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    Foundation for Economic Education | 3/3/15 | 19 min
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    Foundation for Economic Education
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    • thorgalle
      Top reader this weekScout
      1 month ago

      I read this essay years ago, I think after following a reference in an economics textbook. Ever since, the title "I, Pencil" lingered in my mind and resurfaced occasionally.

      Yesterday was one such occasion. I chuckled when I read the following sentences in "Not So Simple: Notes from a Tech-Free Life by Mark Boyle":

      I have unplugged myself from industrial civilization.

      ... and a bit later

      Writing with a pencil, I can’t get distracted by clickbait or advertising.

      Lol. Gotcha. Boyle claims he disconnected from industrial civilization. And while I appreciate his article, E. Read here wrote a whole essay on how a pencil is the paradigma of industrial civilization!

      Or so I thought. Rereading now, especially with the introduction to this version, I see that I, Pencil is not only a societal or economical essay, but also a unmistakably political. For the free market, against socialism (or communism in the most extreme sense). While I agree with the W. Reeds' comment "Many first-time readers never see the world quite the same again.", I'm not sure if I like all the philosophical and practical implications of his interpretation... The free market is not without issues, as we see especially today.

      • jeff
        Reading streakScribe
        1 month ago

        I was also thinking of this essay during the Boyle piece!

        I'm not sure it's possible to discuss macroeconomics without invoking politics. I feel like it's left out of the STEM acronym for a good reason!

        The free market is not without issues, as we see especially today.

        I feel like this is kind of like saying that a hammer is not without issues, which is certainly true. You can hurt yourself with it if you don't use it correctly but that doesn't make it any less useful when used properly. I heard a quote recently that I liked, something to the effect of: "Markets are great at figuring out how to do something, not what should be done." I took it to mean that the role of the government is to set the guardrails in the form of laws and regulations, but the actual production is best left to the markets which I find pretty reasonable.

        • thorgalle
          Top reader this weekScout
          4 weeks ago

          The main issue I was alluding to is the apparent inability of western free markets to curb in emissions. Free markets operate to satisfy immediate wants (demand), maybe they also shape those wants (marketing?), and by themselves they seem too nearsighted to consider the long-term effects of their trade.

          the role of the government is to set the guardrails in the form of laws and regulations, but the actual production is best left to the markets

          I'm not sure it's possible to discuss macroeconomics without invoking politics.

          I have to agree with that quote. I, Pencil shows convincingly that a free market industry can miraculously figure out the "how".

          And for sure, the current climate issue seems more a political failure of setting the right guardrails than a failure of free(ish) markets. Isn't it just that intersection of politics and markets where things go wrong today? The (lobbying) power of large corporations, the undue subsidies to the animal industry, how Facebook/Twitter can control public debate ...

          • jeff
            Reading streakScribe
            4 weeks ago

            Yup, negative externalities are the classic economic example. The solution is generally pretty simple: just tax the activity that produces the externality. As you pointed out though that requires a competent and non-corrupt government to implement which explains why we don't have a federal carbon tax in the US.

    • deephdave
      Top reader this weekReading streakScout
      4 weeks ago

      The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

    • Pegeen4 weeks ago

      Simplicity is often thought of as weak yet its strength is subtle, even radical. Engaging, uplifting, thought provoking. Read and be inspired.

    • jeff
      Reading streakScribe
      1 month ago

      A timeless essay. Everyone should read this at least once! The calls for faith almost make it sound more like a religious text than an economic one, but I like to think that faith in the endless creativity of the human spirit is something we can all get behind.