Thursday, April 26, 2007

This Guy is "Mad, Crazy"

I would like to introduce to you the interesting misadventure of Tyler Farrer who’s new blog Make One Pencil chronicles his efforts to make one pencil all by materials and tools made and acquired only by himself. This effort is inspired by the famous essay entitled I, Pencil first published by the Economist Leonard E. Read in 1958.

Tyler describes himself as follows:

I am a self-proclaimed "Free-market", "Free-Trade", and "Capitalism-loving", "globalist". I also believe that it was probably impossible for one man to make a pencil in 1958. Will it be impossible in 2008? I don't know, but I want to be the one to try.

Another description might be simply he’s “mad, crazy”. I told him I’d like to help with raw material supplies given my involvement in the industry, but that would defeat the whole purpose of “one man, one pencil”. He can’t just buy the pre-manufactured components and assemble them either, to follow the concept of Read’s essay he has to produce the tools to produce the pencil and then the final product all by himself. As it is he’s at least benefiting from the internet as a resource on how to make the pencil since he doesn’t have to invent it just make it from scratch. He’s asked for financial contributions on the website, but doesn’t that defeat the “one man, one pencil” credo also?

But what real basis do I have to claim Tyler is “mad, crazy”. Simple, he’s working against some of the greatest principles of economics. He’ll either end up broke producing one pencil for some outrageous cost if he succeeds at all or he will have a breakdown ending up needing major therapy and probably pharmaceutical treatment as well. What’s more he knows all this to start as a good a good "Free-market", "Free-Trade", and "Capitalism-loving", "globalist”. If he’s not really insane now he may well be after this effort.

If you’re unfamiliar with I, Pencil I encourage you to read it. It’s essentially a lesson in these great economic principles best summarized by Milton Friedman in his Introduction to the essay on the Library of Economics and Liberty website. In Milton’s own most eloquent words:

I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith's invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayek's emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that "will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do."

Milton even used this essay in his popular TV Show “Free to Choose”. Anyway Tyler’s Make One Pencil quest strikes me as very coincidental timing as I have recently been re-reading various Milton Friedman works. So I guess this post can serve as a bit of my own memorial to Milton.

Finally, if you need any further support for my prediction of Tyler’s fate I encourage you to read this post at the Reach Upward blog. This is where his flash of brilliance to begin this odyssey got its initial spark. In any event I am very much enjoying Tyler’s prolific posts so far and intend to follow his progress and offer my moral support. It’s really all great fun and I’ll leave the decision to make financial contributions up to you. All the best of luck to Tyler.

Image Note: Particularly fitting for this post the drawing above by Dan Mignano was a runner up in one of our Incense Cedar Institutes Pencil Doodle Contests from the mid 1990s. The theme "No. 2 Pencil, Still No. 1 in a High Tech World."


Unknown said...

Love the pencils!

Learn All About Fishing Travel

Anonymous said...

Hi. I came across your post about L&C Hardmuth pencils in 2006. Cleaning yesterday I found an old L&C Hardmuth COMPTOIRSTIFT number 700. Black or blue and red on the other side. It originates from the Czech Republic and the most fascinating thing is that its brand new... I mean, not new because its pretty old but hasnt been used at all... never seen a pencil sharpener. :P Can you tell me if I could find someone who would be interested in this subject? You look like you know a lot about pencils. :) My e-mail address is:

Thank you very much!

WoodChuck said...

Listened to this one on NPR today about The Toaster Project. This person actually succeeded in building a toaster from scratch though it only slightly warmed the bread and basically "blew out" first use.