Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Grand Game: Farmer Bob Edition

In the contest for worst analogy ever, "The economy is like a farm" has GOT to be a serious contender. In today's NY Times, Bob Shiller trots it out for a spin.

Let's start at the beginning. I grew up in a rural setting and have worked on farms. Farmers don't wait until winter to fix their fences. If there is a break in the fence and the cows are loose, you fix the damn fence then and there. Same with your barn. If there's a hole in the barn roof in June, you don't wait until January to patch it.

Then there's what I think is the weirdest part of the analogy:

The farm needn’t go into debt to do this. All able-bodied people on the farm are expected to contribute their labor, an imposition we can view as an informal tax.

In my experience, farmers laid off many of their seasonal workers after the harvest. Those that were kept on, to deal with animals or to do projects were paid hourly wages. They weren't "expected to contribute their labor".

The farmer had to save part of the farm's income to pay for what workers were needed in periods when the farm wasn't making a lot of income.

(A lot of the kids I knew that lived on farms were expected to make this "contribution" year round and they really really hated it. Winter was their favorite time of year because they didn't have to work nearly as hard)

I acknowledge that in some areas of the country and for some types of farms, business is seasonal. However, farmers mostly deal with that seasonality by laying off workers!


The funniest thing of all about this is probably the title of the HTML link for the article which I reproduce here for your enjoyment (I am NOT making this up):


Pelsmin said...

Pretty typical example of someone with no experience or insight trying to comment on something that every Joe Dokes in flyover country understands. The able-bodied people who are "expected to contribute their labor" are the owners of the capital. The family of the farmer works like mad -- harder than any hired help -- because it's their property. All those people busting their humps own the place -- as far from a tax as it gets.

The other hard workers are hired hands who work as hard as they have to to get paid, and are kept as long as needed. No "expectations to contribute" for them.

I suspect Shiller's farm experience is limited to picking out a pumpkin and buying some apple butter.

Tom said...

It's easy to see why lefties favor the farm analogy: at the center of it all is The Farmer, who makes all major decisions and to whom all others defer.

The only surprise in the piece is the bald admission of this ugly world-view.