Thursday, July 02, 2009

It Takes A Free Market To Build A Toaster

It takes a lot of people to manufacture even the simplest products, so making a household appliance on your own shouldn’t be expected to be easy. It may even be impossible. That’s what the artist Thomas Thwaites is finding as he tries to make a toaster from scratch, traveling around the world to collect raw materials and refining his own petroleum for plastic moldings. Aware that he still won’t be able to accomplish his task without the help of modern appliances, like a microwave, Thwaites claims his experiment points to the “helplessness” of the modern consumer. At Reason Online, meanwhile, Radley Balko argues that our inability to make a toaster doesn’t mean we’re helpless at all, but rather that we’ve been liberated by free markets. (This is hardly a new argument; consider the pencil, and similar tales.)
People who argue modern consumers are helpless typically argue we ought to live in a world of some form of individual autarky, where we are able to make/grow/produce everything on our own. This completely misses the insight of gains from trade and the associated benefits of division of labor, specialization, etc.. Without understanding that they are doing so, what they are actually arguing for is that we all live in poverty.

Nothing is stopping people from living a more simple lifestyle of self-production in the US. The fact that very few people chose to do so ought to tell you something.

No comments: