The Soviet Milk Supply System

There’s a professor here who is quickly becoming my favourite because of anecdotes like this. He’s Polish and maybe mid-50s, so grew up in Communist Poland. The ‘chicken rodeo’ story is how he explained the vagaries of the economic supply system during this period:

His friend had failed the entrance exam to the university and didn’t want to go into the army, so he enrolled in an agricultural school. Everyone had to be nominally active, whether that meant education, armed forces, or idling in a guaranteed job with a couple of other people.

The agricultural school was well-equipped. So well-equipped that it had brand new machinery that the students would never use in industry, because real farmers couldn’t afford it. One of the activities of the school was producing milk, though it’s possible that other types of liquids were produced there on cold nights.

This guy asked the (now) professor how much he thought milk cost to produce. The professor, admitting to being naive, said that he thought it cost 2zl, like in the shops. His friend told him that each litre of milk cost 2000zl to produce. (Yes, three zeroes. $1AUD is around 3.3zl at current rates).

When the students were bored, they would take a chicken into an area they had cleared and race the farm machinery around, trying to run the chicken over. In the process, they destroyed the equipment, buildings, etc, all of which is calculated in the cost of production on one litre of milk.

The professor’s final words when recounting this story were: “history is silent on the fate of the chicken.”

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1 Response to The Soviet Milk Supply System

  1. Kimberly Tillyer Strudwick says:

    I am sad for the chicken, but I love this Professor.
    A coffee roaster friend of mine once told me how much coffee costs compared to what little we pay in the shops.. it makes sense considering all the work gone into it, but i can’t remember how it works out. Is the profit purely from ripping off the little guys?

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