Sunday, January 5, 2020

Those Over Specialized Chickens

Image result for golden egg
Sometimes I feel like this is how the eggs out my chicken should look given how much they cost me

This is a follow up to my Miracle of Pineapple post so if you haven't read it, I suggest that one first.

Given it’s pitfalls it is easy to pick holes in capitalism, and perhaps someday I will write an essay on it, but today I wish to tackle the dangers of over specialization. As stated in my earlier post a lot of credit has to go to specialization. Without a man being a great crane operator and one who knew exactly how to run the plant, and scientists who spend their lives trying to improve crop yields on pineapples there is no way it would come to me for $0.99. This system maximizes economic output, and it does it well, but what it does not maximize or have any incentive to do so is Human Development.

This lesson came home to me recently as I have had the exceptional joy of raising chickens. I love my little flock. Every morning I or one of the kids goes out and opens the barn and my ducks and chickens run out to get their fill of chick feed I got from the local hardware store. Before I had chickens I had a few neighbors who had chickens. One day they offered to sell me some eggs. I said sure, how much? $5 a dozen. I nearly choked. There are on sale down at my local grocery store for $1.99, I thought I was going to get an inside deal. They explained something about organic, happy chickens laying better tasting eggs. Could happy chickens really be worth and extra $3 a dozen?

So, when I got chickens I decided to do a little analysis on what it costs me to farm for eggs. I had to pay a few bucks for each bird, some died, then I had to raise them for 16 months before they laid any eggs. My flock is the size such that I pay about $80 a month on feed. Admittingly, I think the doves run off with about as much as my chickens do. Also, Coyotes have made off with some of my birds from time to time. That led to at least $500+ in fence costs (not that it help, I'll make this a link to explain at a later date). I bought feeders and medicine from time to time. And I live in Southern Nevada, so during high heat they slow down laying eggs. I also don’t use artificial light so they slow down in the winter. Then once and a while one gets broody and my wife, thinks of a chicken wanting to be a Mother and she gives in and lets it hatch a few chicks. Needless to say, when it came time to sell our excess eggs I charge $5 a dozen, and am still losing money.

I was whining about this to one of my friends, wondering if I had lost my sanity, because Dr. Ballif who had taught me engineering economics would wonder if I had learned anything in that class. He said, “but you’re not raising chickens, you’re raising children.” And he is absolutely correct. My monthly egg budget has gone from $6 a month, to over $100 a month, but that’s not why I do it. I love the chickens some, but not that much. It’s for the kids. I think them getting up, feeding the chickens, teaches them regular importance of work. Seeing that if we forget to put them away, they can literally die from coyotes, teaches that there are consequences for our actions. They begin to understand where their food and meat comes from. They and I have had many lessons on mortality that are becoming more and more rare in our society.

I am reminded of what my mission president always told me, that the best missionaries came from farms. Why? Because they knew how to work. I want my kids to know how to work.

So, back to my point. Specialization. It has done some amazing things for us, given us great economic output. It has made it so I can spend my whole career focused on Dam Safety Engineering, or being a construction defect lawyer or an auto mechanic who only works on Fords. And I will be paid very well to do that. In fact, often the more we specialize the more money we make. A general practitioner will make a lot of money, but become a specialist in oncology, or radiology and make much more.

So, I have enough money to focus on my area and pay someone to work on my car. When I have a plumbing issue I can pay a specialist to fix it. If I want a fence put in my yard I can get a guy with all the right equipment to go out and put it in for me. I understand this might maximize economic output. After all, he could fix the leak in an hour and it will take me all day Saturday. (Time that I would of course productively spend catching up on Netflix.) But is that what is really best for my development as a human. Were we better off when the average person knew how to change a carburetor, fix a leaky faucet, and turn wheat into a loaf of bread?

If you think this is an anti-capitalist post you are incorrect. Capitalism and free markets do their job well, but they don't do everything. This is simply saying that while we live in a capitalistic and fairly free market society that incentives us to maximize economic output, perhaps we need to think a little bit more about our own development from time to time. This is easy to see with our kids, it’s always easier to do their jobs for them, but you know they need to learn. The same might be true for each of us. Once and a while we need to still make something from scratch. Have a little garden, even if all it leads to is the world's most expensive salad. Go ahead and fix the sink, even though you will have to call the plumber and it will cost two times as much because he has to correct all the mistakes you made. Or raise your own eggs and meat even though it will be the most expensive, time intensive food you will ever consume. We need to use some of the time and money that this wonderful economic system has given not just to pursue our unique profession or entertain ourselves but rather do many of the things our forefathers had to do, so we can not only develop our economy but also ourselves.

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