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The Value of Wisdom

Dan from Madison shares this video of “How to fold a suit”:

Lexington Green comments:

He makes it look easy. I always respect and admire practical, physical skills like this. Once the whole economy was composed of people who each knew hundreds of tricks of the trade.

Industrialization, specialization, and the division of labor into ever-smaller tasks enables each worker to produce more for his efforts. It allowed us to get off the farms and amass the wealth that enabled us to reach the moon.

The flip side of specialization is that nobody knows how to make an entire thing themselves. Each only knows a step in the production process, worthless without others doing all the other steps.

The economy that Lex recalls was less productive. But it was more robust. The more steps a person knows, the more able they are to make repairs or maintain output when away from the factory. Or when the organzation breaks down.

Fifty or seventy years ago, most Americans could probably grow or hunt enough food to survive. Although labor had already moved off the farms, the farmers’ knowledge was still widespread. Today if the grocery store is closed, most of us starve.

Food is particularly stark example. But it is also an area where I see my neighbors and my demographic taking a fresh interest in the old ways. People are re-learning how to grow their own food. They’re usually motivated by concerns about quality and health. Hipsters and hippies are not growing because they’re poor, and not because they’re worried that some catastrophe might close their grocery store co-op for a while.

My cohorts are being intentionally less productive because they value qualities not included in GDP. To a macroeconomist, every tomato is the same, and more tomatoes are better. To a hipster foodie douchebag, a single perfect pesticide-free heirloom tomato might be priceless.

Widely distributed “process knowledge” has value not measured by GDP. Having people on every block who know how to fold a suit, grow a tomato, build a desk, or set a broken bone makes an economy and a society more robust. If the centralized industrial process is not functioning, life can still go on.

In business (or in military planning) robustness is usually considered a cost. Redundancy, having a spare, means buying something not put to immediate productive use. There are limits to using financial economics as a guide and measuring tool. What Lex respected and admired in the tailor will not appear in statistics. But if that knowledge is lost, society will be poorer.

The “tricks of the trade” comprise a body of knowledge that might be fairly described as wisdom:

a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. …Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action.

Knowing “what to do”, how to solve a problem, requires understanding context and having skill. It’s a resource. When you need to fold a suit yourself, you’ll know what that wisdom is worth.


Wow, I wanna have that folding skill too! I agree that knowing what to do especially in times when a solution is needed, is considered a good skill that everbody must possess.