Bees are capitalists, while mice are Marxists

Honey Bee Macro

My son begged for mice and then, when he got them, discovered that he didn’t really like them.  I’ve always had a fondness for pet rodents (having gone the mouse, hamster, and guinea pig root when I was a child) so, rather than giving them away, I moved them into my office.  Cleaning them is a minimal job, and I like having them around.  While I work, they hunker down in their little house, occasionally cheeping and chirruping in a companionable way.

What I find especially endearing about the mice is that they remodel constantly.  Every morning, I come into to my office to discover that they’ve moved around all the wood shavings in their cage.  Those that were here yesterday, are there today, and vice versa.  When they are awake (and they’re out and about if I’m up late at night or early in the morning), they are perpetually busy:  climbing, running, gnawing, and moving those shavings.

“Busy as a mouse,” I thought to myself.  And then wondered why the popular expression is “busy as a bee.”  I mean, both are busy, so why bees?

The answer was obvious — mice labor only for themselves and produce nothing useful for others.  Bees labor only for themselves, but in the process, they (a) fertilize plants and flowers; (b) make one of the world’s best food products; and (c) create a pleasant-smelling wax that once helped light people’s homes.

Bees are, in a way, the ultimate capitalists.  Good capitalism harnesses the bee principle:  in a free society, as people labor to better themselves, they produce excess to benefit others.  That’s why a healthy capitalist economy isn’t the finite pie that Marxists always envision and that powers their redistributive policies.  Marxists think like mice:  lots of motion, but no benefit beyond the immediate motion itself.  Or, as Milton Friedman said, if the benefit is to get the most people moving, don’t hand a few of them shovels to dig pointless holes; instead, give more of them spoons to dig those same holes.  Mice and Marxists move things hither and yon, but they produce nothing.

The bees, concerned only with feeding and protecting themselves nevertheless create many things that are far great than the sum of their parts.

Think about it this way:  In agricultural times, the farmer who ran around a lot but only managed to plant, cultivate, and harvest enough crops for himself was a mouse.  The farmer who put the energy into planting more grain than his family needed, who spent his busy time actually cultivating that excess land, and who then harvested a bountiful crop, not only fed and enriched himself (by selling the excess), he also fed others, making him a bee.  And hey, if he could create some super plow or harvest machine, not only would he produce more but, as a coincidental byproduct, so will others, and as a further byproduct, more people will avoid starvation.

Mice are cute and fuzzy.  They’re also foolish, selfish, and vicious.  Like Marxists, they are parasites who keep busy, decimate food sources, and have nothing to show for it other than the nice fat body of the mouse most successful at this parasitic lifestyle.

Bees are cute and buzzy.  Like a good capitalist, their primary goal is to benefit themselves, but they’ve figured out that the greatest benefit occurs if their labor products byproducts that coincidentally and pleasantly benefit others as well.

Daisy among the daisies


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  • March Hare

    Mice are also known for eating their young.  Haven’t heard of bees doing that.

  • lee

    I went to a mouse and rat show (like a dog show) and I learned that mice are usually kept by kids (whiel rats are kept by kids and adults.) The “mouse” part of the show was pretty much only for kids, and the judging was on the whatever in which they were kept. They didn’t just have cages with wheels, and whatnot. Noooooo…. These were fancy decorations, usually a theme, (such as Star Wars or Victorian Doll House) and they had to provide “enriching” enviroments for the mouse–wheels and whatnot. It was interesting. I wish I had taken pictures…
    Related to that: When I was a kid, we lived in the sticks, and every winter, field mice would make themselves at home in our home. Their usual MO was to set up housekeeping in the kitchen drawers: the bottom drawer was a pantry, with piles of dog food, and peanut brittle, and wax, and cornflakes, etc. The second drawer was the boudoir, where nests made out of hair, and dog fur and feathers, and foam rubber. The top drawer was the bathroom–it was amazing how many mice we had, and how much they could defecate over night. It was also quite disgusting. One enterating thing was that they apparently liked to picnic inthe planter–we would find bits of peanut brittle in the middle of the planter. (My mom was a school teacher and every Christmas, the popular gift for students to give was a box of peanut brittle. And really the only ones in our house who seemed to enjoy the peanut brittle were the mice.)
    More to the topic at hand: I find both my stories above kind of amusing as they related to what you wrote about mice as Marxist parasites. Someone else provides amazingly oppulent housing for them. At least in England:

  • lee

    BTW, on a COMPLETELY unrelated topic, and hoping some of Bookworm’s readers will add me to their reading list, I finally posted a new entry at my blog:
    I am sure there is a better title for it. It is about INSANE Jewish institutions in NYC honoring the damnedest people. What is WRONG with them?
    Sorry for venturing so far afield. And for the shameless self-promotion. I don’t mean to be stepping on any toes!!

  • JKB

    Your metaphor could be applied to the humanities.  They’re constantly chattering and arguing but rarely, if ever, create anything useful for their fellow man.  Heck, they can’t even do away with socialism/Marxism which not only is thoroughly discredited, its acolytes have murdered millions its name.  Instead we see yet a new flavor created when the old new flavor is fouled by rotting corpses.  
    Contrast that to those in the sciences and, especially, engineering.  They’re very busy but they don’t move their litter box around, they pollenate each other bringing forth new blossoms of useful things and knowledge through the constant seeding.  They store away tiny bits for others to find great use for in the future.  
    Sorry, I’ve been contemplating how our world has lost its natural curiosity.  Modern conveniences has resulting in a populace that has little exposure to skills once common.  We no longer learn the nature of plants and biology as we cut and split wood or play with the fire which exposes us to the nature of combustion.  It takes special effort to learn about large animals, their habits and individuality that used to come from managing horses for transport.    We don’t learn of mixtures and blending, of browning and the power of steam from cooking but rather simply unwrap our food handed to us out a drive-thru window.  
    It is not that we should return to those “simpler times”.  It is that the experiences of daily life informed us and kept those who pondered the intellectual grounded.  It is hard to fool yourself to much with the mental when nature is “red in tooth and claw” or just wet and cold, or stubborn as a mule.  Now, ungrounded, more and more of the populace see life as mice to busily rearrange their cage and despise the bee for its freedom and expanding wealth.

  • Charles Martel

    I’m not so sure about the bee analogy. When I think of busy bees, I think of their welfare queen wallowing in warm surrender, flat on her back pumping out them drone-daddy eggs.

  • DL Sly

    ” And then wondered why the popular expression is “busy as a bee.” I mean, both are busy, so why bees?”
    Are you sure it isn’t just simple alliteration?

  • Bookworm

    DL Sly: Nah, that’s too easy.  We opinionators would go out of business if we subscribed to Occam’s razor to explain things.  😉

    And yes, Charles, even bees have their takers, not their workers, but at least the queen bee serves a purpose.

  • Ron19

    Re JKB #4:
    My own college experience provided a concrete example of what you said.
    There were general liberal arts classes, required of all undergraduates, and I also had math and science classes, required for my major but not required of liberal arts majors.
    In the liberal arts classes, the way to get a good grade was to turn in a paper that more or less agreed with what the professor said in class; the prescribed reading was useful but secondary.  The grad student that first-cut graded the paper and the prof were the only ones who ever looked at your work, and they were the only people you had to impress; if a fellow student looked at it, you might be accused of copying someone else’s work.
    In the math and science classes, class notes and reading the textbook were absolutely essential, along with turning in homework and having projects reviewed.  You could get partial credit for getting partway to the final answer, but the real marker of success was correct answers and working projects and reports that showed how you got from point A to point Z.  Students did help each other, but if you didn’t “get” the material, you were going to be hopelessly lost in following classes.  The gifts to others is what you did with you B.S. education, not only designing and writing up your works, but also building and maintaining them for your customers and employers.
    I read books and watch shows, etc., by choice (I refuse to watch TV except in extraordinary circumstances like earthquake news and a pope’s inaugural mass), but I also eat and live in a building out of necessity, and have furniture and appliances, computers and cell phones, food and medicines, etc., which only come from one side of college education.

  • Gringo

    Seeing “busy as bees” reminds me of a book I am now reading: Paul Johnson’s CREATORS:From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney. Johnson points out that  the first written reference  to “busy as  bees”  and many other  phrases was found in Chaucer. I highly recommend the book. It is an entertaining read packed with knowledge. From page 40: 
      Moreover, he uses these words not only to give directness and vivacity to his verse but to ornament and silver it by producing brilliant figures and similes, often alliterative, and always neat and vivid. We do not know how many of these figures he invented or which were sayings in the London and Kentish vernacular he favored. All we know is that they first made their appearance in his work. And they are still current. Among the alliterations are “friend and foe,” “horse and hounds,” “busy as bees,” “fish and flesh,” “soft as silk,” “rose-red,” “gray as glass,” and “still as a stone.” We do not still say “jangled as a jay”; but we say “snow-white,” “dance and sing,” “bright and clear,” “deep and wide,” “more or less,” “old and young,” “hard as iron.” “No doubt” and “out of doubt” are Chaucerisms. So are “as the old books say” and “I dare say.”
      Chaucer also had a neat way of working proverbs, sayings, and popular witticisms and comparisons into his verses. Thus in The Friar’s Tale we come across the Earl, “who spak one thing but he thoughte another,” and in The Knight’s Tale there is “The smylere with the knyf under the cloke.” In The Nun’s Priest’s Tale we are told “Modre will out, that see we day by day,” and in The Reeve’s Tale there is “So was hir joly whistle wel y wet.” It is Chaucer who first warns us, “It is nought good a sleeping hound to wake” and who writes of setting “the world on six and sevene.”22  
    Back to the mice analogies, of mice reshuffling their cage shavings every day, but with no net change. This is an excellent analogy to many lib social programs of the last 50 years, which we were promised would bring Heaven on Earth. Such as Head Start, which has nearly a half century of ineffectiveness- unless you consider Jobs for the Boys/Gals to be a success. Failures such as Head Start  doesn’t stop the libs from continually proposing new solutions, the NEXT GREAT BIG THING WHICH WILL SOLVE IT ALL. Which is ultimately, just more shuffling of the shavings in the cage. 
    Libs need to get hammered with the INEFFECTIVENESS  of their programs. You are proposing another program when programs X, Y, and Z don’t work? That track record suggests that we would just be throwing good money after bad.

  • Earl

    Adam Smith would NOT approve!!
    “…they’ve figured out that the greatest benefit occurs….”  It’s the INVISIBLE HAND….remember?  The bees haven’t “figured (anything) out” at all.  It’s just that their way of making a living involves secondary effects that are beneficial.  They are taking resources, processing them into products that are useful to themselves, and thereby benefiting everyone.
    Mice create nothing – they simply gather resources from wherever they find them for the sole purpose of consumption.
    Corporations don’t do what they do to benefit others – neither their workers nor the society at large – but to create value for their shareholders.  To create this value, they have to satisfy their customers with good products at reasonable prices.  The secondary effects of this effort are highly beneficial for many and for society as a whole…but those effects are not (and should not be) any part of the figuring of a corporation, any more than the bee aims at providing me with honey for the peanut sauce I eat on my Thai vegetables.
    It’s true that no analogy can be pushed too far (Charles Martel), but I like this one….it works very well if not pushed too far.  I’m going to share it with my beekeeper relatives.

  • JKB

    BEEKEEPER whom I visited once went out among his hives, where the bees were flying all about, walked fearlessly up to them, put his finger down at the entrance of a hive, and let a bee crawl up on it. Then he 
    held it up to show me the bee’s good points” ; and when it flew away he ”caught” another the same way and continued his discourse, calling them pet names and praising their virtues. Not being afraid of bees, and being doubly reassured by the company of so intimate a friend of the little honey-makers, I put my finger out too, and the bees climbed up it, investigated a little, and flew away. Yet half the people I know would have begun striking and dodging the moment a bee flew near, and would have had a swarm buzzing about their 
    ears in a very few minutes. 
    Bees demand certain things of those who would be their friends : confidence, self-control, quietness, gentleness, and due regard of apian feelings and whims. One may possess all these qualities except the last and utterly fail to win the confidence and the love of living things. A dog may obey and slavishly follow a man who has no feeling for and no appreciation of him. But before the man can make the dog his friend he must show himself capable of understanding that a dog, too, has perceptions and prejudices, sentiments and sensibilities — yes, that he has vague, strange dreams of things not understood, just as men have. 
    There was something of truth in the answer of the vagabond dog trainer to the college professor. 
    The ragged mendicant had his dog doing all sorts of tricks in the street. The professor came by and stopped to watch. “How is it,” he asked after a while, ”that you can get your dog to do so many things ? I have never been able to teach mine a single trick.” 
    The man with the dog looked at him a moment and said: “Well, it’s this way: if you don’t know no more than the dog, you can’t learn him nothin’.” 
    This thread reminded me of a short story, the above is the first few paragraphs, from Field, Path and Highway, (E.E. Miller, 1912), ‘The Unchanging Love’.  
    If found the book a couple years go scanned into the Internet archive.

  • Earl

    JKB: Just so you remember that bees are wild animals…just like those lions and tigers in the circus (or at that Law Vegas show). 
    They are not pets…..they are not your friends……they can be unpredictable, for reasons that are completely opaque to you…..and they can kill you.