Saturday, March 26, 2011

You, too, can't make a pencil

Professional driver, closed course.

"Improbable as it might seem, perhaps the most important fact for a voter or politician to know is: No one can make a pencil.

"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.

"Who commands the millions of people involved in making a pencil? Who is in charge? Where is the pencil czar?

"Markets allow order to emerge without anyone imposing it. 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." The boss of the pencil factory does not boss very much: He does not decide the prices of the elements of his product—or of his product. No one decides. Everyone buying and selling things does so as prices steer resources hither and yon, harmonizing supplies and demands."

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