The Burma Slaves
Little jingles capture the pathos of the oppressed
October 1, 2007
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

From 1925 to 1963 there used to be signs along American country roads advertising " Burma shave." The Burma-Vita company sold a shaving cream, which it advertised with a series of highway billboard signs where a rhyming humorous message was read one sign at a time. For example:

A peach

looks good

with lots of fuzz

but man's no peach

and never was.



Don't take a curve

at 60 per

we hate to lose

a customer.


The country of Burma is in turmoil. Its dictators changed the name of the nation to Myanmar, just like the Congolese dictator changed its country name to Zaire. After the dictator was deposed, the name was changed back to Congo. Likewise, when the present dictators of Burma are finally overthrown, the new regime will probably restore the previous name. We don't want to call Burmese cats "Myanmar cats." The people are proudly Burmese.

There are reports that the government of Burma has used slave labor. In 1994, the Associated Press wrote that Burma's military rulers used thousands of enslaved workers to build a railroad. Another report on August 2007 stated that thousands of Burmese workers in one of the Burmese islands are prohibited from riding motorcycles and using mobile phones, and they may not go out after 8 am unless accompanied by their employer.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel forum had some Burma-Shave type rhymes about the "Burma slaves" of today. The military dictators have enslaved the entire country, and recently brutally repressed protests led by Buddhist monks. There were previous protests by students that were squashed. But this time, I think the regime is doomed to failure. When a regime shoots into crowds, it is a signal that its demise is coming soon. When the people are so angry that they have lost their fear of the regime, the game is finished. That's what happened in Romania, Iran, Russia, and other countries that deposed the autocrats.

The Santa Cruz "Burma slave" rhymes were criticized in the forum as bringing a serious problem - people in Burma getting killed - down to the level of Burma Shave ads. But often people who are oppressed have themselves used humor as a tool of coping with the pain. With sympathy, respect, and admiration to the people of Burma, here are some signs that could appear on the road to Mandalay:

Shooting into crowds,

a sign

of a lying,



Burma slaves

Brave monks

have lost their fear.

Elephant trunks

will squeeze the rulers.

The end is near.

Burma slaves.


A nation marred.

It burns with fury.

The Burmese cats

Will be the jury.

Burma slaves.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., (May 11, 1946 — June 5, 2021) was an economist who wrote weekly editorials for since 1997. Foldvary’s commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary’s areas of research included public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.