12 January 2011
A Toast to Toasters
When I was teaching high school history, one of my favorite lessons was about the modern economy- how for most of us, we don't make/produce practically any of the stuff we use/eat/wear on a daily basis. We are a world of specialists- we do one specific task for money and buy everything else we need. (I have to admit that at church this week I smirked at someone quoting Brigham Young's admonition that we make our own food, clothes, etc.)
Taking this one step further into our shrinking world, nowadays most of our stuff isn't even produced in this country (unless you're talking software, weapons, or democracy). As part of my history lesson, I would offer a king-size candy bar or pack of licorice for any student who was wearing an article of clothing with a tag reading "Made in America." In the eight or so classes, I never had anyone win the prize. Not one.
Anyway, today I watched a video about a guy trying to build a toaster from scratch. As you might expect, the end result was neither appealing nor functional. But what a perfect illustration of how our modern world works. I imagine that if you looked at your toaster right now, you would see metal mined in South America, plastic made from Middle Eastern oil, Japanese circuitry, assembled in southeast Asia, marketed by a company from the U.K., and sold to you by a store here in good old 'Merica. To recreate that individually is impossible.
Looking around me right now, I don't see a single thing that I could make myself- sofa, lightbulbs, the XBox, DVDs, running water, my t-shirt (Made in El Salvador). So here's to a modern economy: without it life would be uncomfortable, dark, dull, dirty, and cold. Or as Hobbes famously said in Leviathan: "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Thank heaven for toasters!