One of my son’s favorite television show (I proudly reveal!) is a show on the Science Channel called "How It’s Made." (I apologize: I can find no really good link to the show; the link here is just the Science Channel’s scheduled airing of the show.)
Each half-hour segment features three or four explanations of how ordinary things are manufactured. Among the familiar items whose manufacture Thomas and I have learned about by watching this program are digital CDs, mozzarella cheese, sliced bread, pantyhose, and toothpicks.
Several things strike me about this program. Here’s one.
The level of automation is truly astonishing. Viewers of "How It’s Made" almost never see a human being. It’s almost all machines – computerized robots – doing the work. Even the most mundane of everyday items such as sliced bread and toothpicks are produced today with truly impressive advanced technology.
Watching "How It’s Made" last night brought to mind Adam Smith’s important insight that one advantage of the division of labor is that as tasks become more specialized they are more likely to become mechanized, thereby releasing scarce, precious human labor to do other valuable jobs.
We live truly in a world of wonders. The lowly toothpick – a splinter of birch wood – is the product of millions upon millions of dollars of investment and unmeasurable human creativity – and, of course, our happy propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,