Leonard E. Read’s “I, Pencil” is often first-day reading for introductory economics courses, and rightfully so. This spirited tale narrated by a pencil highlights two important truths. Since I’m a millennial, I’m going to apply these truths to everyone’s beloved and necessary morning cup of coffee
The first truth is that it’s impossible to list all the supplies that go into the creation of any item. Sure, your morning coffee is coffee beans and water, but don’t forget about the bag for the beans, the coffee filter and maker, the cup, the delivery truck it all came on, and the barista. Each of these items has individual components as well. The coffee cup includes paper and plastic, and it comes from a factory, which needs metal for machines, electricity, and workers who need safety training and gloves—this can go on forever. The supplies that went into your morning joe are so complex and widespread that they are innumerable.
The second truth from “I, Pencil” is that no one is directing the infinitely complex process of getting that cup of coffee in your hand. No one person decides how much electricity to give to the plastic factory, which paper should become coffee cups, where the cups should be delivered, or who should buy the coffee today. No one person controls the supplies for your coffee, and yet there it is every morning at your local coffee shop.
Here’s the ultimate insight: your coffee is ready every morning because of people working in the free market. Millions of people have the freedom to make their own decisions using their individual knowledge. These decisions linked the supplies together that brought you your coffee. If it were up to one mind, or even the government, to link these innumerable pieces together, it would take an impossible amount of time and resources. Worse yet, your coffee would be much more expensive, and it might not be there every morning!
So when you buy your next cup of coffee, think of “I, Pencil” and remember that markets work.