The trust fund yoyos “occupying” Wall Street remind me of the common but inexcusable notion that person A’s poverty is caused by person B’s wealth. The assumption that someone who’s rich got that way by oppressing others and if someone who’s poor got that way by being shafted by rich bastards is just plain wrong. Worse yet, it’s a dismal self defeating world view that ignores the most logical economic interaction of all; the one where both parties are pleased with the outcome. I do not live in a world where every trade creates a loser. There is no reason to suspect that all interactions screw someone. Anyone who does is either projecting or needs to start making better decisions. Life is not a zero sum game.
But you all know that. So I’m going to talk about a mutually beneficial trade that just happened on our homestead. Old chickens.
Hens, like people, start out life cute and useless. (Little baby chicks are the cutest damn thing ever and even a Neanderthal like me will say “awwww” watching them.) Like people they progress through a period of adolescent non-productivity where they consume tons of food and shit on everything. Only after several months are they mature enough to lay eggs. Mother nature gives homesteaders this lesson in delayed gratification every time a fuzzy little chick peeps into the world.
Once you’ve raised hens to that magic age they’re incredibly productive. But nothing lasts forever and they slow down with time. They’ll live several more years and they’re still excellent mobile bug zappers and yard ornaments. It might make sense to keep them around as pets, but they won’t lay enough eggs to sell.
I sell eggs. I’ve got to get new hens on-line and take the old hens off line. Off line in this context means butchered and in the freezer. The old hens are eating too much feed and occupying my limited barn space. I can’t feed the old and the young through the winter.
On the one hand this is pretty cool. Our low productivity chickens can be a source of food. If we were on the set of The Road we’d be pretty darned pleased. More than one family has overwintered on chicken soup. The economy cranks a few points one way or the other and I might find myself delighted with a month of chicken dishes.
On the other hand, butchering is hard work and old egg laying hens are scrawny. They’re not like young meat birds which are plump and easier to process. They’re like wild game. A lot of work to make a meal. Ma and Pa Ingalls had time to mess around with such things. I’ve got a day job so I don’t. Plus I can buy food. In the battle between meat from old egg layers and my limited time…I’d rather not deal with it.
So they’re an asset but I’m too lazy to harvest it (or rather I’m blessed with superior options). What to do? Meanwhile they’re laying eggs every day. Someone who just wanted some eggs for themselves would be happy with them. Delighted, in fact.
Fortunately we met some folks who need what we’ve got. They’d had some predator issues with their chickens and needed replacements. They want just a few eggs for their household. Win-win.
We gave them all they wanted. It didn’t cost them a dime. I don’t have to butcher them. Which frees my time to drink coffee and write pointless blogs.
If you were to ask the Occupy Wall Street folks they’d have to construe it that someone got screwed. But we both came out happy. How cool is that?
Update: I suspect some of my readers with a more economics/scientific bent will point out this isn’t really a trade since I didn’t get anything but relief from the butchering job. They might point out that the only reason I felt an obligation to butcher the chickens is ethics. (I could just kill them all and toss them in a compost pile.) Strictly speaking they’re correct but just killing several score critters is something I’d like to avoid. My reticence wouldn’t show up in a formula and misunderstanding that is why economists don’t get invited to really good parties.