We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

So, imagine this. We desire to move 500 lbs of food from the field to the town where the people want to eat it. It’s about 10 miles from field to town. We have two available technologies. Ten people carrying 50 lbs each in rucksacks, or one bloke with a handcart carrying 500 lbs. The handcart is a technology of course. Which should we use, the technology economising on human labour or not?

One answer is that ten people want and desire jobs so we should use the rucksacks. But that is to be an idiot. The other is use the handcart and leave nine people doing sod all. Which is the correct solution.

Tim Worstall

25 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • XC

    Then take 50% of the handcart owners gross, keep 40% of that for “overhead” and distribute the rest to the idle.

    Then the overhead people can hire their relatives out of the idle to inspect the handcart, sell an inspection sticker for the hand cart, and then patrol the road to make sure that the handcart is operated in a safe manner.

    Imagine the size of the economy!


  • terence patrick hewett

    You don’t have to make a decision: the market will decide. In Europe where it is difficult to hire/fire, companies invest in automation. In the UK where low-level labour is cheap and you can fire and hire when you want, they invest in human labour – and knock the bejasus out of overall productivity. Suddenly because of brexit, that supply of labour is about to be constricted – and lo and behold suddenly robotic fruit pickers make an appearance. It’s magic.

  • Julie near Chicago

    1. 500 lb. of anything sounds to me like a difficult load for most any one person to haul, except maybe for a female bodybuilder.

    2. 10 miles? Does he, or she, get to stop for breaks now and then? Doing so might replenish muscle-power, but then extra power will be required to overcome inertia and restore the movement of the load. (Of course, if the path is less than flat and clear, that will make extra demands on the person-power required.)

    3. A well-designed and properly lubricated handcart would help. I could not in good conscience recommend using a wheelbarrow here.

    4. Going beyond the energy budget and economic efficiency of the system, does the hauler actually offer his services (whether or not for a price) of his own free will, or is he Designated by some Authority or Agency to be the one doing the work, regardless of his own wishes?

    Ahem, sorry, bit of wandering there.

    5. Think of the healthy exercise that, alternatively, the ten individuals powering the haulage of the freight will get. It will also rescue them from the evils of idleness or purposeless play, at least if you think that the latter are evil. Of course, left to themselves some might prefer to go work out at the gym.

    6. Come to that, why does anybody have to lug the food to the town? Let them what wants to eat come get their own food to take home with them. This means that they rely on their own efforts (self-reliance being a great virtue as it puts no demands on others and independence being a safety measure in and of itself — as a rule at any rate), at no fiduciary cost to themselves*, plus getting the exercise benefits of 20-mile round-trip hike.

    *Unless they have to take a day off work.

    7. Of course excessive self-reliance might discourage the perception by others of the need to be helpful in general; and of course their efforts to help themselves may have a negative effect (not “impact”!!!) on the economy insofar as it lessens the number of jobs needed for the hauling of freight.

    Clearly the whole issue needs deep examination and carefully considered discussion.

    It is all a question of the Seen vs. the Unseen, and of the meanings and implications of the verbiage with which the debate is conducted.

    Cheers. 😀

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Julie, what is needed is some Federal Resources Bureau to manage all such tricky affairs! Of course, the Bureau would need some cut of the food, but that is a minor issue- the recipients probably exaggerated how much they need, and we could all do with eating less food, anyway!

  • Roué le Jour

    The correct solution is to find something productive for the other nine to do. If you can’t do that then you are left with makework or welfare unless seeing your fellow countrymen starving in shop doorways is the kind of society you want to live in.

    The Soviets favoured makework, we favour welfare, but people are not robots that can be switched off and put into storage when not needed.

  • bobby b

    “Which is the correct solution.”


    How can he even begin to answer without finding out what “We” have to pay for each of the two alternative shipping methods? You can’t determine the correct choice when you don’t know prices and consequences.

    I can think of many situations where the best choice would be to pay the laborers.

    I suppose it depends on who his “we” are, and the relationship of “we” to the laborers. What if “we” is me – the owner of foodstuffs – and the laborers are my needy relatives who I will have to support no matter what?

    Or even test it on the larger societal analog of “we’re going to be stuck supporting these laborers with income or welfare no matter what.” We can’t always just pursue “the long run” solutions without dealing with now, because sometimes the short-term solution works better in an accounting sense, which is the only sense that ought to affect a free market.

    (Libertarians always assume a fungible and monolithic “we” when sometimes we’re swayed by faction and by complex relationships. It’s the “tariffs are always bad and never good” argument, writ . . . again. )


  • Ken Mitchell

    The 9 people who are no longer employed in carrying sacks can perform OTHER interesting work. Like gathering firewood, or building a table, or harvesting other crops, or any of of a thousand other tasks that weren’t listed in the parameters of the problem. Or, those 9 can rest, and the next time, some OTHER person can use the hand cart.

  • The Neon Madman

    “All human progress is the result of lazy men looking for easier ways to do things”

    – Possibly Robert Heinlein ?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas, by all means. Let us institute the FRB (Federal Resources Bureau — no, no, not the other one!) at once. The Fed can go pound sand, as trying to control the economy by manipulating the money supply is like trying to control the tides (cf. Canute).

    You and I will be co-Ministers in Charge of Resource Management. We will be expending huge amounts of energy in conducting this task, so of course our food supply can’t very well be diminished. Also job satisfaction is very important to the maintenance of a high level of morale, and doubly so for top management (and we will need extra to reward extra-productive workers reporting to us).

    To this end, I personally will require Beluga caviar on well-buttered homemade toast and Irish coffee on a daily basis for breakfast, and roast lamb, saganaki, moussaka, and falafel for dinner. To be followed by the lowly Cream Puff, well stuffed with best whipped cream.

    Brandy and pecan pralines for lagniappe afterwords.

    We should get started on it right away. :>))))

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Quite right, Julie- those people NEED us to manage them! We’ll need people to see that thieves don’t take any of the stuff, people with security cameras to watch them, and other people to tell us what to do when we reach peak-food time (the stuff arrives at the destination).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas, you’re in the ballpark but you’ve got the details wrong. And it was your idea, remember?

    You and I are the capos, excuse the term, of the regim–er–Agency, the FRB. It’s a Cabinet post. We are joint Ministers in charge of the Federal Resources Board! We report directly to the Grand Director, er, I mean the President, er, I mean the Prime Minister.

    The poet speaks of his vision of our works for the good of the people:

    Look upon my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!


    Hm, pretty good cognac. Have another. ;>)

    P.S. I do think it’s good of the resident Evil Hippo to allow us to use his board to promulgate the NEW ORDER.

  • CaptDMO

    Hey! I know…
    Suppose I present a “suppose” scenario…
    Based on gross assumptions, imagined parameters, omitted fundamentals from 4000 years of history, and and romance fantasy novel economics….
    Knowing little about markets, what do you do?
    Shout reductio ad absurdum from the corner OF COURSE!

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Julie, what do we do after the food has been distributed? The perennial problem of bureaucrats has always been how to ensure that problems continue, so their worth is assured! So do we take over all the foodstuffs of the county, or state, or nation, and re-organise it? How do we persuade people to go along with it? (I’m thinking of the steps leading up to your grand design!)

  • Chip

    Reminds me of the boasts that renewable energy will create x number of jobs. Not mentioned is that it’s 70 people producing a unit of energy that can be produced by just one person in oil and gas.

    The concept of productivity should be taught in schools.

  • Tim Worstall

    Ken M has it. The next two paras are:

    “Because of course they don’t go and do sod all, will they? Some will weed the field, or pick the spilt grain, so that we’ve more food to eat. Perhaps one will go off and play with and change the kiddies – we’ve happy and dry babbies which is a richness we humans enjoy. One might invent the horsecart so we can save even more people from jobs in the future. It’s even possible that some will just loaf. But leisure is also a wealth that humans enjoy, isn’t it?

    Economising on the labour we’re using by employing technology makes us richer. By exactly the extra and different production by those no longer having to do the work now being done by the machine.”

  • the other rob

    The correct solution is to find something productive for the other nine to do.

    @ Roué le Jour: Close, but no cigar. Finding something to do is the business of the other nine. Our {and especially government’s involvement) should be limited to staying the fuck out of the way while they do so.

  • Boy on a bike

    9 people are now employed in manufacturing and servicing handcarts, running a cafe at a rest stop for handcart operators, doing R&D on handcart technology improvements and of course sourcing the raw materials to build handcarts as well creating the tooling required by handcart builders.

  • pete

    The correct answer is to leave them doing sod all and then punish them for being poor because they are worthless working class people.

    When computers and automation kill off jobs done by educated middle class office people the correct answer is to invent new jobs for them in the public sector so they can make more rules and regulations for us to obey.

  • mhj

    Reminds me of when Milton Friedman visited a large construction project in China–excavating for a dam, iirc. He saw thousands of laborers using shovels and wheelbarrows. He asked his guide why they did not use modern equipment, which would get the job done faster and more economically, and was told that people needed work. He then asked why they were using shovels instead of spoons.

  • An additional issue: Sure, you have freed up the nine people to do sod all (as an American I love the British-ism). They can get other jobs, like a clerk to count stuff or a sales person to convince others they really want some of that food. But what do you do with that last person, the one who can barely comprehend the rucksack and walk to town task? With automation taking out many routine tasks we have more and more people are are effectually unemployable at any wage. Kurt Vonnegut brought this up in his Player Piano novel decades ago, Jorden Peterson had a youtube video about, but what solutions work? How much do those solutions cost?

    Just curious what the Samizdata crowd thinks…

  • the other rob

    @ ZilWerks

    Your question is a Trojan Horse. Once we concede the point that anybody has a role in managing the affairs of other adults* it ends with the state taking a lowest common denominator approach and legislating to treat us all as minimally competent and in need of constant supervision.

    Any “solutions” must be found by individuals for themselves, while the rest of us stay the fuck out of the way.

    * With the honorable exception of those engaged in a voluntary Total Power Exchange, of course.

  • evil mikee

    Since nobody else stated one obvious and historically accurate solution: The nine remaining Ukranian kulaks can be left to starve without any food, which has all been taken from the town for redistribution by the government to deserving Muscovites. The one guy with the cart can probably skim enough to eat off the cart to survive, and be useful again next season in moving food from the farm to the town. Or else.

  • Paul Marks

    This appears to have been written by a person with little experience of manual work – one man pulling 500 Pounds over ten miles is not sensible, not if there are nine other men “doing sod all” who could help pull, or take turns pulling the cart. After all the writer has said that otherwise the nine men will be doing “sod all” – in short he is saying (not someone else – the writer himself) that there are no other jobs for them. That seems odd to me.

    So not a very good quote – I know the point the writer is trying to make, but he does make the point very well.

  • The correct answer is to leave them doing sod all and then punish them for being poor because they are worthless working class people.

    And that is because they are utterly incapable of finding something else to do? They just sit around staring into space helplessly until someone else comes up and issues them with a job?

  • In Europe where it is difficult to hire/fire, companies invest in automation. In the UK where low-level labour is cheap and you can fire and hire when you want, (terence patrick hewett,
    August 28, 2018 at 10:52 pm)

    Relative to Europe, this is true; I know companies who will employ in the UK but not on the continent – they use contractors for all local tasks – for this very reason. However, relative to the Victorian era, the statement is very far from true – and I believe it is also not as easy to fire in the UK as it is in the US. 🙂