could not speak for she could not let it happen again as it always had, that her sister would have much more leaving her with less. And so they kept Desire waiting all day, until he tired of these hideous, and rudely silent, sisters.”

“So you see, Hugo describes a system with two corrupt nodes, driven by evil emotions, and halted in their tracks by rules that exploited their nature.”

“But I don’t get how that helps here,” said Angela, “that system didn’t reward either of them, but the Bounty paid out to Ellie didn’t it? She was rewarded for treachery and greed, right?”

“But Hugo’s poem doesn’t end with a deadlock,” Milton continued, “As Desire made to leave, which would have granted them nothing, Envy smiled an evil smile and asked for her reward, one that she had realized would give her what she wanted. She asked to be blinded in one eye. Ensuring that her sister Greed would be in the less enviable position for once.”

“So yes, a system like the bounty may be imperfect. It may even reward greed. But pity Ellie of the Bounty. For while luck brought her riches, her greed and good fortune are unlikely to outsmart envy, which will be her undoing if she leads anything less than a blameless life. She has quickly risen from the ranks of the many watched in government, to become the one most watched by all, including her former unscrupulous peers. You would do well to pity Ellie her newfound fame, and her truly enviable good fortune.”


This story is entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real characters is, of course, entirely coincidental. The bounty is clearly a fictional scheme that does not exist. Yet.


Et tu Brute?

— A tyrant, his tyranny briefly interrupted.


“Without justice, courage is weak.”

— Benjamin Franklin


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

— Juvenal


Who watches the watchmen?

— A broadcast or streaming network executive thinking only of ratings (presumably)