Nearly two years after the *remarkably prescient dreams* of the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, the Pharaoh himself had two dreams one night that puzzled him.
In the first dream the Pharaoh was standing by the Nile, and there came from the river seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed on the reeds. Then, seven other cows came up from the river. However, these cows were gaunt and lean, and they ate the seven cows that were sleek and fat. The Pharaoh woke up.
He soon fell asleep again, and had the second dream. In it there were seven ears of corn, full and ripe, and they were growing on one stalk. Behind them were seven other ears of corn, but they were thin and shrivelled. Then, the ears that were thin and shrivelled swallowed up the ears that were full and ripe. The Pharaoh again woke up. But he couldn’t return to sleep because he couldn’t stop thinking about these two dreams.
When morning came, the Pharaoh was in a troubled state of mind. He called together all the learned and influential men of Egypt to see if any might be able to interpret the dreams. After describing them to the assembled group, the Pharaoh said, “Well, gentlemen, what do you think?”
There was silence for some time, bespeaking that these two dreams were as puzzling to these learned and influential men as they were to the Pharaoh. Then one man asked:
“Your Majesty, did the seven gaunt and lean cows become as sleek and fat as the seven cows they ate? And did the thin and shrivelled ears of corn become as full and ripe as the ears of corn they swallowed up?”
“No,” said the Pharaoh, “the cows, and the ears of corn looked the same after their respective meals as they had before them.”
“This is at first sight odd,” said the man, “however on second sight not so odd. I believe, Your Majesty, that the unchanged appearance of the cows and ears of corn after their meals is the key to understanding these dreams.”
“Well, my good man, you’d better tell me what this key is.”
“The seven sleek and fat cows, and the seven full and ripe ears of corn, had become that way because they represented men who work hard and have the entrepreneurial spirit. Through working hard and using Market Forces to their own best advantage, and saving most of what they earn, and re-investing it in their businesses, they generate the wealth that enables them to eat well and become as sleek and fat as the cows in your dream, and as full and ripe-looking as the ears of corn.”
“How, then”, asked the Pharaoh, “do you explain the gaunt and lean cows, and the thin and shrivelled ears of corn, and that they ate the sleek and fat cows, and ate the full and ripe ears of corn?”
“The gaunt and lean cows, and the thin and shrivelled ears of corn, represent men who live off the wealth taken as taxes from the men who work hard and have the entrepreneurial spirit. As I need hardly tell you, Your Majesty, the men who live off the taxes taken from hard-working entrepreneurs, are the men who work in the government of Egypt as tax-collectors and clerks and administrators and officials and policemen and soldiers. They don’t produce any wealth as such, but they eat the wealth of the entrepreneurs in the way the gaunt and lean cows and thin and shrivelled ears of corn ate the sleek and fat cows and the full and ripe ears of corn in your dream.”
“But”, said the Pharoah, “Egypt’s government workers and officials don’t look gaunt and lean, or look thin and shrivelled, like the cows and corn in my dream. How do you explain that?”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Your Majesty, you’re being rather literal. Egypt’s government workers and officials are figuratively or metaphorically gaunt and lean, and figuratively or metaphorically thin and shrivelled. The reason is that their food, not being the result of any wealth they’ve produced, isn’t figuratively or metaphorically nutritious. So they’ll remain figuratively gaunt and lean, and figuratively thin and shrivelled, no matter how much they eat.”
“Egypt has to be governed”, said the Pharaoh. ‘This can only be done through having government workers and officials who, as such, must be paid. This can only be out of wealth that I order to be taken as tax from my entrepreneurial subjects. What do you say to that?”
“Of course, Your Majesty, there has to be government. But, it should be as small as possible. The larger the size of government, the more the entrepreneur must be taxed to pay for it. The more he’s taxed, the more he’s in shackles, and the less able he is to break free of them and create the jobs and produce the wealth that have made Egypt the envy of the world.”
“I take it then that my dreams were warnings that I must shrink the size of my government administration and lower the taxes I take from the people?”
“Yes Your Majesty.”
Source: Genesis 41, 1 – 8