Old lessons good lessons

Dear Sir, A friend of mine in New England has a neighbour who has received a Government cheque for 1,000 dollars this year for not raising hogs. So my friend now wants to go into the business himself, he not being very prosperous just now. He says, in fact, that the idea of not raising hogs appeals to him very strongly. Of course, he will need a hired man, and that is where I come in. I write to you as to your opinion of the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on, the best strain of hogs not to raise and how best to keep an inventory of hogs you are not raising. Also, do you think capital could be raised by issuance of a non-hog raising gold bond? The friend who got the 1,000 dollars got it for not raising 500 hogs. Now, we figure we might easily not raise 1,500 or 2,000 hogs, so you see the possible profits are only limited by the number of hogs we do not raise.

The letter below surfaced in an email group today (on the right is its earliest incarnation). It’s creative writing and, if you’re in a good mood when you read it, finely stimulating, even hilarious.

But I was moved to investigate. Google gave several recent references, the earliest was May 7, 2006. I kept looking; there are a score of references dated December 2009.

Then, on a blog from Quite Interesting Ltd (www.qi.com), came word it was from 1982. The writer traces it back from 2006 to an entry in Hansard in October 1994. I urge you to take a look; the story is interesting enough, to be sure.

The matter has by now quite fastened on our writer’s imagination and he presses his investigation on and on, discovering it on both sides of the Atlantic and in ever earlier decades. Eventually he turns it up, almost fully formed, in 1935, with beginnings in Hansard, no less, in a shipping context, in 1934!

Old or new, early or late, it contains elementary economics lessons for ever. Not to mention some of the driest British (or American) humour you’ll find anywhere.


NIGEL JOHNSON-HILL, PARKFARM, MILLAND, LIPHOOK GU30 7JT

Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA),
Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London
SW1P 3JR

16 July 2009

Dear Secretary of State,

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the “not rearing pigs” business.

In your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy.

I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these?

As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven’t reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this?

My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is – until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any.

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradable carbon credits for all these pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gases?

Another point: These pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don’t rear?

I am also considering the “not milking cows” business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the current Defra advice on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields (of which I seem to have several thousand hectares)?

In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits. I shall of course be voting for your party at the next general election.
Yours faithfully,

Nigel Johnson-Hill

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