There was a certain crafty tradesman who was an expert in acquiring goods by shady dealing. He had a real talent for unloading some inferior item on a person and getting in return for it something of real value.
One day he came home with a load of excellent coconuts. He felt himself very clever that day indeed, for he’d gotten them for practically nothing. But there was one little problem–he couldn’t open the coconuts without a sharp chopper, and all he had at home was a very old, rusty and dull chopper that was for all practical purposes useless.
He brought it to a blacksmith and asked him to make a new chopper from it. The blacksmith answered that he could make a good chopper only if good quality steel was given to him.
So the tradesman fell back on his typical method of dealing. “Look,” he told the blacksmith, “It so happens I’m making a deal with someone that involves an amount of excellent steel. I’ll give you a sheet of this steel for free; all I’ll want in return is that you make me a new chopper from that steel for free.” The blacksmith agreed.
But the “excellent steel” turn out to be third-class quality iron. In any case, the blacksmith accepted the metal–because he could always find some use for it in his business–and made a chopper from it. But when the tradesman tried to open the coconuts with this chopper, he discovered that it was useless. He rush to the blacksmith in a rage and demanded to know why the chopper was no good.
“Sir, be reasonable,” the blacksmith said. “Your skill in life is making good deals. For that you require good fools to cheat. My skill in life is making good metal implements. For that I require good metal to beat. What good deal can you hammer out of a poor fool who has nothing to give you? Likewise, what good chopper can I hammer out of poor-quality iron?”