Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

02 February, 2008

On the political economy of the barnyard

Most of you are familiar with the children's book Click, Clack, Moo. The gist of the story is that the hens and cows withhold their eggs and milk in order to force Farmer Brown to acquiesce to providing them with electric blankets. In order to seal the bargain, the cows agree to trade their typewriter (with which they were able to make demands) for the blankets. Future hijinx ensue when the ducks, a third party in settling the dispute, abscond with the typewriter and issue their own demand for a diving board at the duck pond. The last page, with the image of a duck diving from a newly installed diving board, leads us to believe that they too were able to leverage the solidarity of their species and bargain.

Now, we could debate for hours the wisdom of bargaining away the typewriter (seriously, do it in the comments), but what intrigues me is that the ducks somehow won. In terms of the barnyard economy, the ducks seem to be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to making demands. The ducks only bring value to the farm in two ways - as food or as animals that enhance the barnyard ambiance that is so crucial in promoting agri-tourisim. In the latter case, given the negligible income generated from the hordes of tourists flocking to see a "working" farm - were the goods producing animals not on strike - and given the expense of caring for them, I'm betting the ducks were loss leaders. Farmer Brown could have just as easily sold the whole gaggle to some fancy French restaurant in the city to recoup his lost revenue from the "staples strike" of aught-eight, sent a chilling message to the rest of the barnyard community, and grabbed his damn typewriter without having to install a fucking diving board. Or even more chillingly, Farmer Brown could have made an example of Mr. Lead McDuck by prepping him up for foie gras.

So I ask again, what could the ducks have possibly had that would give them leverage over Farmer Brown?

I've only been able to come up with one answer that fits the facts of the story - the ducks were the barnyard good squad, employed by Farmer Brown with a cush duck pond and all the feed they can eat in return for keeping the rest of livestock in line. Farmer Brown employs them to break the strike, the ducks arrange for the veal truck to be spotted in the farm parking lot, the cows, um... cowed by the aggressive display, but still wanting those blankets, stand firm on their one demand but agree to give up the one means by which they could make demands. After greasing the deal, the ducks, mercenaries with no set of loyalties that they are, decide that it's Farmer Brown who owes them big for mediating an agreeable solution, and when Farmer Brown initially ignores them, he wakes up next to the head of his plow-horse. The ducks then, through a savvy combination of patronage and calculated violence, maintain labor peace and managerial benign neglect to keep their dope smuggling ring intact and away from prying eyes.

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