“Let’s start with pins,” Adam Smith says.
“You want pins? The little metal things? Cost a couple of cents each? Sure. But let’s say you can’t go to the store. Let’s say there is no store, so you’ve got to make them yourself. Let’s say you have all the metal you need. How many pins could you make in a day? One? Five or ten, once you got good at it? But they’d be awful. You’d make really awful pins. You don’t even know how bad you are at pin-making, because you’ve never tried, but trust me, you’re even worse.
“And then everyone would make their own awful pins and they’d go around trying not to pin things together, because they’d look at their pins and it would just be depressing. People would be miserable. They’d feel bad about themselves, because they’ve got to be good at a million things, and pin-making ranks around a million-and-second.”
“But now you’ve got this one guy where all he does is make pins. And he gets really good at it and builds machines to make it even easier to make pins, and he’s all ‘you should trade me half your sandwich for some pins’. And you’re happier because his pins are way better and you kept the better half of the sandwich anyway, and they actually pin things together like they’re supposed to. And he’s happier because he got a bunch of other people’s stuff.
Only the guy probably has to do some other stuff, because we all still have to do other things sometimes. And the more time he spend making pins, the worse he gets at everything else, because he doesn’t have time to practice it. And really he’s getting to be more and more useless when it comes to anything not pin-based, but it’s okay because he’s still getting sandwiches and he’s really proud of his pins because we all have to be proud of something.”
“And it’d be okay if he could just do his job, it’d be okay, but there are going to be times when he has to make a chair because the guy who makes chairs died, and the new chair guy isn’t ready yet. Or he tries to make a chili for the chili cook-off, and he’s terrible at chili. And everyone has to watch him fail, and even though they like the guy and they have to admit he makes a really good pin, it’s just kind of painful to watch him make a fool of himself out in public.
“And sure, maybe it’s kind of depressing, in a way, to watch every rich facet of our individuality honed down into a single purpose, a blade meant to cut one thing and one thing only. Maybe it does dehumanize us a bit to slowly become defined by the one thing we do well for money, the manner in which we are useful. I get that,” Adam Smith says grandly, stretching out on his divan and touching his glass of port to his lips, “but the invisible hand holds no passion for human dignity. If our only advantage is to specialize, then it’s that or be left behind by the heartless and the single-minded. It’s the way of the world.”
“In conclusion, it’s time for the NL to add the designated hitter. I, Adam Smith, thank you for your consideration in this matter.”
Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.