In My Country, Joke Tells You!

Because gulags are high-larious, Britain's Prospect investigates the special brand of humor generated by communist regimes as one of the few available means of protest. Though lest we imagine it's a unique brand of humor, consider this one, cited by the author:

Three prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they are there. "I am here because I always got to work five minutes late, and they charged me with sabotage," says the first. "I am here because I kept getting to work five minutes early, and they charged me with spying," says the second. "I am here because I got to work on time every day," says the third, "and they charged me with owning a western watch."

That sounded awfully familiar, and in this paper on antitrust, I found Ilana Mercer making the connection to another domestic joke:

Three prisoners were sitting in a U.S. jail, found guilty of "economic crimes" and were also comparing stories. The first one said, "I charged higher prices than my competitors, and I was found guilty of profiteering, monopolizing and exploiting consumers." The second one said, "I charged lower prices than my competitors, and I was found guilty of predatory pricing, cutthroat competing and under-charging." The third prisoner said, "I charged the same prices as my competitors, and I was found guilty of collusion, price leadership and cartelization."

UPDATE: David Boaz reminds us in the comments that the original version (or at least one early famous version) of the joke comes, in poetic form, from The Incredible Bread Machine, which a few years back was reissued in expanded and illustrated form:

Now let me state the present rules,"
The lawyer then went on,
"These very simple guidelines,
You can rely upon:
You're gouging on your prices if
You charge more than the rest.
But it's unfair competition if
You think you can charge less!
"A second point that we would make
To help avoid confusion...
Don't try to charge the same amount,
That would be Collusion!
You must compete. But not too much,
For if you do you see,
Then the market would be yours -
And that's Monopoly!

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  • ||

    Hey, that was great, Julian.

  • ||

    Let's have a moment of silence for America's persecuted suppliers of petroleum products.

    ...

    Thank you. Eyes on the prize, downtrodden freedom fighters! Eyes on the prize. You shall overcome...

  • ||

    "Let's have a moment of silence for America's persecuted suppliers of petroleum products."

    Eh, I think the moment of silence should be for the suffering of those who, at $2.80 per gallon, are paying rates in the bottom 1/16th or so of prices in the world. They certainly deserve cheaper gas. Plus, that Exxon guy had a huge waddle AND made a lot of money. Outrageous.

  • ||

    The only difference between the communist joke and the U.S. joke is that the U.S. joke isn't true. Ilana Mercer's paper (she's actually one of seven authors) is on the Microsoft anti-trust case. How many Microsoft employees went to jail, hmmm? America: Love it or leave it, Ilana! (And Julian!)

  • ||

    This is the version of that three prisoners joke I heard in college:

    Setting: 3 prisoners in gulag cell.

    First prisoner: I'm in for two years for black marketeering.

    Second prisoner: Oh, really? I'm in for five years for hooliganism.

    Third prisoner: I'm innocent, I did absolutely nothing, and I'm in here for TEN YEARS!!

    Second prisoner: Comrade, you can't expect us to believe that. (Pauses) Innocent people are in here for twenty years.

    Second version:

    First prisoner: I'm in here because I supported Gronsky.

    Second prisoner: I'm here because I opposed Gronsky. (Turns to 3rd prisoner) Why are you in?

    Third prisoner: Well, I AM Gronsky.

  • David Boaz||

    I am shocked and saddened that no one recognized this joke as being from the poem "The Incredible Bread Machine," which then led to the book and film by the same title in the 1970s. Perhaps that's where Ilana Mercer first found it.

  • ||

    Jason,

    Please accept my sincere apologies. With so much suffering in a world, it's sometimes hard to keep all the victims in mind.

    Raise a glass to the downtrodden, persecuted owners of Ford Expeditions, as they pay upwards of $50 to fill the tank of the only available means of driving from their subdivisions to their office parks.

    You are not forgotten.

  • ||

    "I am shocked and saddened that no one recognized this joke as being from the poem 'The Incredible Bread Machine,'"

    Sorry, I keep meaning to buy that one from LFB.

  • ||

    Yeah Joe! Let's tax the gas companies!!!! Let's tax them til it hurts and add to their expenses, that'll make them lower the price. Because they are gouging!! Because profits are evil, the more profit, the more evil.

    Stop me when I'm wrong about your feelings on the matter. If so, please do tell. We are all waiting for your command economy solution to this "crisis".

  • ||

    Are you on the wrong thread of something? Nothing you wrote is even remotely relevant to anything anyone has written.

    Try using your head, not your ass, to think.

  • ||

    joe,

    One might just as easily ask how your 09:22 AM comment was remotely relevant to anything in Julian's original post.

  • ||

    I guess an updated version would be:

    1st prisoner: I'm from Exxon and I'm in prison because they say I charged too much for oil. Price gouging they called it.

    2nd prisoner: I'm from Microsoft and I'm in prison because they say I charged too little for my product. Monopoly they called it.

    3rd prisoner: I'm from Samsung and I'm in prison because they say I charged the same price as everyone else for my commodity DRAM chips. Price fixing they called it.

  • ||

    "Raise a glass to the downtrodden, persecuted owners of Ford Expeditions, as they pay upwards of $50 to fill the tank of the only available means of driving from their subdivisions to their office parks."

    Does this mean that Joe is opposed to single-use zoning?

  • R C Dean||

    joe's 9:22 comment may be the most perfect generic comment post I have ever seen. While it certainly doesn't seem relevant to Julian's original post, its probably relevant to about 80% of the comments posted at H&R.

  • ||

    Someone should make a children's book from the poem "The Incredible Bread Machine." It's got a great lesson to it. (And it sure as hell beats "Why Mommy is a Democrat!")

  • ||

    A joke from communist Poland, courtesy of one of PJ O'Rourke's books and paraphrased here (what, you think I'm going to track down the book and passage and quote it word-for-word for you guys? please) :

    An old man was waiting in line to buy bread. After several hours he finally got to the counter, only to be told there was no bread left. Furious, he starts yelling - "I'm a veteran of the Great Patriotic War! I fought against the Whites and the Nazis, and now you tell me there's no bread!"

    A grim looking man in a trenchcoat standing off to the side motioned him over. "Softly now, comrade," he said. "You know what they would have done to someone like you in the old days," pantomiming a gun to the head.

    Shaken, the old man went home. His wife asked, "Are they out of bread?" He replied "Worse - they're out of bullets."

  • ||

    2nd prisoner: I'm from Microsoft and I'm in prison because they say I charged too little for my product. Monopoly they called it.

    i think a wall mart exec would be better.

  • ||

    Julian,
    send these lyrics off to Pete Seeger!

  • ||

    Joshua,

    How could I miss it? Of course Walmart makes a better example, especially now.

  • ||

    Another Soviet joke: A man has been waiting in line for meat for hours and hours, and he finally loses it. He yells, "This is all Khrushchev's fault! I'm going to go kill him!" and storms off. But a while later he comes shuffling back to the meat line. "What happened?" the other people on line ask. "Eh...the line for that was even longer."

  • ||

    D'oh, that one's in the article. Teach me to finish RTFA before posting...the joke's on me.

  • ||

    The Gronsky joke reminds me of a scene from either The Count of Monte Cristo (or maybe The Man In The Iron Mask), where the new prisoner, locked up as an accused Bonapartist, meets his cellmate, tossed in irons decades ago for being anti-Nappy.

    Kevin

  • ||

    I saw this one in a book written about the Soviet military by a defector...

    An American and Soviet general have been chatting at a summit, boasting about the prowess of their respective armies.

    "In the Soviet army, we feed our men two thousand calories a day!" said the Russian.

    "Ha, that's nothing. In our army we feed them three thousand calories" retorted the American.

    "Nonsense!" bellowed his counterpart. "No-one can eat an entire bag of potatoes in a day!"

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