The Law of Imperatives and the 2/3 Rule

The King and the blacksmith – can quality, service and cheapness co-exist?


The law of imperatives and the 2/3 rule

Once upon a time, there was a king that insisted that the local blacksmith craft him the finest carriage – bedecked with gold overlay and complete with silver-studded wheels. The only specification was that it had to be made in the quickest time possible for the cheapest price and of the highest standard attainable in the whole of that land.

The blacksmith was quite abrupt in his answer to His Majesty. “It can’t be done,” he said. “Why not?” retorted the indignant sovereign, “a more skilful artisan I have never known.”

The blacksmith answered more loquaciously than was wise. “You can only ever have two of them at any one time,” he said. “What do you mean – two of them?” demanded the increasingly exasperated ruler.

“Well,” said the blacksmith with a knowing twinkle in his eye. “You have demanded three imperatives: service, quality and cheapness. Unfortunately, there will always be one of them that exclude the other two, or two of them that exclude the other one”.

By this time the king was furious. “Prove it,” he said, “or you’ll be banished from the kingdom.” The skilled artisan was losing his composure but he finally plucked up courage and what he said is now a proverb.

“It’s actually quite simple, oh king, but let not thy humble servant grieve thee with words which may seem frivolous, however, it is simply impossible to meet your demands.”

“I can make you a chariot cheaply and quickly, but it will not be of the quality you so desire. Or I can make a quality chariot quickly, but this will require I employ more workers – so it will not be cheap. Or I can build a quality chariot at a more competitive price, only if you allow me more time”.

“Unfortunately, your Majesty, it is impossible to give all of the three things you demand. The law of imperatives simply prevents it. In other words, I can give you quality and economy but not service, or I can give you quality and service but not economy, or I can provide economy and service but not quality.”

Thankfully for the hapless blacksmith, the king saw sense and decided to make a statute to be proclaimed throughout the whole kingdom.  It read thus:

Service and quality are to have precedent over economy given that it is impossible to have all three in perfect equality. It shall be called the ‘Law of Imperatives’ or the 2/3 rule and no man or woman shall transgress it.  It shall become a precedent from this day forward: that service and quality mutually exclude cheapness, and no demand shall be made by any one throughout the whole of the kingdom for all three together.


Service and quality are mutually exclusive of cheapness. You can never have all three. You can have quality and cheapness, but not service. You can have quality and service, but not cheapness. Or you can have service and cheapness, but not quality.  The ‘Law of Imperatives’ denies the wedding of all three.

“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” John Ruskin – 19th century English poet and fervent art critic.