IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Continued Existence of Cows Disproves Central Tenets of Capitalism?


  • Santosh Anagol
  • Alvin Etang
  • Dean Karlan


We examine the returns from owning cows and buffaloes in rural India. We estimate that when valuing labor at market wages, households earn large, negative average returns from holding cows and buffaloes, at negative 64% and negative 39% respectively. This puzzle is mostly explained if we value the household's own labor at zero (a stark assumption), in which case estimated average returns for cows is negative 6% and positive 13% for buffaloes. Why do households continue to invest in livestock if economic returns are negative, or are these estimates wrong? We discuss potential explanations, including labor market failures, for why livestock investments may persist.

Suggested Citation

  • Santosh Anagol & Alvin Etang & Dean Karlan, 2013. "Continued Existence of Cows Disproves Central Tenets of Capitalism?," NBER Working Papers 19437, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19437
    Note: LE LS

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David J. & Woodruff, Christopher, 2009. "Measuring microenterprise profits: Must we ask how the sausage is made?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1), pages 19-31, January.
    2. Aggarwal, G.C. & Singh, N.T., 1984. "Energy and economic returns from cattle dung as manure and fuel," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 87-90.
    3. Pascaline Dupas & Jonathan Robinson, 2013. "Savings Constraints and Microenterprise Development: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 163-192, January.
    4. Fafchamps, Marcel & McKenzie, David & Quinn, Simon & Woodruff, Christopher, 2014. "Microenterprise growth and the flypaper effect: Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 211-226.
    5. Kristin Mammen & Christina Paxson, 2000. "Women's Work and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 141-164, Fall.
    6. Garrett, Thomas A. & Sobel, Russell S., 1999. "Gamblers favor skewness, not risk: Further evidence from United States' lottery games," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 85-90, April.
    7. Mellow, Wesley & Sider, Hal, 1983. "Accuracy of Response in Labor Market Surveys: Evidence and Implications," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(4), pages 331-344, October.
    8. Duncan, Greg J & Hill, Daniel H, 1985. "An Investigation of the Extent and Consequences of Measurement Error in Labor-Economic Survey Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(4), pages 508-532, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Orazio Attanasio & Britta Augsburg, 2014. "Holy Cows or Cash Cows?," NBER Working Papers 20304, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Dean Karlan & Ryan Knight & Christopher Udry, 2012. "Hoping to Win, Expected to Lose: Theory and Lessons on Micro Enterprise Development," NBER Working Papers 18325, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Cynthia Kinnan & Shing-Yi Wang & Yongxiang Wang, 2015. "Relaxing Migration Constraints for Rural Households," Working Papers id:7047, eSocialSciences.
    4. Dean Karlan & Robert Osei & Isaac Osei-Akoto & Christopher Udry, 2014. "Agricultural Decisions after Relaxing Credit and Risk Constraints," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(2), pages 597-652.
    5. Karlan, Dean & Osman, Adam & Zinman, Jonathan, 2016. "Follow the money not the cash: Comparing methods for identifying consumption and investment responses to a liquidity shock," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 11-23.
    6. Gehrke, Esther & Grimm, Michael, 2014. "Do Cows Have Negative Returns? The Evidence Revisited," IZA Discussion Papers 8525, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Casaburi, Lorenzo & Macchiavello, Rocco, 2015. "Firm and Market Response to Saving Constraints: Evidence from the Kenyan Dairy Industry," CEPR Discussion Papers 10952, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Argent, Jonathan & Augsburg, Britta & Rasul, Imran, 2014. "Livestock asset transfers with and without training: Evidence from Rwanda," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 19-39.
    9. repec:eee:deveco:v:129:y:2017:i:c:p:58-72 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:cep:stieop:58 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • M4 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Accounting
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • Q1 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19437. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.