Pencils and Politics
A piece from George F. Will in Newsweek that explores the interelatedness of things, services, jobs, economies that bring about the production of something with no overall controller, no 'pencil Czar' for instance in the manufacture of pencils...
"No one can make a pencil."
Nonsense, her students think—someone made that one. Not really, says Ruth. Loggers felled the cedar trees, truckers hauled them, manufacturers built the machines that cut the wood into five-sided portions to hold graphite mined in Sri Lanka, Mexico, China and Brazil. Miners and smelters produced the aluminum that holds the rubber eraser, produced far away, as were the machines that stamp TICONDEROGA in green paint, made somewhere else, on the finished pencil.
Producing this simple, mundane device is, Ruth says, "an achievement on the order of a jazz quartet improvising a tune when the band members are in separate cities." An unimpressed student says, "So a lot of people work on a pencil. What's the big deal?" Ruth responds: Who commands the millions of people involved in making a pencil? Who is in charge? Where is the pencil czar?
Her point is that markets allow order to emerge without anyone imposing it. The "poetry of the possible" is that things are organized without an organizer. "The graphite miner in Sri Lanka doesn't realize he's cooperating with the cedar farmer in California to serve the pencil customer in Maine."