A Short Story from the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
This story does not begin with “Once upon a time” because it happened just yesterday and to-day and is even more likely to happen tomorrow.
A man owned a donkey. The donkey pulled the cart and in return, the man fed it three times a day. One day, owing to an oversight, the donkey only got two feeds. The next day, when the master reminded himself, he was perturbed lest the donkey should refuse to pull the cart. But the donkey obliged as usual and did its work in exemplary fashion.
The man said to himself: “I have been feeding this donkey three meals when he can do his work just as well on two. The cunning animal! Getting a feed every day under false pretences."
So he gave the donkey two feeds per day. The donkey did not show any ill-will. He pulled the cart as usual and for a time the master was satisfied, counting the money he was saving. But not for long. It occurred to him that the animal may well be swindling him even then.
“If the donkey can do his work on two feeds he might be able to do it on one. In any case, there's no harm in trying it out to see what happens.”
No sooner said than done. The day following, the donkey got his feed in the morning but went without at the end of the day. The master looked at the animal carefully, trying to size it up. Would he grumble? There was not even a “He-Haw."
But during the next day’s work, the master became a little anxious. “Would the donkey pull the cart as usual? And at the same pace?"
He need not have worried at all. Without a murmur the animal allowed itself to be harnessed. Soon it was trotting off in obedience to the pull of the reins. True, it seemed to the master that now and again it slowed down a little, but a touch with the whip or an encouraging word or sign and it soon picked up speed. A carrot held in front of its nose was especially effective.
Now the master was really happy. Cutting the donkey’s food down to one meal per day reduced his costs to such a low level that other donkey-owners could not compete with him. Some of them went out of business but a few decided to try the same trick and also reduced their animal’s rations.
Then our master took counsel with himself.
“I have already cut the donkey’s food by two meals. It only means taking one more feed away from him and he will be costing me nothing. That would finish all my competitors.”
True, he was worried how the donkey would react to this final cut. But the thought of how the donkey had diddled him out of extra food for years made him resolute. Taking the bread out of the mouths of honest masters!
On the fateful day, he harnessed the donkey with great care. Each minute or so he looked at the donkey. Would he protest? Would he kick? Would his eyes flash or his teeth be bared in a snarl?
Not a whimper.
“Gee-up,” the master shouted firmly. To the man’s joy, the donkey started off at its usual gallop.
For four days the donkey pulled the cart as usual. On the fifth day, it dropped dead.