Each time I teach about pre-WWII political “-isms” I always thinks of the “you have two cows” jokes that I remember from high school. And while it’s easy to find the text of the analogies, I can’t find the cartoon that goes with it. I remember a handout with 6-8 panels on it with illustrations of the “you have two cows” jokes. I would love to find the cartoon to use as an example in class, but I’ve had no such luck finding it. I did come across a poster, but I refuse to pay $16.95 for a poster that won’t hang up on the concrete block walls of my classroom and will probably get torn by some joker of a student who can’t understand boundaries. Sorry, I got off subject.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a little about the “you have two cows” joke.
“You have two cows” jokes originated as a parody of the typical examples used in introductory-level economics course material. They featured a farmer in a moneyless society who uses the cattle he owns to trade with his neighbors. A typical example is: “You have two cows; you want chickens; you set out to find another farmer who has chickens and wants a cow”. These examples were meant to show the limitations of the barter system, leading to the eventual introduction of currency and money.
The “two cows” parodies, however, place the cow-owner in a full-fledged economic system where cows are used as a metaphor for all currency, capital, and property. The intent of these jokes is usually to point out flaws and absurdities in those systems, although non-political jokes have been derived from them.
Jokes of this type attracted the attention of a scholar in the USA as early as 1944. An article in The Modern Language Journal discusses the classical ones, such as:
- Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
- Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the Government, and the Government then gives you some milk.
- Fascism: You have two cows. You give them to the Government, and the Government then sells you some milk.
- Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one, buy a bull, and start a dairy.
- Nazism: You have two cows. The Government shoots you and takes the cows.
- New Dealism: You have two cows. The Government takes both, shoots one, buys milk from the other cow, then pours the milk down the drain.
While these are the classics, there are many more, so I will list some of my favorites:
You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.
AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.
A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows. You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.
A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘Cowkimon’ and market it worldwide.
AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You worship them. (((Bad joke, I know, but still kind of funny.)))
A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows. Both are mad.
AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch. (((Fantastico! Posso prendere in prestito un cavatappi?)))
A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.