The incredible story of the man, the donkey and the truck (1)

Once upon a time there was a man who planted beans. He was a Carib-bean, of course. His name was Pedro Ranchero. His “hacienda” was always full of “frijoles negros”, which he sold at the market in San José de las Lajas. Every day he carried a bag of beans to the market, ten kilometers away. This journey took him about two hours. It was real hard work.

In the woods near his “hacienda” there lived a wild donkey, which also loved “frijoles negros”. Often Pedro chased the donkey off his land, until one day he had a bright idea. He figured that the donkey could easily could carry two bags of beans and reach the market in just one hour. He caught the donkey and taught it to carry bags of beans. This is when Pedro became a capitalist. He let his capital (the donkey) work for him, doing twice as much work in half the time as he himself could. Pedro’s profits soared and he was very happy.

Who really does the work?

One day at the market Pedro met a man called Adan Smith-Herrero, for latins usually have a double surname. Adan had studied the works of a pin manufactory. There he had made the sharp observation that specialization of tasks increases the productive output per individual worker. He reasoned that if ten non-specialist workers can manufacture fifty pins per hour, the productivity of each individual worker should be calculated thus: Fifty pins divided by ten workers equals five pins per hour. And if ten specialist workers can manufacture a hundred pins per hour, this means that the productivity of each worker has doubled, for a hundred pins divided by ten workers equals ten pins per hour. And if they can produce a hundred pins in half an hour, their productivity will have quadrupled, i.e. twenty pins per hour.

Accordingly, Adan told Pedro that working with his donkey had quadrupled his productivity. Pedro did not really under this, because he thought that the donkey did the extra work. But Adan Smith-Herrero was an English professor of economics and Pedro just a simple “campesino”, so he took Smith’s word for it. And ever since Smith’s way of defining and calculating productivity was accepted as a basic tenet of economics. Only Pedro was never really convinced.