My friend’s apartment renovation

This is a story about division of labor.

My friend sold one apartment and bought a smaller one in Kyiv. During a recent visit, she complained to me about the contractors. They would argue with her about details like the color of the walls, insisting they were right. They’d be late, or drunk. One guy smoked pot and talked to her all day long, then apologized for not working. (He brought his own pot.)

So what’s the deal?

Ukrainians are famous all over the world for their building skills. A cousin of mine travels as far as Portugal and Moscow to work. I know of a small businessman of Ukrainian descent in the US whose making a killing and building a great reputation for quality. It seems like every other Ukrainian I meet is building or renovating his own home.

Why the hell haven’t Ukrainians figured out how to sell their labor to each other?

Here are some possibilities:

1. This is a low trust society.

2. There is a severe lack of entrepreneurial talent. It all fled, or was killed or deported. A massive bureaucratic burden prevents its re-emergence.

3. Ukrainians are suspicious. This is a golden opportunity for people who know how to build brands. The success of brands in Ukraine is obvious.

4. Ukrainians can’t afford each other’s labor. (This seems unlikely, as there is great desperation to work.)

What I hope more Ukrainians realize is that a division of labor is necessary for wealth creation. If you’re growing your own food and building your own house because it’s gratifying, fine, but you’re not going to be as rich as someone who does one thing very, very well and sells it.