No, Brian Deese, There’s Never a Problem of Too Much Production

Stop and think for a moment what your living standards would resemble if you had to build the house you live in, grow and raise the food you eat, sew the clothes you wear, and cut the hair on your head. To say that your life would be defined by unrelenting drudgery, and likely death borne of starvation and/or exposure to the elements, brings new meaning to understatement.

Which is why the division of labor is the greatest advance the world has ever known. A statement that similarly brings new meaning to understatement. Really, what other driver of soaring living standards comes remotely close to work divided?

Taking it back to first principles, Adam Smith reported on the genius of labor division quite brilliantly in the opening pages of The Wealth of Nations. Upon visiting a pin factory, Smith found that a man working alone within it could maybe – maybe – produce one pin per day. Conversely, several men working together in specialized fashion could produce tens of thousands of pins per day.

All of which brings us to MIT Innovation Fellow and former director of President Biden’s National Economic Council, Brian Deese. In a piece for the Washington Post, Deese asserted that “China already manufactures too much,” and since it allegedly does, its desire to make more threatens the wellbeing of the global economy. Oh no, he didn’t write this, did he?

Readers know the answer. Deese did. Somehow the individuals who comprise the global economy are threatened by individuals in China producing more and more, at prices that continue to drop? Paraphrasing Biden’s former boss while watching then Senator Biden give a speech (“Kill.Me.Now”), Books. Could. Be. Written.

Alas, this is just an opinion piece. In which case let’s just point out the obvious, that the more the Chinese people produce, the more that the rest of the world’s inhabitants can produce in more specialized fashion such that their wages will rise thanks to greater productivity that is always and everywhere a consequence of individuals doing what they do best. Once again, the division of labor is the greatest advance the world has ever known.

Crucially, and contra the last two protectionist occupants of the White House, the genius of labor division doesn’t suddenly disappear if those we’re dividing the work up with live next door, or – gasp – on the other side of the world. In truth, our certain path to the best of what we can be is paved by the production of others.

Which requires yet another statement of the obvious, but surely a necessary one: Brian Deese couldn’t be more incorrect. And if readers are confused, they need only consider the somewhat binary nature of work for Americans 175 years ago, but much of the world until recently. If you were working, odds were in the 50% range that your work involved farming or something related to it.

Stop and think about that. And in thinking about it, contemplate yet again how desperate your living conditions would be if the rest of the world weren’t producing all manner of goods and services for you. If so, you almost certainly would be responsible for your clothes, shelter, food, and yes, hairstyles. How supremely awful life would be, as would be a life defined by dawn to dusk work six days per week on a farm.

Of course, thanks to more and more hands, machines and minds around the world engaged in production, the days of the vast majority of us being forced into farm work as a requisite for survival are long past. And those thankfully bygone days are a direct consequence of feverish production globally by people eager to get.

About getting, Deese naturally makes the laughable claim that Chinese production is not about demand (a visit to China reveals quite the opposite: think 5,500 McDonald’s stores, and counting…), and that its people are yet again producing too much. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as production without demand, nor is there is there ever a problem of too much production. What should and does horrify the mildly awake among us is a lack of global production, simply because a lack of it is what deters those who are producing from migrating to the work most associated with their skills and intelligence.

In short, Deese isn’t just incorrect, he’s dangerously incorrect. Thank goodness he’s back in the academy, and far from where economic decisions are made. 

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

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