Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster, a lover of America and a man of uncommonly good sense.
Via Daniel Hannan:
Last year, a chap decided to make himself a chicken sandwich. Nothing unusual there, you might think; but this chap decided to do the whole thing from scratch. He milked a cow, curdled the milk to make cheese, killed a chicken, pickled a cucumber, boiled seawater to get salt, ground grain to bake bread. It took him six months, and you can watch the video he made about it here.
If I were an ‘A’-level economics teacher – and I’ll be looking for work in a year or two, so who knows – I’d show that video as part of my introductory lesson each September. It dramatises, in a way that everyone can understand, the breath-taking splendour of the capitalist system.
Imagine what life would be like if, instead of being able to trade for the things we wanted, we had to make them all ourselves. The simplest things would be unattainable. We’re not talking here about toasters or smartphones. We’re talking about a chicken sandwich.
Even the six months that it took the chap in the video is, in a sense, a cheat. He didn’t raise the cow or the chicken or the wheat himself; he flew to the sea-side to gather his brine. He was, in other words, making use of the structures of an advanced market economy. To feed himself while growing all his ingredients from scratch – let alone while trying to design and build an aeroplane to carry him to the coast for the salt – would have been impossible.
Truly the market is a thing of beauty. The next time you buy a chicken sandwich in Boots or Tesco, consider what has gone into it. Think, not just of the effort of producing the bread and the lettuce and the mayonnaise; think, too, of the lumberjack who felled the tree that made the cardboard wrapper; think of the lorry-driver who brought the sandwich from the depot to your street; think of the woman who keeps the accounts for that haulage company. And then contemplate the almost miraculous fact that that sandwich, instead of taking you six months to assemble, can be purchased for the equivalent of 19 minutes’ work on the minimum wage.