Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jonathan Kent: Worst Farmer EVER!

Ok... OK!

I promise, this will be my last Smallville related post for a while. And this one should be brief... But here goes.

On the show, Jonathan Kent (Clark Kent's adoptive father for those with no barometer for American culture) is constantly portrayed as being poor - often teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As I noted in the previous blog, this serves as a lazy writing tool to build instant sympathy with him as the underdog character. But I don't get how Jonathan Kent could possibly be poor... And I'll tell you why. But first, here are some facts & my assumptions:
  1. The Average farmer makes approximately $76,000 a year according to USDA statistics. In rural Kansas, this is definitely a very good living.
  2. The average farmhand earns $44,000 according to SimplyHired. This may vary, and depending on whether or not the Kent family would employ illegal immigrants to work for a cheaper wage, perhaps this is an over-estimate, but for the sake of argument, let's use this figure.
  3. The Kent farm is average in most respects, and there are not significantly more overhead expenses for this farm than others (machinery, supplies, buildings, etc.) and so I am treating it as more or less equal to any of its competitors in this regard.
  4. Clark Kent (Superman) works for free.
  5. Clark Kent with his unique abilities - including superhuman strength, faster-than-sound speed, infinite sun-powered endurance, invulnerability and a host of other powers - can do the farm work equivalent to at least a dozen hired farm-hands.
So now... We do the math.

(Bo Duke as incurable complainer & superhuman loss-making farmer,
Jonathan Kent)

Because Clark works for Mr. Kent for free, and because his abilities are so extremely valuable, he saves the farm an immense amount of money. Given the above estimates, deducting the salaries of a dozen farmhands (which for the sake of simplicity - and because I've never actually seen any on the show - we'll assume is the number required for a farm of comparable size), Clark saves the farm $528,000 per year in labor costs.

I repeat: $528,000 per year!

Thus, since no one else presumably gets their labor for free, or have superhuman children to help out; Jonathan Kent has a greater-than half a million dollar advantage over any of his competitors. In theory, because the other operating costs are identical to other farms, the $528,000 per year is pure profit. Also in theory as a result of this bonus, Jonathan Kent could offer his goods at a far cheaper price than any of his competitors - thus conceivably making his farm the preferred choice for consumers.

Now, granted, this profit can go to any number of capital investments... Expanded operations, marketing, upgrades to facilities. But each of those options would be a way for the farm to make even more money... Regardless, it might be reasonable to assume that Mr. Kent wouldn't want to expand his operations and would prefer to stay a smaller farm simply to protect Clark's true identity. In such an event, that $528,000 in excess profit could go directly into his own salary.

So... If the Kent farm was average in all other respects, the Superman free labor bonus would produce annual earnings of $604,000 for Jonathan Kent.

No one in their right mind would consider earning $604,000 a year the salary of a poor man. So I will not insult anyone's intelligence by pretending that this is the salary that Mr. Kent is unceasingly whining about episode after episode. "Poor" in this instance (factoring in the poverty line for a given family size of 3 people) according to Health & Human Services would mean that Mr. Kent is only earning $18,310. Now, I'll be generous here and say that with college payments looming, and other ordinary middle class expenses, the HHS figure would be more "destitute" than "poor"; so let's assume that one might still complain when earning double that amount with a family of three.

So let's imagine that Jonathan Kent's financial woes & endless kvetching stem from earning $36,620 a year... That's less than I make with no family, so I could certainly see whining about it. But what does it mean...? It would mean that Mr. Kent, with all his amazing special advantages, is actually losing $567,380 a year!!!


How can a person make such poor economic decisions that his business could lose enough to not only negate over a half million dollars in essentially free money, but also to cause his personal earnings to be less than 50% of the national average for his field!??!?!??????????!??

ANSWER: Worst. Farmer. Ever.

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