When the local farmer grew wheat and the local miller milled it and the local baker baked it, then the people were close to the source of their food. They understood that if the farmer had a bad year, that there would be a shortage of bread. That relative non-specialisation meant that the fact that production had to precede consumption was obvious to all. (no one bothered to waste their breath asking for free bread)
Then we began to really specialise. Adam Smith’s observation of the division of labour was most easily seen and understood in the Model T Ford production line. Rather than a few people building a car with a total production of, at best, one car a year, teams of specialists working side-by-side, each performing one crucial role, could make thousands of cars.
The division of labour then became more complicated – and obscure.
The specialisation became ever greater. What was once three or four people at most, became hundreds and then the domain of literally hundreds of thousands of people. The size of the production roles played by individuals has been inversely proportional to the burgeoning world trade.
Companies utilized parts, tools, equipment, ingredients and bits and pieces of odds and sods from all over the world. The obviousness of the connection between production and consumption became more and more attenuated.
As this process continued, so people became unreal about the source of not only food, but wealth-creation in general.
By the 21st century, this unreality had degenerated to the point that politicians honestly believed that they could shut down the economy for a few months without there being catastrophic consequences. It was, to use a delightful phrase that I just came across, ‘nonsense on stilts’.
The Virus hysteria, which led to shutdowns and lockdowns, has bankrupted many businesses and will result in entrenched double-digit unemployment. That is coinciding with increasing world trade tensions. In particular, a massive backlash against China, which until recent months was the principal supplier of finished goods to the world.
It will take many years (decades?) for business to reassemble suppliers and supply lines. Production of all goods is down and, thus, consumption is down, and will continue to dwindle. The philosophy of ‘shop till you drop’ has slammed into the brick wall of deliberately sabotaged production.
Frugal is an old word that we are about to hear spoken more often.
The modern world may not look so modern for a while.