Economics 101

The $1,500-Chicken-Sandwich Lesson about Making Things from “Scratch”

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Did you catch the video that went viral on the Internet about Andy George, a man who made a chicken sandwich from scratch? It only took him six months and $1,500 to do it.

Watching his adventures, you get a sense of how laborious this process is. It took this man across the country, from a wheat farm to a dairy farm to the ocean and back home again. Whew.

The video is a great lesson in the economic way of thinking.

  • It illustrates how highly limited we are in our own time, talent, and resources.
  • It’s an example of why we can only flourish when we live within a system freeing us from having to figure everything out on our own.
  • It shows how market economies encourage people to focus on their skills and serve each other using those talents. When we do this, we become better at what we do and are driven to serve others even more.

George demonstrates all these lessons, however unintentionally, in his chicken sandwich adventure.

  • He heads to a dairy farm and milks a cow to produce milk, allowing him to make butter and cheese.
  • He grows cucumbers so he can make pickles.
  • Pickles require salt, so George hops on a plane, heads to the ocean, and collects seawater for distilling the salt.
  • He collects honey from a beehive.
  • He travels to another farm to collect wheat for milling into flour and eventually baking a small loaf of bread.

Six months later, George is ready to kill a chicken. He does so with the help of a chicken farmer, and then pulls off all the feathers and takes home the meat. Voilà.

The video playfully demonstrates that we can’t do any of these things on our own. We will be left hungry and desperate if we have to rely on ourselves to produce everything we need and want to consume.

What the video doesn’t show is how many things George didn’t actually have to make when he attempted to make his chicken sandwich from scratch.

  • George went to pre-existing farms for milk, honey, and chicken. It would have taken him years if he had to raise his own cows, chickens, and bees. Being able to walk onto a farm and pay to milk the cow took precious years off the production timeline for the sandwich.
  • When George flies to the ocean to collect saltwater, he didn’t have to build the plane “from scratch.” Presumably, he went on Kayak or Hipmunk and found a flight that fit his travel needs, paid for his ticket, and then showed up at the airport.

We shouldn’t skip over these last steps. It would have taken George hundreds of years to make his sandwich if he’d added them. At a minimum, it would’ve added months if he had ridden a horse across the country to get to the ocean. We take these things for granted, but we shouldn’t.

George also relies on countless other products in the making of his sandwich, products he didn’t make from scratch:

  • Mason jars for pickling cucumbers
  • The stove he uses for cooking
  • A glass bowl for cheese
  • A flour mill
  • A boat for collecting ocean water
  • Pots and pans
  • All the bee-housing and honey-collecting equipment

You get the idea. The point is, what a blessing for George that he didn’t have to make all these things from scratch. Can you imagine? We’d still be waiting for the video and George wouldn’t have a sandwich! (At least not yet).

Market trade allows us to be better stewards. It allows us to do what we do best, according to how God created us. It allows us to trade for the things we’re not good at making ourselves, or don’t have the time to make ourselves. It frees us by liberating our time.

If you were created to be an engineer, a teacher, an athlete, a musician, a janitor, or whatever else, thank goodness you don’t have to spend six months and $1,500 making one sandwich! You can take that time, money, and energy and invest it doing what God has called you to do.

The final point here, also unstated in the video, is that George does all of this in his free time. He rides the cow; he jokes with the chicken farmer. This is an experiment for him. His life doesn’t depend on the sandwich getting made.

For many who are poor across the globe, their lives do depend on having greater access to goods and services you and I take for granted. Market trade allows us to do just that.

After all his effort, George takes a bite of his sandwich and says, “It’s not bad.”

Any of us might get the same result because we don’t know how to do everything well, including making a chicken sandwich from scratch. The lesson here is that we are free because we don’t have to work for six months to get a mediocre sandwich. We can have so much more for so much less.

Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. Today’s post was previously published on Sept. 23, 2015.

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