Today I am writing about the joys and sorrows associated with specialization. I want to start with speaking of the joys. To do so I want to write about the miracle of the pineapple. I have to admit that I stole this from "I, pencil", an essay by Leonard E. Read, but I like pineapples more than pencils, so mine is better. (Okay his is better and you should read it if you haven't, but please read mine too.)
Pineapples only grow in tropical climates. Because most of us have spent our lives outside tropical climates we may have never seen a pineapple plant. But for those desert dwellers like myself, they look much like a Yucca plant. From the time a new pineapple plant is planted in the ground it will take two years of watering, providing proper nutrition and other care for it to get one pineapple. It only grows one pineapple at a time. Then the next year the pineapple plant will get a second pineapple, and if you are lucky you will get one the next year. Then the plant will die. Plantations usually clear the field after the second harvest because it takes too much work for the third harvest when only some will get that third pineapple. So, it takes one plant three years to get you two pineapples.
The plants are rough and ask anyone who has ever spent any time harvesting the plants just how hard this can be. It has been known to be so hard on workers that they often lose their fingerprints from constant removal of skin in that area (not sure why they don’t use gloves). Whenever I speak of the miracle of the pineapple anywhere within a mile of my Uncle Preston he is quick to remind me that many pineapples are often harvested by teenagers who get swindled into a summer of labor so they can get a free trip to Hawaii. But I have no doubt that the back breaking labor well prepared him to be the great business man he is today, so he can’t complain too much.
Once the pineapple is harvested it is shipped to a processing plant. There it is cut and sliced. The juices are saved and then the pineapple is canned in a tin can with its juices and stacked and shipped. The shipping is no small feat. Most pineapples are grown on the islands, so after they are canned they are stacked, wrapped and loaded onto a truck and taken to a port. Then they are unloaded, and reloaded on an ocean liner. From there they again arrive and port and do the same thing in reverse order, from ship back to truck. And then once loaded on a truck they are sent out to a grocery store, where they are again unloaded, unwrapped and taken out by your local grocery stocker. Then you show up and by it for 99 cents.
As a side note fresh pineapple is only possible in the states because of air transport or refrigerated transport. Most comes over by air.
Everytime I bite into a pineapple fresh or canned, I can’t help but think what a miracle it is that I get to be enjoying, what I feel is, one of the most exquisite taste on this planet. Think for a moment how many people were involved to get that to you. There was a farmer/land owner, likely farm hands in planting, nurturing and caring for the plant. There was time, two years while it was grown. Then someone had to harvest, drive to the packing plant. The plant is full of operators, managers, and logistics personnel. The machines that are made specifically to chop and save the juices had to be designed, manufactured and maintained. The plant needs clean water to run, that has to be treated and pumped to the plant and there has to be infrastructure to take away the waste and garbage. They are put into tin cans, a metal that had to be mined shaped and go through it’s whole process. Then you need someone to pack the truck (did I mention there is another whole factory somewhere building the packing material that has it’s own story), trucker to drive and then off to the docks. Here there is another set of hundreds of employees who move containers around, work on timing of ships getting into port and what containers go where, millions of dollars in cranes and other equipment all specifically made to get things unloaded and reloaded quickly. Then to a vessel, that takes a whole crew to operate, to say nothing of the work that went into designing, and manufacturing it.
Next step is again at a port with the same costs and man power needed as on the other port. Then to a truck which travels a highway infrastructure that literally cost billions of dollars to put into place. And what about the gas it takes for these transportation to move? The mining, refining, and shipping to get it into place.
Then off to the grocery store with all its staff and logistics. And you get that can for what someone on minimum wage can make in less than 10 minutes.
Think for a minute what it would take you to get that pineapple and enjoy it with your family if you lived in Kansas and you had to do it alone? You couldn’t, is possibly the simplest answer but for fun think through it. Step 1 get to the coast. Without the benefits of refined oil, and manufactured machines i.e. a car, this would be very difficult. Step 2 cross the ocean, again on your own this to would be difficult if not impossible. But say your Nephi and built and then voila, a month later you arrive in beautiful Hawaii. Step 3 Plant a pineapple then care for it for 2 years. Step 4 harvest the pineapple. But remember the goal is to enjoy it with your family. So, you have to hope your wife hasn’t remarried in the past 2 years and figure out a way to preserve it why you take your month long journey back to Kansas. I could go on, but you get my point. That is the miracle of capitalism and made possible in large part by specialization. No central planning effort, no matter how good or how long could have possibly gotten you that can of goodness for any cheaper.
What has made it possible?
Mostly the fact that every person has an incentive to maximize profits and economic output. That is the real beauty of capitalism, I have an incentive to get you what you want, the more I get you what you want and need, the more products I can sell, the more money I can make. One of the ways this has been accomplished is specialization. We have become ultra-specialized and are only getting more so with time.
This has led to an amazing and miraculous economy. One that continues to stretch the limits of what economic output can be created. But unfortunately there are down sides. As the quote goes, “Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others.” My next write up will be exploring one of the many limitations of capitalism, specifically specialization, but for now I think I’ll go open a can of pineapple and enjoy it.