Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Uncle Sam empties the barn

A post of mine over on the Blog at Mises.org:


Uncle Sam empties the barn


Jim Fedako

The nature of man being what it is, the desire for fun and leisure is limitless. After a hard week of working and saving, Friday night is enough reason to open the barn door for music and celebration.

Farmer Bob woke Monday to face another week of reaping that which he had sown. He knows the routine: out to the fields in the morning for a long day of labor. Each evening, he returns to his barn and tosses the day's bales of hay, one after the other, onto an ever-growing pile in the back. Bob recognizes that he has to store - to save - this hay so that he has something to exchange at the Saturday farmers market throughout the year. In addition, he recognizes that he has to set aside some bales to feed his animals next week and throughout the long, cold winter.
After completing this task, Bob locks the barn door and drags his exhausted body toward home and kitchen. During the season, his routine is usually the same. But this week had a little twist.
Unbeknownst to Bob, his wife invited her Uncle Sam to visit. Now, Uncle Sam is a real layabout. Sure, he is fun, always ready for a hearty laugh, yet he never works a job. At family reunions and get-togethers, Uncle Sam alludes to "all that money my wife left me." But folks who knew his wife never heard of any family wealth or riches.
For the price of meals and a bed, Uncle Sam entertains relatives for a week at a time, moving from house to house, and city of city, arranging events that become the talk for years. Now it was Bob's turn to host the party. Yet, somehow, Bob sensed something was not so.
Given the challenges of running a business, Bob relies on his entrepreneurial calculations to keep his family fed and the finances of his farm in order. So, throughout his work week, Bob mentally tallies bales of hay. There are the 100 he unloads into the barn each evening - his nominal savings. And then there are the five bales that succumb to pests and mold during the week. So, working five days per week, Bob has an effective savings of 495 bales per week - the 500 reaped less the 5 lost.
At the end of each week, Bob splits his weekly product between the 50 bales for next week's feed, the 300 he sets aside as long-term savings - for exchange and feed throughout the winter, and the remaining 145 he exchanges at the market each Saturday for current goods, services, loans, etc.
As the season is 10 weeks old, Bob has already stored 3,000 bales in the barn - a great savings to be sure.
At the start of the week, Bob had confidence in his future. But he soon experienced a nagging concern over that layabout planning the Friday shindig.
Each day, Bob labored while Uncle Sam relaxed on the porch, iced tea in one hand, phone in the other, planning the big event. Bob simply could not figure how Uncle Sam was going to pay the final bill. A concern that disturbed Bob's usually fitful sleep.
Friday evening arrives and Bob is exhausted and just a little annoyed - guests are arriving in droves. After unloading fresh bales of hay, Bob turns to lock the barn door. But there stands Uncle Sam, quickly reaching out his hand. "Bob, leave the door open. We need the space to store stuff for the party," Uncle Sam says with a coy smile. Against better judgment, Bob complies. He leaves the door wide open, wipes his forehead, and heads toward his warm meal.
We can guess the ending. The party is the event of the year. As expected, in the morning the yard is a mess and the barn is empty save a few bales littered here and there. Uncle Sam is still around, seated at the breakfast table, looking tired but happy. Bob is irate, "Sam, how could you do that? It's all gone; my savings, my future."
Uncle Sam is unshaken. "Look, I used your hay to stimulate the local economy -- it was a real boom, wasn't it? And don't worry, your barn will soon burst with hay once the multiplier takes over. Trust me."
"Multiplier?" Bob shakes his head. He knows the hard work involved in the production process. And Bob knows that it is only hard work that leads to savings and a future.
While Uncle Sam reaches for seconds, Bob quickly downs a second cup of coffee and heads to the fields. He has a lot of work to do.
The question remains: During the week of Uncle Sam's visit, what was Bob's rate savings? Is it based on the 500 bales he reaped but did not directly consume? Is it based on the 495 bales that survived pests and mold? What about the 300 set aside for the winter? How about the 195 to be exchanged at the market for current goods, services, and loans? Or, is his rate of savings based on the 3,000 odd bales that are no longer in the barn due to thate

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