The Chicken Catcher

If I am a chicken catcher, or a dog catcher, or any of a numerous variety of “catchers”, I am capable of catching only so many of my targets on any given work day.  Perhaps as a productive, healthy and fit human dedicated to my job, I am capable of catching 10 chickens per day.  When I start my job I am assigned a pen to hold the chickens that I catch.  The catch to my job (pardon the pun) is that I can only place chickens in the pen who have one white “sock” on each foot; hence, I wander the field I have been given looking for these particular types of chicken and when I find one, I catch it, return to the pen and place it inside.  My first day of work I catch 10 chickens and now there are 10 chickens in my pen.  The second day of work I catch 10 chickens and now there are 20 chickens in my pen, and this continues each day of my employment until eventually my pen is full and another is built for me so that I may continue my important and intriguing job of catching chickens who dare to be seen with white “socks”.

My family warns me that I will work myself out of a job–for in fact, there can only be so many chickens on the field with white “socks”, and once I have managed to catch them all I will be out of a job.  I laugh at their ignorance and inform them that the chickens rate of reproduction is such that there will always be an abundance of chickens with white “socks” on the field; perhaps, after some time there will be less, but there will always be some–my job is not in danger.

Several years later I have numerous pens full of chickens with white “socks”.  Some are genetically altered and returned to the field, some die within their pens, and others seem to like it there and refuse to leave.  Those few are allowed to stay because they earn extra money, which pays for more pens, as they sit around and lay eggs for my employer.  It seems that my job will certainly never end for I notice that even though the rate of my catching chickens with white “socks” has increased, as my skill has progressed over time, and the number of pens is ever increasing, there are more chickens in the field with “white socks” than ever before.  How interesting to me that while the rate of penned chickens has increased ten-fold in the several years I’ve been catching chickens, the rate of chickens in the field with white “socks” has not declined in any apparently significant manner.

What does this mean? Could it be that they reproduce faster than I can catch and pen them? If so, then my employers need to hire a few more chicken catchers and between all of us we could finally clear the field of all those nasty chicken with white “socks”.  I suggest this to my employers and they take my advice but several years later, we see the same results.  Increasing numbers of pens with chickens with white “socks”, and yet no visible decline in the rate of chickens with white “socks” in the field.  How could this be?

I notice another pattern at this point.  The chickens I originally penned had very long “socks” on each foot.  The next pen has chickens with long “socks” as well but only on one foot.  The next several pens has chickens with white “socks” whose level of color continues to decline.  It makes sense to me now.  I originally noticed the most obvious white “socked” chickens and caught and penned them first.  As their numbers declined, I began to notice the ones whose socks stood out among the others more… until eventually I search diligently and it takes me longer to catch white “socked” chickens because the ones left have such faint white marks they can hardly be called “socks” anymore–but they are there nonetheless so I catch them too.

Our job now has become so much harder.  Every once in a while we find a chicken with a very obvious white “sock” and she is immediately caught and penned.  But most of the time now, we spend hours wandering the field until we find a chicken with a white “sock”, or the semblance of one, because that is our job and that is what we are paid to do, and besides, there are still pens to be filled.

After years on the job, I realize that the job will never be complete and when I retire my employers will find someone else to fill my shoes.  It is pretty obvious that without some type of genetic manipulation we will never pen all the chickens with white “socks”; there are simply not enough of us to keep up with the numbers that reproduce.

I asked my employers why they paid me and my coworkers to catch these chickens and pen them when our technology would allow us to simply genetically alter the chickens to avoid any being born with white “socks”.  My employers quickly informed me that chickens with white “socks” were very good at finding the insects and pests that do millions of dollars of damage to their crops.  Apparently chickens with white “socks” are aggressive so they are beneficial to us in some ways, i.e. the crops, but are damaging to the rest of the chicken population who are better at producing cash from eggs and chicken meat.  Therefore, we need some in the chicken population but we don’t want them to be the majority.

After talking to my employers, it all made sense.  It’s not that we can’t “fix” the chickens, it’s that we don’t want to–doing so would cost my employers too much financially.  So they allow them to breed amongst all the other chickens, and hire people like me to round up the excesses and pen them away.  It makes perfect sense now; it is, after all, a capitalist economy we live in.


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