It Takes a Civilization: Trade, Talents, and Toasters


Thomas Thwaites recently gave a marvelous talk at TED about his quest to build an electric toaster entirely from scratch.

The idea was sparked by an instance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which the protagonist comes to a new planet only to realize that his knowledge and technological prowess are useless without the advanced civilization to back it. As Thwaites summarizes: “He realizes that without the rest of human society he can barely make a sandwich, let alone a toaster.”

Thwaites’ response: “But he didn’t have Wikipedia.”

Watch the video here:

The basic message of the talk, as interpreted by economist Donald Boudreaux, is that “through trade, millions tap into the talents and knowledge of others.”

It is a simple message, and you’ve most likely heard it before (my personal favorite is Milton Friedman’s pencil example). Such a message is only worth repeating because so many people still fail to see the fundamental value in free trade and globalization.

The only thing I want to add is this:

toaster, Daniel Alexander, Thomas Thwaites, TEDPeople scorn free trade for all the typical anti-free market reasons: cutthroat competition, unequal distribution, and something about “greed” or “excess.” But doesn’t Thwaites’ talk illustrate that free trade is primarily about collaborating and sharing? Hasn’t the last century (especially the last decade) demonstrated that free trade offers great potential for expandingconnecting, and shaping a global community?

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