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Through Trade, Millions Tap Into the Talents and Knowledge and Efforts of Each Other

Thomas Thwaites, in his brilliant demonstration of the gargantuan complexity of the simplest toaster available today on the market, notes that the toaster that he bought as a guide for his project cost him 3 pounds, 94.

In 2010 the median weekly income in the U.K., for full-time workers, was 499 pounds.  Assuming that the typical British worker toils even as much as 45 hours weekly at his or her job (probably an overestimate), this fact means that this worker earns 11.09 pounds per hour (or about $17.60 per hour) (probably an underestimate).

So, the typical British worker has to work all of 21 minutes to earn enough income to buy the toaster that Mr Thwaites bought at retail and featured near the beginning of his superb TED talk.

And yet, that toaster is made up of so many different materials and parts that Mr Thwaites had to ignore the vast majority of them in his attempt to build his own toaster himself, from scratch.

The result of Mr Thwaites’s toaster-building effort was, not surprisingly, a product that no modern Brit (or modern anyone) would use, and much less purchase: It won’t toast.  Yet Mr Thwaites took nine months to build this worthless, and likely dangerous, toaster.  Assuming that he worked on his toaster project only one hour weekly, he spent a total of 36 hours building his toaster.  If his market wage is that of the median British worker’s wage, Mr Thwaites spent 103 times more time building his own toaster than he spent working to earn the income that he used to purchase the other toaster from a retail store.  103 times!!

Imagine how much time Mr Thwaites would have spent building his own toaster from scratch were his goal to build a toaster comparable to the one he bought at retail.  (Actually, don’t imagine….  it’s impossible.)


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