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« Jeremy Grantham gets it wrong | Main | Climate justice meeting »
Friday
Nov162012

A classic retold

Not the normal thing for this site, but I must show this to the kids in the morning.

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Reader Comments (43)

You disappoint me, Bish.

Your kids will not learn how the lead actually gets inside the pencil. (OK. Perhaps they shouldn't. It's one of those eternal mysteries like god and such.)

But they will hear the subliminal phrases "it's as if there's a hidden hand" and "free to trade".

Why not buy them an iPhone instead? Then they can choose their own propaganda.

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterSelgovae

Brilliant, a winning technology and all done without any political interference or a Government target.

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:23 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Wot, no Priestley?

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterVinny Burgoo

I must admit I was secretly wanting to find out how a pencil is made too!
Luckily its not too difficult to fnd...

You Tube Video about how a pencil is made

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

It's an important message. People really don't know what they've got.

I'd go one step further to highlight the energy woven into every step of the process.

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Brilliant is the only word Bish ^.^

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I agree with Phillip Bratby, it's brilliant. Puts me in mind of Matt Ridley's somewhat longer, but equally brilliant, When Ideas Have Sex

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:49 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Excellent Bish, unconstrained human co-operation can only benefit the whole of mankind.

History shows how attempts to stifle human development have always ended in conflict and strife.

It is not possible to put the genie that is homo sapiens (wise and knowing man) back into the bottle.

Those that claim the ability to control the development of mankind and even the climate of the planet he inhabits are of a new species - homo superbus (arrogant man)

They walk amongst you! Now! Whilst in the development of mankind they will only be around for a very short time they are presently exhibiting an inordinate ability to seriously reduce the wellbeing of you and yours. It will be to your disadvantage if you continue to turn a blind eye to the ability that our complacency has handed them on a golden platter!

Nov 16, 2012 at 10:52 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

I love that. Superb. I see there are some nice background films to this on YouTube too. I like the style and delivery of these films.
The explanation of the idea that no one single person can understand the whole system of information and knowledge is well laid out. A somewhat simple fact one may think, but it seems to elude the bloviating dilettantes who prefer to believe in god-like guru's who stuff their theses with post hoc explanations, and then bullshit about what they know is happening and will happen.

Nov 16, 2012 at 11:18 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I had a geography teacher in 1970 who did a similar analysis of a block of Kraft cheddar cheese. Mining and smelting for the aluminium foil wrap, forestry and paper-milling for the cardboard packaging, inks and printing, graphic design, farming/dairy and milk/cream separation, then all the subsidiary storage and transportation, commercial distribution networks, etc, to finally arrive at the local supermarket where mum buys it for a buck. I think that this is the only specific geography class I can remember. It was one of those eye-opening moments.

Matt Ridley also did the same thing for a computer mouse at a TED talk.

Nov 16, 2012 at 11:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaleC

That rascal Armand Hammer got there first:

'In 1925 he obtained a concession from the Bolsheviks to manufacture pencils for the Soviet Union, and his firm soon became the largest supplier of cheap, reliable pencils in the country. His business ventures were bought out by the Soviets in the late 1920s, and Hammer returned to the United States in 1930 laden with innumerable paintings, jewelry pieces [Fabergé eggs etc], and other art objects formerly owned by the Romanov imperial family and sold to him by the cash-hungry Soviets.'

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/253610/Armand-Hammer

Nov 17, 2012 at 12:03 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

Wonder indeed.

Nov 17, 2012 at 12:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Did I see that the Chief of Security in the credits was Mark Scribbler?

Nov 17, 2012 at 12:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

I remember doing a 'composition' on a bar of chocolate in the 50's. Cadburys supplied the teaching materials (possibly to celebrate the end of sweet rationing?) and everyone got a bar as a prize.

The theme was the Commonwealth (very new Elizabethan) - smiling cocoa bean harvesters from the Gold Coast, sturdy dairy farmers from the west country and bauxite miners from British Guiana (for the silver paper).

I don't think there was any economic message, unless it was a plug for protectionism and imperial preference.

Nov 17, 2012 at 12:27 AM | Registered CommenterDreadnought

Great film about the interconnectedness of the global economy.

It forgot to mention that behind Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Dell and Hewlett-Packard is the biggest protection racket in history, the overseas presence of the US military.

Why do Apple get free promotion in the BBC and Guardian ? See above.

There is no such thing as a free market. Every market is manipulated and every government sets it own economic parameters.The global economy is controlled today. The current gas cartel news shows that business cannot be trusted to behave decently or honestly.


Here is Margaret Thatcher's greatest moment, when she denies ever having subscribed to monetarism, the economic theory that she used to destroy the British economy (under the guidance of Washington).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuCt_ZdG18U

Nov 17, 2012 at 1:37 AM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

Here's another one fer ya'. I, Smartphone - http://youtu.be/V1Ze_wpS_o0

Nov 17, 2012 at 3:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterscp

An inspiring narrative. However, the video left out the most mind-boggling aspect of the invisible hand. Despite the collaborative efforts of millions of people involved in producing a pencil, one only costs ten cents.

Nov 17, 2012 at 3:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeff C

The idea belongs one Leonard Read, from 1958.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I,_Pencil.

Nov 17, 2012 at 6:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomcat

The idea belongs one Leonard Read, from 1958.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I,_Pencil.

Nov 17, 2012 at 6:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomcat

@eSmiff

It forgot to mention that behind Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Dell and Hewlett-Packard is the biggest protection racket in history, the overseas presence of the US military. Why do Apple get free promotion in the BBC and Guardian ? See above.
Truly staggering drivel - almost like something you'd hear from the BBC or the Guardian. What exactly is this "free" promotion Apple gets btw? And is the US Military threatening to 'invade' or what?

There is no such thing as a free market. Every market is manipulated and every government sets it own economic parameters.The global economy is controlled today.
Yes, the only reason markets aren't free is that they are sabotaged by government regulation.

The current gas cartel news shows that business cannot be trusted to behave decently or honestly.
When markets are allowed to be free, a private cartel can do no harm, since it risks creating a opening for new entrants in the market to undercut it. Cartels depend on government regulation to persist or do any harm. You have totally misidentified the villain here.


Monetarism is the idea of a stable money supply. To the extent Margaret Thatcher embraced monetarism, she could only have rescued the British economy (from Keynesian bodgers), since a healthy economy depends inter alia on a stable money supply.

Nov 17, 2012 at 7:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomcat

Adam Smith did it with pins.

Nov 17, 2012 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Hey Selgovae,
you could always do a version promoting the Soviet Russia or East Germany model. Instead of those evil, nasty concepts like 'free to trade' (Shudder! Quick, protect me BBC!) you could have the very visible hand of the 'five year plan' and its attendant bureaucrats, secret police and gulags, plus crap pencils at the end of it.

To be fair I don't know what soviet pencils were like, but I know their cars were.

Nov 17, 2012 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

Hi SJF

I could do various versions. The Soviet version might be a bit of a waste as I'd collect no fee, but I'm sure I could manage one for China, and also one for the Westboro Baptist Church if I put my mind to it. The basic pattern: "The wonder of the pencil..." , "..no individual could do this alone...", and then fill in the message as you wish.

- only possible through free cooperation among people
- only possible because god oversees the complex and intricate human interactions
- only possible because of regulations that ensure the orderly movement of goods
- only possible because we live in an environment that has the ideal temperature for trees to grow (I think someone has made this version already)

It's not the content of the message I'm against, it's that there is a message at all. For kids, it would be more interesting to stop the clip about halfway through and ask them what they think the most wonderful thing about pencils is.

Nov 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterSelgovae

Selgovae, I don't understand why you're against films having messages. And it's interesting that you think it's better for children to choose their own propaganda via an iphone, rather than have their parents show them things that their parents think are good and, yes, communicate a worthwhile message.

Nov 17, 2012 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

P.S. if you were hoping for a film that gave more detail on the many technologies that go into making a pencil, without any message about economics, I agree that would also be a good film to watch.

Nov 17, 2012 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

@ SJF, FarleyR gave a nice link on some of the technologies used:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwYTibTbYHQ

Thomas Thwaites on his "Toaster Project":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ODzO7Lz_pw

Nov 17, 2012 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered Commenterharold

Good film and its not just about making a pencil but human interaction. Some of you please note.

Nov 17, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

I got the film absolutely, but some of the human interactions are for the marketing of the pencil rather than the essential functioning of the instrument. There's no escaping the message though that man does his best work when able to explore and experiment free of government interference.

Nov 17, 2012 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

In the world I know, we don't add numbers by starting with the most significant digit, like they did a few seconds into the film. Good grief.

Nov 17, 2012 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterNiels

I like the video, and it is a good lesson for the kids. However, I think they left out one key element, which for us adults goes without saying. That is, that every step of the process is done based on the profit motive. The pencil is built on capitalism and free market trade, the basis of the cooperation noted in the video.

Nov 17, 2012 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeterson

Interesting film. Showing it to the kids might however run the risk that they want to learn how pencils are made. This could mean a trip south across the border, turning right off the M6 to Keswick and its Pencil Museum.

Nov 17, 2012 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterColdish

This where I first heard this narrative, from the guru of economics and capitalism, Milton Friedman. He does credit Read.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ERbC7JyCfU

Nov 17, 2012 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterZipdodad

I first read it in Emile Durkheim's (1858 -1917), "The Division of Labour in Society", when I was at LSE in 1970!

It was an alternative to the Marxian "conflict" view.

Nov 17, 2012 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered Commentermarchesarosa

I always think of the version that Adam Smith came up with about pins and realise that I wasn't taught that explicitly as a child - who gets taught that?

Oh I know... no one in schools - so I am guessing that must annoy controlling assholes when they hear that this concept could be transmitted by parents to their children without the controlling assholes permission?

BTW Adam Smith famously never anticipated or incorporated labour saving technology into his thesis so we must remember paradigms shift ;)

Though I would love to see arch neutral un biased hypothesist Selgovae actually make a case that pencils can be only possible because god oversees ;)

I know he would make good case for that - I do ;)

Nah... I think he was lying too ;)

Nov 17, 2012 at 11:12 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Ah, Leopard

"arch neutral un biased hypothesist" I'll take that in the way it wasn't intended. Thank you!

The Bishop is as free to tell his children things in the same way I am free to offer my voluntary spontaneous advice. From reading this blog, I'm sure he shares the opinion that it is better to teach kids how to think than what to think. Thus my surprise that he highlighted this video. (On the other hand, his kids may be thrilled to learn that by just acting cooperatively and freely without plans or intentions, pencils will appear as if by magic. They must have left that bit out when I was taught about Adam Smith.)

Nov 18, 2012 at 1:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterSelgovae

@Nov 18, 2012 at 1:53 AM | Selgovae


(On the other hand, his kids may be thrilled to learn that by just acting cooperatively and freely without plans or intentions, pencils will appear as if by magic. They must have left that bit out when I was taught about Adam Smith.)

Oh God yeah that is exactly what the video implied - pencils appear like mice from piles of grain...

However more interestingly for me, as a person more interested in the species Bloviator Bloviatus, I remember you said you could do this

I could do various versions.

- only possible because god oversees the complex and intricate human interactions

...and I notice you now avoid fulfilling the most difficult of your claims ;)

I guess you were just fucking lying then?

Nov 18, 2012 at 3:10 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Leopard, that's twice you've accused me of lying. Once more and you'll turn into a frog. Be careful now!

I claimed I could do various versions. I gave some examples. I didn't claim to be able to do them to your satisfaction. Personally, I thought they were as convincing as the version in the video. Or did you expect the music and the creepy voice too? I apologise if I misled. But you never know, maybe that hidden hand is already getting it sorted, assuming it can sidestep the noise regulations and musician's union.

Nov 18, 2012 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterSelgovae

Nov 18, 2012 at 10:30 AM | Selgovae

I claimed I could do various versions. I gave some examples. I didn't claim to be able to do them to your satisfaction. Personally, I thought they were as convincing as the version in the video.

Ah yes, that head space where you can always manage to do things to your satisfaction ;)

Sorry didn't mean to doubt you, knock yourself out!

Nov 18, 2012 at 12:00 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Selgovae, I think the difference between us is that you think there's something sinister and creepy about the message in the video, whereas the rest of us think that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" (something he *discovered* about free and productive societies, not something he invented or imposed) is a good thing to explain to children - not least for balance, because every other BBC news item is about the government and what it's going to do for us, or ought to do for us. Maybe you ought to question what has brought you to feel that 'invisible hand' and 'free to trade' are sinister propagandistic phrases.

P.S. and if you're in the UK, better not look at the back of the £20 note :)

Nov 18, 2012 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

SJF

I think you misunderstand me, and that's probably my fault. Although I'm not a 'believer' in Adam Smith, I have great respect for his ideas. I see no reason not to teach them.

My main objection to the video is the way it 'slipped in' its message. And by message, I mean propaganda. It didn't 'teach' the thinking of Adam Smith. I honestly think it was sleazy. I'm a little surprised I have to explain my thinking.

I mentioned above about teaching children how to to think, not what to think. In the video there is a wonderful story about the human interactions involved in the production of pencils. (I don't really think it was presented that well, but that's a different matter.) The story can't be denied. A little bit of thinking, even by a young child, makes you realise that a lot of people and interactions are involved. I might have stopped the video there. But let's carry on. What do you want to happen next, for the kids to learn to think, or for the kids to think like you?

If you really want the child to learn how to think, you ask them to think.

Question: We have all these people involved in making pencils, and none of them really understands what the others are doing. Why does the situation not resolve to chaos? Why do the pencils they make get better (cheaper, whatever) over time? (You may need to prompt, perhaps by asking if they think it happens by magic.)

You might go further, and say that such-and-such a person explained it this way. (And if you know it's controversial, you might add that not everyone agrees. And then ask what they think.)

If you want the child to think like you, then something like this:

'There's really no other way to explain it other than without the freedom to interact, the quality of goods and services would be much worse than it is.'

Which is much the same as many of the explanations we hear about global warming being caused by CO2, and my complex eye being designed by God. 'There's no other explanation.' In my opinion, the video falls in that category.

Personally, I don't think Adam Smith would have liked the video. Mainly because it didn't focus on the factory/company whose decisions prompted the whole wondrous web of activity. And if you run a role-playing activity with a bunch of kids about setting up a pencil factory, they might find the whole thing is not so wondrous after all, especially when they realise they might need to employ a marketing executive.

Nov 19, 2012 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSelgovae

PS Real £20 notes feature a picture of Robert The Bruce. I'm sure he had some interesting economic theories too. :-)

Nov 19, 2012 at 9:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSelgovae

Selgovae, I don't understand why you think that somebody showing their children this film implies that they are not teaching them how to think. Perhaps you think that only the TV and schools should be allowed to show children films with messages. And I think Adam Smith would have loved it.

Nov 20, 2012 at 7:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterSJF

"Pencil is a camel designed by an invisible hand."

There, I believe that definition will satisfy everyone from a theist to atheist to conspiracy theorist to even a satirist.

Also, as I heard on radio once a long time ago, the NASA spent 20 thousand dollars to develop a pen that could be used in microgravity during space missions. That may not appear much in the scheme of things perhaps but it is a hell of a lot of money when you think about it deeply. The commie cosmonauts used pencils.

Yet another reason to be on the side of the humble pencil against the mighty pen.

Nov 20, 2012 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

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