Centuries of Foresight

In the forest of Tronçais in the département of the allier in France, there are still standing oak trees which Colbert had planted in 1670 with a view to providing solid masts for the French fleet from the nineteenth century on. Colbert had thought of everything except the steamship.

—Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce, p. 240

A large and rich Cambridge college, which has already survived 500 years and has every intention of surviving another 500, recently interviewed four sets of investment advisors. Each group was asked what they considered “long-term” to mean. Three said five years and the fourth said three days.

—T.W. Körner, The Pleasures of Counting, p. 97

(Help! I cannot locate the Körner quotation about the tree planted simultaneously with the felling of another, with the intention that it be available centuries later when the roofbeam made from its predecessor wore out. It would also go quite well with the Braudel line. Anyone with a copy of Körner who can track it down will incur my gratitude. Ben? You’ve only had my copy on loan for five years now …)

UPDATE: Yes, the story is told by Danny Hillis, who got it from Stewart Brand, who got it from Gregory Bateson. But none of their formulations seem to be quite the formulation I remember. I was willing to swear that Körner put it particularly pithily. Still looking …