By Senator Chris McDaniel
Some are without humility, insisting that if only they utilize the power of government, then they could miraculously establish a perfect society by setting price controls, deciding which energy should power our homes, compelling the purchase of healthcare insurance and dictating which industries should survive or be left to failure.
But their plans always fail with predictability.
As to why, perhaps Leonard Read’s delightful story, “I, Pencil,” will shed some light. With apologies to his genius, I offer an abridged version:
I am a lead pencil — the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls. Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do. But my story is interesting.
My genealogy begins with a tree. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the the skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods.
The logs are shipped to a mill. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental to it?
Upon arrival, they are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many talents went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors and all the other things a mill requires?
Once in the pencil factory, each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop.
My lead itself is also complex. The graphite must be mined. Consider the miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships.
The graphite is mixed with clay in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow — animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions and is cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees. To increase their strength and smoothness, the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.
My tiny bit of metal — the ferrule — is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.
Then there’s my crowning glory, my eraser. An ingredient called “factice” is what does the erasing. It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rapeseed oil with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes.
Thousands had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others.
None performed a singular task because they wanted me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Their motivation is other than me.
I am a combination of wonder: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. More importantly, I am a configuration of creative human energies — thousands of tiny know-hows configurating spontaneously in response to human desire and the absence of any government control.
What is my lesson? I am a pencil — built with the invisible hand of capitalism, too complicated for centralized micromanagement.
I stand as proof of the great possibilities of cooperation without coercion.
I am the child of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that will motivate individuals to do desirable things without the government having to tell them what to do.
And I am elated to prick the egos of those who would use force to govern the affairs of others.