The Story of I, Pencil
Do you know how to make a pencil? You don’t, do you? As Read explained in his classic essay, no single person on earth does. The pencil, like most modern wonders, is the end product of an intricate chain of human activity that spans the globe. There is no mastermind dictating the making of a pencil; not even the CEO of a pencil company could tell you exactly how to make one. It takes little bits of know-how of thousands of individuals—loggers in California, factory workers in China, miners in Sri Lanka, and everyone in between—to bring an ordinary wooden pencil into being. By trading their skills and labor for wages, these individuals each bring the pencil a step closer into being.
This is the miracle of the free market. People who are strangers to each other—who might even hate each other if they ever met—are cooperating every day to produce goods that others want, need, and enjoy. Markets compel men and women to voluntarily arrange themselves into efficient patterns of production through the pursuit of their individual interests. Without this constant spontaneous cooperation, the modern wonders of our world would not exist.