by DON BOUDREAUX
…is from page 2 of Rose George’s 2013 Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes On Your Back, Gas In Your Car, and Food On Your Plate:
But who looks behind a television now and sees the ship that brought it? Who cares about the man who steered your breakfast cereal through winter storms? How ironic that the more ships have grown in size, the less space they now take up in our imagination.
It is one of the most historically unique and amazing features of life in modern market economies: almost everything that each of us daily consumes – stuff mundane to us, such as toothpaste, laundry detergent, underwear, houses with solid floors, walls, and roofs, motor transportation, blueberries and pineapple year-round in Boston and Berlin – is stuff that no one person knows how to make. It’s not just that you didn’t make and don’t know how to make, say, the drip-coffee maker that you used this morning to brew your cup of coffee. No one knows how to make that coffee maker. And nor is all of the knowledge necessary to make that coffee maker, and to get it at reasonably cost into your kitchen, available in any one place or to any one self-consciously cooperating group of minds.
Of course, there is an organization of people – working, say, for a company called Krups – in which there exists the knowledge of how to assemble various component parts – wires, metal, glass carafes, heating elements, and so on – into a coffee maker. But Krups (as is the case with the likes of Braun, and Cuisinart, and Black & Decker) only does the final assembly (and, perhaps, had a creative idea or two for just how to assemble component parts together into an unusually good coffee maker). But tap into all of the knowledge in all of the brains of all of the people who have ever worked for Krups and you’ll not get one one-billionth of all the knowledge that is necessary to transforms all of the materials that are in’ your coffee maker from their raw stage and into the machine that now sits patiently on your kitchen counter, ready to allow you to brew more delicious coffee within minutes, with no sweat or danger, and with just a few small and minor muscle movements on your part.