40 acres and a mule

November 05, 2018

One day, a farmer was tilling his land. The work was hard, but satisfying: he was in great shape, and rarely got sick. Life wasn't too stressful: he lived simply in a small house with two children and a wife who loved him.

Life was good; very Jeffersonian.

Until one day, the farmer met the economist.

The economist noticed how hard the farmer was working, and said to him, "I'll make you a deal: I'll give you equipment that will double your yield: 80 acres worth of crop from your 40, in exchange for 15% of your harvest."

The farmer thought about it. 15% of 80 acres meant he'd give 12 away, and keep 68. That means he'd get 68 acres worth of crop, when he used to get just 40.

"And I wouldn't have to work any harder?", the farmer asked.

"No, not one bit. We'll supply the equipment, you use it, and your yield will double."

"What happens if my yield doesn't double? Do I still owe you 15%?"

"We'll take our 15% no matter what. Most people who use our equipment double their output, but a few find it doesn't work. On the other hand, we've seen some people triple their output. We can't say exactly how well your farm will do."

The farmer wasn't too sure about this. Why ruin a good thing? He was happy, he had enough, and just wanted to run his farm.

On the other hand, he liked the idea of getting more output for the same amount of work. 15% seemed like a small price to pay for nearly double the output. And he knew that if he didn't find a way to work more efficiently, the farm wouldn't be enough for the next generation; his kids were college-bound, and he didn't have the income for that in his current situation.

Also, if he could work just a few years with much greater output, he could retire a little early: more time to visit the kids at college, travel with his wife, and read all those books he never quite got to. That is, if it worked.

"I'm not sure", the farmer replied. "I'll have to talk to my wife about it."

"No problem", replied the economist. "Just don't wait too long. I'll be here, but every day you work, you're leaving a lot on the table. Why not take the deal and double your output? The risk is on us; if things don't work out, we're out the equipment, you just lose a little bit of your harvest."

The farmer liked the deal, and yet, he always wanted to "be his own man". That meant controlling his destiny, not relying on magic beans he didn't understand from strangers.

← Previous

Next →