The government’s favourite cash cow, taxation of petrol, has recently found a friend in the shape of proceeds from speed cameras. All around the country, unsuspecting motorists are being flashed by these anonymous boxes by the sides of the road, which annually generate millions of pounds for the Treasury.

Mastering the National Admissions Test for Law, Mark Shepherd (Routledge, 2013)

What is the "cash cow" as referenced here?

  1. (a) A cost for motorists
    (b) A policy which is unpopular with everyone
    (c) A policy which only the government likes
    (d) A source of easy revenue for the government
    (e) A policy driven by economics

(a) to (d): INCORRECT. See (e).
(e) CORRECT. Based both on the widely understood meaning of the phrase, and the context in which it is used (being likened to taxation on petrol, and being said to ‘generate millions of pounds for the Treasury’), it is apparent that ‘cash cow’ refers to an easy source of revenue for the government. It is also a cost for motorists and likely an unpopular policy, but these are the consequences of it being a cash cow, not the meaning of that expression itself.


I read the explanation above, but I still think that (d) is right. How is (d) only the consequences? I fail to perceive why the following is wrong: A 'cash cow' is (d). Of course, it can be other things too.

  • 1
    "...it is apparent that ‘cash cow’ refers to an easy source of revenue for the government." - even the key agrees with you ;) Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 8:46
  • As mic explains, (d) is the best answer. A "cash cow" is a source of easy profits. In my experience with multiple-choice exams, exam-writers tend to have wrong answers for one or two percent of the questions. (If the exam-writer is wrong about more than five percent of the questions, it is a bad test.)
    – Jasper
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 17:34
  • That's a nasty test paper designed to trip candidates up. I would have answered d) immediately, but reading the examiner's explanation you understand what is being asked from you. The taxing of petrol is an economic manoeuvre/policy, it just happens to a very profitable one, i.e. a cash cow.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 22:01
  • @Mari-LouA Thanks. It's nasty! Would you mind enlarging on 'but reading the examiner's explanation you understand what is being asked from you'? What specifically led you to answer (e), if this were what you were implying?
    – user8712
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 14:01
  • I explained it in my comment. The taxing of petrol is first and foremost a course of action prompted by the gov't, the fact it is highly remunerative is "coincidental".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 15:25

1 Answer 1


Per my understanding Mark Shepherd does hair-splitting here.

Some basics on "cash cow": http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/cash-cow:

"A business, investment, or product that provides a steady income or profit."


"Management guru Peter F Drucker coined the term in the mid-1960s to describe a business or product line with a large market share in a stagnant or declining market. It can yield profits reliably for some years without further investment and little maintenance."

Any business is "driven by economics". That's the main purpose of business - if it's not social. But a business does only become a cash cow, if it provides an easy and steady income. So, answer (d) is a prerequisite for answer (e) to be correct.

In other words:
"A policy driven by economics" is a too broad definition, and thus cannot necessarily be seen as a paraphrase for "cash cow", especially based on the linked definitions for this term.
For instance, raising taxes to support exporting industries is also a "policy driven by economics", but is it a cash cow?
Another question, regarding Mark Shepherd's context:
What if this policy doesn't lead to an "easy revenue for the government"? Because every driver is aware of speed cameras, or simply obeys the speed limits?
Just trying to justify correctness of answer (e):
The policy must have the intention to lead to an "easy revenue for the government" in the first place. Then it may be seen as a "cash cow", and (d) may be seen as consequence.

  • Thank you. Sadly, I still don't understand the difference, so would you please enlarge on your answer? How does Shepherd hair-split here? What's a 'prerequisition'? Do you mean prerequisite?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 14:04
  • +1. Thanks. Sorry for my confusion, but would you mind writing more/enlarging on how 'to justify correctness of answer (e)'? Your last few sentences still resemble support for (d)?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 5:36
  • Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as a comment?
    – user8712
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 5:36

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