Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Returns on Cows and Buffalos

Brad DeLong notes a study on the returns to owning cows and buffaloes in India.  Bottom line is--it's not profitable in an economic sense.  The speculation is that the labor of women has no value, economically, so there's no cost for women or children to tend cattle.  Or, the return on formal savings instruments (i.e., savings accounts) is low and uncertain so there's a cultural preference to owning cattle. (I gather that while cows are sacred to Hindus, buffaloes aren't so the study treats them as almost interchangeable.)

Here's the NBER url.  Strikes me that the economists don't devote enough attention to the calves  The survey asked the people to estimate the value of a calf, which I assume meant guessing what the calf could be sold for on the open market.  Now in economic theory I guess the price should reflect the value of retaining the calf. But maybe it doesn't--if the family has sufficient grazing land then the marginal cost of rearing a calf to maturity is relatively small--the labor cost of tending multiple animals instead of a single is almost zero.

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