2 cows illustrate economic systems

An update of the old story:


You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

You have lots of cows.


You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you a glass of milk.


You share two cows with your neighbors. You and your neighbors bicker about who has the most “ability” and who has the most “need.”

No one works, no one gets any milk, and the cows drop dead of starvation.

Crony Capitalism

You have two cows. After making a few contributions, a too-big-to-fail agricultural conglomerate becomes the governor’s new best friend. The state takes your cows through eminent domain and sells them to the governor’s new buddies for half their market value.

New regulations make it impossibly expensive for you to run a farm. You go broke. The TBTF conglomerate has record profits. The governor is re-elected.


You have two cows. Your lord takes most of the milk.


You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.

New Deal Keynesianism

You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them.

Then it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. (This one isn’t so funny – the government-commanded slaughter of millions of pigs and sheep during the Great Depression takes away much of the humor – see this post if you want tears instead of chuckles.)

Modified substantially from Mikie’s Funnies on 10/3/2000 and other versions I’ve read over the years.

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