You have two cows

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

"You have two cows" is a form of political satire on various political, economic, etc. systems. The setup of a typical joke of this kind is the assumption that the listener lives within a given system and has two cows. The punch line is what happens to the listener and the cows in this system.


Jokes of this type attracted the attention of a scholar in the US as early as 1944. An article in The Modern Language Journal lists the following classical ones:[1]

  • 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.

Bill Sherk mentions that such lists circulated throughout the United States since around 1936 under the title "Parable of the Isms".[2] A column in The Chicago Daily Tribune in 1938 attributes a version involving socialism, communism, fascism and New Dealism[nb 1] to an address by Silas Strawn to the Economic Club of Chicago on 29 November 1935.[3]

Notable usages[edit]

Jokes of this genre formed the base of a monologue by American comedian Pat Paulsen on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s. Satirising 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.[4]

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:

  • 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.

– are considered funny because they are "realistic but exaggerated 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.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. — Cited in: Lisgar Collegiate Institute. "Vox Lycei 1939-1940". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)


  1. ^ George A. Henninger, "In Defense of Dictionaries and Definitions", The Modern Language Journal, January 1944, vol. 28, pp.29-39
  2. ^ "500 Years of New Words", by Bill Sherk, Doubleday, 1983, ISBN 0-385-17902-2, p. 162.
  3. ^ "The Class in Political Isms". Chicago Daily Tribune. December 3, 1938. p.12, col.3.
  4. ^ ""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...
  5. ^ Managing In The Global Economy, by Richard M. Steers, Luciara Nardon (2005) ISBN 0-7656-1551-7