Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

Letters to the Editor

September 12, 2013

A pencil's point

Now is a good time to revisit the 1958 essay in which Leonard Read examined how a pencil is made — and how it is miraculous that a pencil is made at all.The standard pencil begins when a cedar is cut down. Ropes and gear tug it onto the bed of a truck or a rail car.Think of all the numberless people and skills involved in mining ore to produce steel and refine the steel into saws, axes and motors, wrote Read.Think of all the people who grow hemp, then transform it, through various stages, into a strong rope.Think of the untold thousands of people who produce the coffee the loggers drink!The logs are shipped to a mill and cut into slats. The slats are kiln-dried, tinted, waxed, then kiln-dried again.How many skills were needed to produce the tint and the kilns, Read wondered. What about the electric power? What about the belts, motors and other parts at the mill?The pencil slats are shipped to a factory. A complex machine cuts grooves into each. A second machine lays lead into every other slat. Glue is applied. Two slats are sealed together as one, then cut into lengths that form pencils.The lead alone is complex, he explains. It's not really lead. To produce it, graphite is mined in Ceylon. The graphite is packed and shipped, then mixed with clay from Mississippi. It is treated with wetting agents — such as sulfonated tallow, which is formed when animal fats chemically react with sulfuric acid.The pencil receives six coats of lacquer. Lacquer has numerous ingredients, including castor oil. Think of all the chemists needed to create the paint — think of all the castor bean growers needed to produce, refine and ship the oil.The brass end that holds the eraser in place is a marvel. Miners need to first extract zinc and copper from the earth. Experts transform those materials into sheet brass, which is then cut, stamped and affixed to the pencil.That brings us to the eraser. It is made from "factice," wrote Read, a rubber-like product that is produced by rapeseed oil from the Dutch East Indies reacting with sulfur chloride.To be sure, an awe-inspiring amount of work goes into producing a pencil. Millions of people collaborate to produce it — millions ply their unique trades and skills — yet they have no idea they are collaborating.Each is merely exchanging his small piece of know-how for the money he needs to buy the goods and services he wants, wrote Read.More amazing is this: No one person is capable of making a pencil. Not even the president of the pencil company.No one person could possibly manage the millions of people — and the millions of decisions they freely make — who produce the ingredients that become a pencil.Despite the absence of a mastermind, billions of pencils are made every year. They're produced with such humdrum efficiency that every one of us takes pencils for granted.The pencil, explained Read, is the triumph of human freedom — a triumph of creative human energies spontaneously responding to human necessity and desire.There never was a need for a presidential commission on the production of pencils.Without one government program, the need for pencils arose. Without any meddling from an Ivy League bureaucrat, the pencil was invented, produced and sold — the demand for pencils was met.It is a folly for any man, or group of men, to think of producing something as incredibly complex as a pencil. How much harder must it be to produce a car — one that consumers will want to buy, anyhow?Read concluded his essay with this advice: The best thing our government can do is leave our creative energies uninhibited — remove the obstacles that prevent human creativity and innovation from flowing freely.Not create more obstacles by using taxpayer dough to take over a private company.Thank goodness our government hasn't taken over any pencil companies yet. It would be that much more costly and difficult to write to our congressmen.Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.

1
Text Only
Letters to the Editor
  • Baseball icon joins echo chamber This week, Hank Aaron broke the hearts of millions of Republicans and conservatives who supported him and cheered him on in 1974 while racists threatened his life. USA Today quoted "The Hammer" in an interview as saying, "We can talk about baseball.

    April 24, 2014

  • Annual Talent Show an awesome evening Dear Editor, Our new venue this year offered us everything for a delightful evening of entertainment, praise and worship. The John Bain family, new owners of the Rathbun Country Music Theatre, worked really hard to get it ready for us to hold our fou

    April 24, 2014

  • We want politicians to lie Get this: The U.S. Supreme Court is about to decide whether false accusations and mudslinging during political campaigns are illegal. As it goes, during the 2010 election in Ohio, an anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List, sought to launch a

    April 24, 2014

  • Hire to enforce building code compliance issues? The Daily Iowegian will publish an Editorial Question of the Week on the Opinion page. The Iowegian wants readers to think about building code compliance. One Centerville resident at Monday's City Council meeting proposed the city create two new posi

    April 24, 2014

  • Representative Larry Sheets' Snapshot Dear friends, The House was ready to finish but the bills are not forthcoming from the Senate. April 22 is the last day the taxpayers pay for our services, so I expect the Senate to drag it out that long. Last Monday the House debated a bill concerni

    April 22, 2014

  • Social Security debt collection: Is it right? If the federal government overpaid someone in your family more than 30 years ago, should you be held responsible for the debt? And should the government have an indefinite amount of time to try to collect the overpayment? Those questions are pending

    April 22, 2014

  • State Sen. Ken Rozenboom Newsletter Nearly two weeks have gone by since House File 2462, a bill that would protect Iowa workers and create a more transparent government, was passed in the Iowa House. During that time, the Senate majority party has talked endlessly about the need for mo

    April 22, 2014

  • Farmers engaged in Iowa water quality initiative Many Iowa farm fields are turning green earlier than normal this spring as a rapidly growing number of farmers are using cover crops to help better protect the soil and water they depend on to make their living. Farmers are always looking for new and

    April 17, 2014

  • Raising permit fees will harm city Dear Editor, Surcharges, fees, franchise fees, (3 percent on Alliant bills -- council voted 5-0 on 04/10/14), special assessments, $5 million bonding (which will raise property taxes), and now city's attempts at increasing permit fees for landlords f

    April 17, 2014

  • What do you think about rental permit fees? The Daily Iowegian will publish an Editorial Question of the Week on the Opinion page. The Iowegian wants readers to think about rental permit fees. The Centerville City Council has conducted two working sessions and a third one is planned in order t

    April 17, 2014

  • The talk radio party? So what does the Tea Party want this fall? A repeat of 2010, or a repeat of 2012? The Tea Party succeeded spectacularly in 2010. Its principled enthusiasm put Republicans back in charge of the House of Representatives and, if the Tea Party hadn't bee

    April 17, 2014

  • State Sen. Ken Rozenboom Newsletter Traditionally, voting on the department budget bills signals the end of a legislative session. The budget process lasts through much of the session. This year, the process was tweaked to move things along faster than in past sessions. House Republica

    April 15, 2014

  • Make Centerville, Iowa your home Centerville, "America's hometown." Centerville, "Home of the world's largest square." Centerville, "You can't describe it, you just have to go there." Centerville, "Welcome home." These are just a few of the brands depicting Centerville that have bee

    April 15, 2014

  • April is National Community College Month Buy someone a cup of coffee. Read to a child or an older adult. Volunteer at a local hospital. Play games with or offer services to senior citizens. Walk dogs at Heartland Humane Society. Assist neighbors with yard work or spring cleaning. Volunteer

    April 15, 2014

  • Former resident applauds mayors Dear Editor, Recently, I read the March 30 Daily Iowegian story “Area mayors combat sexual assault.” I want to applaud the mayors of these local towns for signing proclamations to battle sexual assault, especially those in Centerville, Moravia and Ra

    April 10, 2014

Obituaries
Featured Ads
Poll

The Iowegian wants readers to think about building code compliance. One Centerville resident at Monday's City Council meeting proposed the city create two new positions in the police department to only deal with minimum housing and nuisance abatement issues. The city currently has George Johnson as the only employee assigned to enforce building code compliance issues. Does Centerville need more than just Johnson to enforce code compliance issues? So, the question of the week is, "Should Centerville hire additional help to assist George Johnson enforce building code compliance issues?"

A. Yes
B. No
C. Not sure
     View Results
Iowegian on Facebook