I, Toaster and The Economies of Production

Doing away with the division of labour and most other economies of production, Thomas Thwaites’ Toaster Project is an experiment to “build a toaster, from scratch—beginning by mining the raw materials and ending with a product that Argos sells for only £3.99”.

Many have mentioned this already (Jason Kottke, Tyler Cowen on Margin Revolution, Radley Balko on Reason), but my favourite commentary on the project comes from The Financial Times’ Tim Harford:

The modern market economy is mind-bogglingly complex, producing billions of products, many vastly more complex than a toaster. The complexity of the society we have created for ourselves surrounds us so completely that, instead of being dizzied, we tend to take it for granted.

Yet as we celebrate our good fortune to be born at a time of such astonishing material wealth, the toaster should give us pause for thought. It is a symbol of the sophistication of our world, but also a symbol of the obstacles that lie in wait for those who want to change it. Whether attempting to deal with climate change, social deprivation, economic development or healthcare, improving faults in such a complex system is a task best approached with humility.

I believe it is obligatory at this point to mention Leonard Read‘s 1958 essay, I, Pencil?