I, Toaster: Revisited
By Art Carden
One of my favorite TED Talks is Thomas Thwaites’ explanation of how he tried to build a toaster from scratch. It’s an excellent example of the lesson taught by Leonard E. Read in “I, Pencil.” A couple of the organizations for which I have done some work have also created “I, Pencil”-esque resources. The Competitive Enterprise Institute put together the “I, Pencil” Movie, and the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics brought us “I, Smartphone.”
I’ve been thinking more about how neat it is that trade allows us to economize on knowledge, or make use of others’ knowledge without actually having that knowledge ourselves. In my most recent LearnLiberty video, I discuss how trade allows me to do a lot of things I’m not especially well-equipped to do myself.
In a recent homework assignment, I asked my students whether “grow your own vegetables to save money” is good or bad advice. I later posted this video in which I “grow vegetables” in my office–by specializing in grading macroeconomics homework and using the money I earn as an economics professor to buy vegetables. I am able, without knowing a whole lot about plant biology or the intricacies of large-scale farming, to enjoy tasty fruits and vegetables as the (wait for it) fruits of my specialized knowledge and labor.
Alienated and demoralized? Hardly. I’m participating in a global division of labor and knowledge in which our ability to trade frees up my time and energy to spend with friends and family and in which the institutions of the market bring me into cooperative relationships with people I don’t know and might not even like. That, in my book, is pretty marvelous.