Speaking of Smith

How to Make Everything Harder? Ignore the Benefits of Division of Labor

adam smith division of labor teaching economics teaching adam smith pop culture andy george how to make everything

Terra Aquia for Adam Smith Works

“Speaking of Smith” fans probably already know about the famous pin factory.  They probably also know about Leonard Reed’s “I, Pencil” and Russ Roberts’ “It’s a Wonderful Loaf.”

Microeconomists (and NPR Planet Money listeners) may know Pietra Rivoli’s Travels of a T-Shirt in the World Economy but there are other resources that can also help us and others understand trade and the global economy even better.   

The following videos are all available for free on YouTube, and were created by Minnesotan Andy George. On his YouTube channel, How to Make Everything, George explores the development process for a variety of products, and highlights just how challenging (or impossible!) it is for one person to make the things they want or need on their own. Also, he is not an econ bro! These videos won’t teach the formal economic vocabulary but they still make their points eloquently. 

All of these videos are short, fun, and give watchers an opportunity to consider the benefits of trade and the wealth creating power of the division of labor. These concepts can be difficult for individuals new to the economic way of thinking to understand. 

How to Grow a $5,000 T-Shirt in Only 3 Years (21:21)
While 20 minutes may seem like a lot for a YouTube video, over 1.6 million views suggests it’s worth it. Viewers can watch George start by growing cotton from seeds in his home, creating dyes from turmeric and walnuts, and using block printing, all for a t-shirt that very few would wait or pay for.  This is especially good if you want to pair it with the aforementioned book by Rivoli or the NPR Planet Money T-Shirt series.

How to Make a $1,500 Burger in 6 Months (3:43)
If you don’t have 20 minutes, this much quicker video gets the job done in about a seventh of the time. You’ll see a garden grown, ocean water salt made, pickling, cow milking, wheat making, honey collection, chicken killing (yes, really), and more for a sandwich that at the end of it all is merely “not bad.”  

This video highlights how some things can’t be done in just any place. While hydroponics might help you grow cotton for a t-shirt in the Midwest, it’s not going to get you coffee beans. Geography matters. This video also has great content for thinking about skilled, manual labor and where prices in a market come from.  

If you have used any of these videos or have others to suggest, please comment below. We’re always looking for new ideas to share. 

Want to read more? 

Adam Smith Works reading guide and wealth of tweets on the Smithian perspective of the power of the division of labor

EconLib Guide to the Division and Labor and Specialization

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