When asked what the “Gerber” brand means, most moms would say ‘baby food.’ This is partly why Gerber’s foray into selling Buster Brown clothing, strollers, and insurance was doomed. Gerber lost sight of its specialty. It was not the only famous brand to forget its identity.
Contributing to Sears’ demise was confusion about its specialty. By the 80s, Sears was selling not only Craftsman tools, clothing, and home appliances; it was also selling insurance, commercial real estate, stocks and computers. Would you go to an eye doctor who repaired lawn mowers in the back room?
Early Americans were influenced by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The book explains the importance of specialization. It is easy to see how specialization increases production and hence wealth. Six cobblers working independently will never make as many shoes as they would make collaborating with one another. If one makes only soles while another makes uppers while a third stitches them together and so on, productivity will soar as each specialist discovers better and faster ways to accomplish his own task. As a result, each person will take home far greater pay than he would have working alone. Then he can use his wages to buy clothes and food from other specialists.
It is easy to spot the trend toward specialization as societies evolve and develop increasingly sophisticated ways for humans to diminish the drudgery necessary to earn a living. Department stores give way to niche retailers, the corner garage offering full care for your car yields to Jiffy Lube and brand-specific repair centers.
This is exactly how the good Lord planned life for His children. He created a world in which His children would connect with one another and become preoccupied with one another’s needs. How better to accomplish this than to reward us with greater income provided we replace the model of working alone by the ideal of collaboration? God placed us in a world in which many people cooperating with one another within a mutually agreed-upon moral framework will vastly outperform those same people trying to make a living in isolation.
Why did the world’s Bible-based societies lead the march toward specialization by innovating the corporation and the industrial revolution? Perhaps because Scripture reveals how the founding of the people of Israel was rooted in specialization.
Jacob, or Israel, became the father of the ‘children of Israel.’ At the end of Genesis, Jacob assigned a specialized role to each son. Levi was to take care of temple worship, Zebulon was to develop expertise in shipping and trade, Issachar was to provide the scholars and educators, and so on. As each brother and his descendants specialized, thus becoming dependent upon all the others, the nation emerged.
Later, at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses reaffirmed the concept of specialization for each of Israel’s tribes. While individuals had different talents and strengths, the idea was being set in place for all time that specialization linked with mutual dependence and cooperation produces a strong nation.
One person completely on his own will not live as well as he would as a member of a family. A nuclear family lacks the power of an extended family. A tribe is greater than a family, but a nation made up of large numbers of interdependent people with a common set of expectations and obligations will achieve vastly more. A frequently ignored and invisible network of connectivity and cooperation makes possible so much of what we often take for granted. Moreover, we need to know that this vast enterprise of millions of people cooperating needs more than a legal system to sustain it. Laws reflect moral and ethical beliefs; they don’t form them. Jacob and Moses’ blessings instilled in the Jewish people the idea of specialization under an umbrella of widely accepted core beliefs.
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