Friday, September 09, 2011

Aesop Econ: The Two Dogs

A MAN had two dogs: a Hound, trained to assist him in his sports, and a Housedog, taught to watch the house. When he returned home after a good day’s sport, he always gave the Housedog a large share of his spoil. The Hound, feeling much aggrieved at this, reproached his companion, saying, “It is very hard to have all this labor, while you, who do not assist in the chase, luxuriate on the fruits of my exertions.” The Housedog replied, “Do not blame me, my friend, but find fault with the master, who has not taught me to labor, but to depend for subsistence on the labor of others.”

Children are not to be blamed for the faults of their parents.
Aesop takes this for a story about parental duty, but I see a story about specialization according to comparative advantage.

Both hunting and house-watching are valuable activities. Now, it may well be that the Hound could guard the house as well as the Housedog. But that doesn’t mean the Housedog is useless. On the contrary, his presence allows the Hound more time to go hunting, thereby increasing the household’s overall productivity.

Imagine what would happen if the Hound and Housedog split their time between the two activities, perhaps by swapping places at lunch. Suppose the Hound can catch ten game birds per day versus the Housedog’s four, and they are equally good at guarding the house. By splitting their time, they would catch a total of seven birds per day, i.e., five from the Hound’s half-day plus two from the Housedog’s half-day. But by specializing according to their respective comparative advantages (the Hound in hunting, the Housedog in guarding), they get ten birds, for a gain of three. The Housedog enables that gain by guarding the house; does he not also deserve a share of the spoils?

4 comments:

Philip Whitman said...

I understood and agreed with everything you said, except for the last sentence. Didn't you mean Housedog instead of Hound in the last sentence?

Glen Whitman said...

You're right, Dad, that's what I meant. I've fixed it now. Thanks.

Philip Whitman said...

Aesop said:

'The Housedog replied, “Do not blame me, my friend, but find fault with the master, who has not taught me to labor, but to depend for subsistence on the labor of others.”

Children are not to be blamed for the faults of their parents.'

Your analysis of specialization according to comparative talents, or advantages, has clearly destroyed any notion that guarding the house is equivalent to depending on subsistence on the labor of others. The Housedog is, in fact, doing his fair share, pulling his weight as it were, etc. Therefore, teaching him to guard the house was not a fault of the parents, but rather a smart move on their part. Aesop has “biased the landscape”, simply by making that last statement.

John T. Kennedy said...

I took the parable to mean that people are smarter than dogs and dogs should let people do the figuring.