Doing away with the divi­sion of labour and most other economies of pro­duc­tion, Thomas Thwaites’ Toaster Project is an exper­i­ment to “build a toaster, from scratch—beginning by min­ing the raw mate­ri­als and end­ing with a prod­uct that Argos sells for only £3.99″.

Many have men­tioned this already (Jason Kot­tke, Tyler Cowen on Mar­gin Rev­o­lu­tion, Radley Balko on Rea­son), but my favourite com­men­tary on the project comes from The Finan­cial Times’ Tim Harford:

The mod­ern mar­ket econ­omy is mind-bogglingly com­plex, pro­duc­ing bil­lions of prod­ucts, many vastly more com­plex than a toaster. The com­plex­ity of the soci­ety we have cre­ated for our­selves sur­rounds us so com­pletely that, instead of being dizzied, we tend to take it for granted.

Yet as we cel­e­brate our good for­tune to be born at a time of such aston­ish­ing mate­r­ial wealth, the toaster should give us pause for thought. It is a sym­bol of the sophis­ti­ca­tion of our world, but also a sym­bol of the obsta­cles that lie in wait for those who want to change it. Whether attempt­ing to deal with cli­mate change, social depri­va­tion, eco­nomic devel­op­ment or health­care, improv­ing faults in such a com­plex sys­tem is a task best approached with humility.

I believe it is oblig­a­tory at this point to men­tion Leonard Read’s 1958 essay, I, Pen­cil?