Imagine a man who owns lots of land. He leases it out for other people to farm. Some raise wheat, some raise olives, some raise sheep.
The deal is that when the harvest comes in, the owner gets a set amount of the crop and the farmer keeps the rest. In good years and bad, the owner gets his part, the farmer gets what’s left.
There’s an incentive for the farmer to do a great job, to care for the land, because the farmer wants to get the best possible yield.
So, for example, if you are raising wheat, the owner might get the first eight hundred bushels. If you are raising olives, the owner might get the first 500 gallons of oil.
It may not sound fair, but it makes sense.
The owner has a manager, someone he pays to keep the books, manage the contracts, solve conflicts. The manager earns a fair wage because he’s in a position of high trust.
Now, imagine that the manager sees an opportunity to make more money.
“If I tell the farmer that there is a new contract,” he says, “we can get more harvest. And if I don’t tell the owner, I get to keep the difference.”
So the manager tells the wheat farmer that the contract for the next year is 1000 bushels instead of 800. The manager tells the olive grove grower that the contract is for 1000 gallons instead of 500.
The farmers don’t like it, but there is nothing they can do. As far as they know, the owner is being an owner.
One day the owner hears that the manager is wasting resources. He may be having parties with the owner’s best veal and wine. He may be hiring family members to do nothing.
Whatever the accusations, the owner has some reason to believe them.
“Bring in the account books,” the owner tells the manager. “I want to see what you’ve done.”