“You have two cows…” is the start of a joke that’s also called the “Parable of the Isms.” The joke illustrates what happens to the two cows under Socialism, Communism, Capitalism, Naziiism, New Dealism, Idealism, Realism, Bushism, Obamaism, and other “-isms.”
The Wall Street Journal published the joke on November 15, 1938. The joke might have originated either there or in the Chicago Journal of Commerce (which was also given credit in November 1938).
Wikipedia: You have two cows
“You have two cows” is the beginning phrase for a series of political joke definitions.
“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 as early as 1944. An article in The Modern Language Journal discusses the classical ones, such as:
. Socialism: You have two cows. You give one to your neighbor.
. Communism: 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.
. Naziism: You have two cows. The Government shoots you and takes the cows.
Bill Sherk mentions that such lists circulated throughout the country since around 1936 under the title “Parable of the Isms”.
Jokes of this genre formed the base of a monologue by comedian Pat Paulsen on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s. 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.
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 this kind:
. 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.
These are considered funny because they are realistic caricatures of various cultures, and the pervasiveness of such jokes stems from the significant cultural differences. They further say that others argue that such jokes present cultural stereotypes and must be viewed with caution.
The World Explained by “Your 2 Cows”
I’ve seen versions of this for quite some time, but this one has several that I haven’t seen before.
You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful. Barbara Streisand sings for you.
You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You have two cows.
The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
You form a cooperative to tell him how to manage his cow.
You have two cows.
The government seizes both and provides you with milk.
You wait in line for hours to get it.
It is expensive and sour.
15 November 1938, Wall Street Journal, “Pepper and Salt”:
Socialism means that if you have two cows you give one to your neighbor. Under Communism you give both cows to the government which gives you back some of the milk.
16 November 1938, Middletown (NY) Times Herald, pg. 4, col. 7:
New Dealism & Other Isms
Too good to pass up is the following sequence of definitions from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:
“Socialism means that if you have two cows you give one to your neighbor. Under Communism you give both cows to the government, which gives you back some of the milk. Under Fasicsm you keep the cows but give the milk to the government, which gives you some of it back. And under New Dealism you shoot one cow, milk the other and then pour the milk down the sink.”
25 November 1938, Los Angeles (TX) Times, letters, pg. A4:
I received the following in a letter and thought I would sent it to you:
Under Socialism it means if you have two cows you give one to your neighbor.
Under Communism you give both cows to the government, which gives you back some of the milk.
Under Fascism, you keep the cows and givethe milk to the government, which sells you back some of it.
And under New Dealism you shoot one cow, milk the other, and pour the milk down the sink.
WILLIAM P. BAKER
29 November 1938, Emporia (KS) Gazette, pg. 4, col. 3:
Virgil Rice gives the following definitions, which he read in the Chicago Journal of Commerce:
Socialism—A man owns two cows and gives one to his neighbor.
Communism—A man owns two cows and has to give them both to the government, but in return he gets some of the milk.
Fascism—A man owns two cows, keeps them both and has to give the milk to the government.
New Dealism—A man owns two cows, shoots one cow, milks the other and throws away the milk.
Google News Archive
24 December 1938, Pueblo (CO) Indicator, pg. 1, col. 7:
FORMS OF GOVERNMENT
An anonymous writer puts the various forms of some new fangled governments in the following humorous category:
Inasmuch as some of us may not be familiar with the various forms of government, and are frequently embarrassed at trying to explain them, the following may clarify the question.
SOCIALISM: You have two cows. You give one to your neighbor.
COMMUNISM: You have two cows and give both to the government and the government gives you the milk.
FASCISM: You keep the cows and give the milk to the government and the government sells part of the milk back to you.
NAZISM: The government shoots you and sells the cows.
NEW DEALISM: The government kills one cow, milks the other and pours most of the milk in the river.
10 July 1940, Lowell (MA) Sun, pg. 12, col. 1:
The Parable of the Isms
The “Parable of the Isms” isn’t original with us, but it seems too good to keep from those of our readers whose attention has not yet been called to it. here it is:
Socialism: If you have two cows, you give one to your neighbor.
Communism: If you have two cows, you give them to the government and the government then gives you some milk.
Fascism: If you have two cows, you keep the cows and give the milk to the government; then the government sells you some milk.
New Dealism: if you have two cows, you shoot one and milk the other; then you pour the milk down the drain.
Naziism: If you have two cows, the government shoots you and keeps the cows.
Capitalism: If you have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.
Google News Archive
17 December 1949, Lewiston (ME) Evening Jouranl, pg. 7, col. 3:
Political peanuts definitons of the many “isms” you hear about all the time. Thanks to the WEDGIE.
IDEALISM: If you have two cows, you milk them both, use all the milk you need and have enough left for everyone else.
SOCIALISM: If you have two cows, you keep one and give the other to your neighbor.
Now, in Russia
COMMUNISM: If you have two cows, you give both of them to the government, then the government gives you back some milk.
SOFA PINK COMMUNISM: If you have two cows, you’re a capitalist.
FASCISM: If you have two cows, you keep the cows but give the milk to the government.
IMPERIALISM: If you have two cows, you steal somebody’s bull.
CAPITALISM: If you have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.
NEW DEALISM: If you have two cows, the government shoots one cow, you milk the other, then throw part of the milk down the sink.
NAZISM: If you have two cows, the government shoots you and takes both cows.
REALISM: If you have two cows, then they’re both dry.
Now that’s funny
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
SOCIALISM: You have 2 cows. The State nationalizes one and gives it to your neighbour.
COMMUNISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk.
Great post! You forgot Obamaism.
OBAMAISM: You have 2 cows. The State nationalizes one and gives it to your tax-exempt and economically disadvantaged neighbour. Your private sector cow is taxed 20 times its profit margin to pay for your less-fortunate neighbour’s house, car, health care, internet, clothing, food, education, and the illegal immigrants your neighbor hired to maintain the cow. Additionally, a Help Haiti Rename Port-au-Prince to Port-au-Prince Obama Tax is applied to your taxes.
If you have two cows…
by Alan Basche
First published October 31, 2009
This section is inspired by ‘Parable of the Isms’ by Anonymous. The phrase ‘If you have two cows’ is a parody on the simple examples traditionally used to explain basic economic theory. Here, it depicts a scenario where you own two cows and shows how you would fare under the various socioeconomic/political ideologies. This section is also the inspiration for the name of the lens: Two Cows.
Capitalism (unfettered): If you have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.
Capitalism (fettered): If you have two cows, the government requires you to sell your cows on credit to neighbors who can’t afford them, and guarantees the loans. All of the new cow owners default, but they keep the cows and the taxpayer covers the loans. The government criticizes your ‘predatory tactics’ and ‘unfettered markets’, vowing to ‘replace selfishness and greed with responsibility and fairness’ (see Obamaism).
Obamaism: If you have two cows, the government gives one to your neighbor and one to a commercial farm. You pay capital gains tax on the ‘sale’ and new cow owners get a tax credit for buying feed. With the new farm bill, your neighbor also receives government subsidies if they don’t milk the cow. But now YOU have to buy milk and beef and you pay much higher prices due to the shortage. Sadly, the milk and beef aren’t as good because government regulations require commercial farms to inject the cows with antibiotics and growth hormones, making you sick. You can’t seek medical care because you couldn’t afford to keep your health insurance when your cows were taken, and the government won’t cover you because, being self-employed, you don’t qualify as an ‘at-risk’ individual. Lacking insurance, the government fines you for your ‘selfish failure to contribute’. Clearly a malcontent, your name is added to a ‘watch list’.