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If all the seas were diamonds

It’s not raining money, but it might be raining diamonds.

Not here on earth, of course.  For that you’ll have to go to the planet Neptune.  At least, that’s what scientists are now telling us.

I won’t pretend to understand the phenomenon of spontaneous diamond showers deep inside the ice giant that lurks at the outer reaches of our solar system.  Nor will I attempt to explain how scientists here on earth are simulating the process.

Instead, let’s talk about the practical applications of mass diamond production.

It’s long been known that the diamond industry artificially inflates prices through market manipulation and manipulative advertising.  Diamonds may be forever, but so are Cubic Zirconia — and most people can’t tell the difference.  So why spend $5000 on a two karat diamond when you can buy a comparable CZ for 30 bucks?

To paraphrase Will Rogers, people will eagerly spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.  The adage has been repeated by many, including Lev Leviev, the world renowned “King of Diamonds.”

Because of their hardness and heat conduction, diamonds do have genuine value:  in the manufacture of cutting and drilling equipment, as well as for research and technology.  But as far as jewelry, the cost is all about hype.

Which should make us pause to wonder:  what if it really did start raining diamonds?

A famous parable tells the story of a poor man who travels to a far away island where the ground is littered with diamonds and precious stones.  The moment he gets off his ship, he falls to the ground and begins stuffing his pockets with gems.

The people around begin to laugh.  “Why are you picking up worthless pebbles?” they ask.  In an instant, the man realizes that the stones, worth a fortune in his own country, have no value at all here.  And since the obscure island is only visited by ship once a year, he will have to find a way to support himself until the next ship comes to carry him home.

After making some inquiries, the man learns that the most profitable source of income on the island is cooking-fat.  He discovers that he has a particular talent in this area, and before long he is making an excellent living in the cooking-fat industry.

The year passes quickly, and when the ship finally arrives the man packs up all his valuable fats to bring home with him.  He reaches the port just as the ship is getting ready to make sail. All at once he remembers the reason why he came in the first place.  He hurriedly bends down to scoop up a few stones, then has no choice but to board the ship before it departs.

Upon returning home, the man’s family rejoices at the fortune with which he has returned.  But the man is forlorn.  “You don’t understand,” he says sadly.  “If I hadn’t forgotten why I was there, we might have a thousand times what I brought back.”

If we bother to think about it, it’s be obvious that shiny stones are not the source of happiness.  Objects have value because they are useful, because they are beautiful, or because they are rare.  But when we allow others to convince us to make them rich by investing in things with no intrinsic value, is there anything more foolish?

King Solomon says:  There is one who thinks himself rich and has nothing; there is one who thinks himself poor and has great wealth.

The blessing of family, of friends, of community; the joy of kind acts and charity; the inspiration that accompanies wisdom — these are the gems that are truly priceless.  They cost far less than shiny stones, and they make our lives infinitely richer.

As long as we don’t forget.

Published in Jewish World Review

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