I was very busy this weekend trying to make enough soup so I can afford to hire another cat to shuck corn for me.

I should probably explain.

A few days ago, my high school freshman introduced me to a  game called Cats and Soup wherein tiny, adorable, animated cats make soup, juice, and stir fry to sell. When the game begins, your woodland clearing is inhabited by one cat who is able to make one kind of soup fairly slowly. As you play, however, that cat’s earnings can be used to hire more cats to act as sous chefs.  Each cat has its own special skills. Some cats chop carrots, others slice cabbage. The frustratingly expensive cat that I am currently saving up for shucks corn. As each new cat joins the team, the cats are able to produce more soup, more varieties of soup, and even broaden out to produce other kinds of food. 

Some cats even have skills listed that–so far–have not come into play in the game. But I suspect that Lord Puffington’s ability to squeeze grapes is going to pay off for me before long! And, as the woodland clearing expands, if a grape juice making area opens, Lord Puffington can relocate to that area, leaving his current job as cabbage chopper open to a cat more suited to that task.

Each type of food item is priced differently, so as the cats increase their ability to specialize their jobs by adding new cats to the team they are also able to diversify their output by combining their specialized tasks in new ways or by repurposing them. (The carrot chopping cat, for example, not only makes carrot soup, but can help make stir fry, and also make carrot juice!). 

The market for the foods produced by the cats is somewhat unclear. We never see the woodland customers. However, a special order board with an ever-changing set of requests suggests that demand is variable and very subjective. And if the cats over-produce and the player is unable to click on the food items quickly enough to claim the gold that each item is worth, the food begins to go stale and is sold for a substantial markdown.

So far, so Smithian.

But Cats and Soup is also aware of Adam Smith’s cautions about the division of labor as well as his appreciation of its benefits. Smith warns that:

The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

This is self-evidently true for soup-making cats as well. Thus, the game allows the cats to purchase and build recreational and rest facilities like shady trees, trampolines, and fishing ponds, where they can refresh themselves from their labors.

And as the woodland clearing becomes more productive, the cats can buy hats, clothing, furniture, and accessories with the gold they make. Each new accessory increases their productivity. Happy cats work harder. Our cats, in other words, demonstrate that as societies become wealthier they are able to become more productive.

Cats and Soup isn’t quite a full Principles of Economics textbook, but it’s certainly a cute and fuzzy version of some of the key early chapters. 

I’ve long been a fan of the ways that economics can delight, entertain, and amuse as well as instruct. Cats and Soup seems like an ideal combination of pretty solid economics and adorable animation. I’d be interested to know what students would make of it, or of an essay prompt asking them to outline the economic principles illustrated by the game. 

Meanwhile, I have to go check in on Lord Puffington and his friends. I think they’re about to learn how to fish. 


P.S. And when you’re done with the cooking cats, here’s own-admittedly not nearly as cute- division of labor animation.