You have two cows
"You have two cows" refers to a class of political satire involving variations of a scenario, where what occurs to the eponymous cows is used to demonstrate the advantages and flaws of certain economic systems.
"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.
- 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 and buy a bull.
- Nazism: You have two cows. The Government takes both and shoots you.
- 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.
Bill Sherk mentions that such lists circulated throughout America since around 1936 under the title "Parable of the Isms". A column in The Chicago Daily Tribune in 1938 attributes a version involving socialism, communism, fascism and New Dealism to an address by Silas Strawn to the Economic Club of Chicago on November 29, 1935.
Jokes of this genre formed the base of a monologue by comedian Pat Paulsen on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s. Satirizing the satire, he appended this comment to capitalism: "...Then put both of them in your wife's name and declare bankruptcy." This material was later used as an element of his satirical US presidential campaign in 1968, and was included on his 1968 comedy album Pat Paulsen for President.
- Russian company: You have two cows. You drink some vodka and count them again. You have five cows. The Russian Mafia shows up and takes however many cows you have.
- Californian company: You have a million cows. Most of them are illegals.
– are considered funny because they are realistic caricatures of various cultures, and the pervasiveness of such jokes stems from the significant cultural differences. Steers and Nardon also state that others believe such jokes present cultural stereotypes and must be viewed with caution.
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- George A. Henninger, "In Defense of Dictionaries and Definitions", The Modern Language Journal, January 1944, vol. 28, pp.29-39
- "500 Years of New Words", by Bill Sherk, Doubleday, 1983, ISBN 0-385-17902-2, p. 162.
- "The Class in Political Isms". Chicago Daily Tribune. December 3, 1938. p.12, col.3.
- ""Pat Paulsen for President" - album info and review". LiveDaily Store. Retrieved 2007-12-18. "...included in this collection: "Two Cows," where the various systems of government are explained with the useful illustration of two cows..."
- Managing In The Global Economy, by Richard M. Steers, Luciara Nardon (2005) ISBN 0-7656-1551-7