You have two cows

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Scenarios involving two cows have been used as metaphors in economic satire.

"You have two cows" refers to a form of political satire involving variations of a scenario, where what occurs to the eponymous cows is used to demonstrate how certain political systems function.


"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 emergence of currency and money.[citation needed]

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.[1][2][3][4][5]

Jokes of this type attracted the attention of a scholar in the USA as early as 1944. An article in The Modern Language Journal lists the following classical ones:[6]

  • Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbour.
  • 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.[7]

Bill Sherk mentions that such lists circulated throughout the United States since around 1936 under the title "Parable of the Isms".[8] 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.[9]

Notable usages[edit]

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.[10]

Richard M. Steers and Luciara Nardon in their book about global economy use the "two cows" metaphor to illustrate the concept of cultural differences. They write that jokes of the kind:[11]

– 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Guevarra, Argee (June 4, 1997). "Future Tense: e-jokes". BusinessWorld. ISSN 0116-3930. ProQuest document ID: 84519297, Source type: Periodical. Retrieved 2006-12-08. (subscription required (help)). praises the joke and gives versions from various countries/economic systems 
  2. ^ Melnick, Rick (August 2001). "Bovinus economicus". American Vegetable Grower (Willoughby) 49 (8): 42. ISSN 0741-9848. ProQuest document ID: 77628668, Source type: Periodical. Retrieved 2006-12-08. (subscription required (help)). presents the joke 
  3. ^ "Enronism Avenue Of The Americas [USA edition]". Financial Times (London (UK)): 13. January 10, 2002. ISSN 0307-1766. ProQuest document ID: 98859339. Source type: Newspaper (subscription required). adds Enron version of two cows joke 
  4. ^ "Insider Column". Thailand, distributed by Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. Washington: Bangkok Post. January 17, 2002. p. 1. ProQuest document ID: 100120779 Source type: Wire Feed. Retrieved 2006-12-08. (subscription required (help)). four new 2 cows jokes relevant to world economic issues 
  5. ^ Plender, John (April 14, 2003). "Texan bull". Financial Times (London 1st Edition) (London (UK)): 24. ISSN 0307-1766. ProQuest document ID: 324166071. Retrieved 2006-12-08. (subscription required (help)). talks about Enron version of joke 
  6. ^ George A. Henninger, "In Defense of Dictionaries and Definitions", The Modern Language Journal, January 1944, vol. 28, pp.29-39
  7. ^ Lisgar Collegiate Institute. "Vox Lycei 1939-1940". 
  8. ^ "500 Years of New Words", by Bill Sherk, Doubleday, 1983, ISBN 0-385-17902-2, p. 162.
  9. ^ "The Class in Political Isms". Chicago Daily Tribune. December 3, 1938. p.12, col.3. 
  10. ^ ""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... 
  11. ^ Managing In The Global Economy, by Richard M. Steers, Luciara Nardon (2005) ISBN 0-7656-1551-7