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What 'I, Pencil' Could Teach Joe Biden About Supply Chains

For someone who has been a policy-making politician for as long as President Joe Biden has, you’d think he would understand supply chains better than he apparently does.
So maybe he can learn lessons from Leonard E. Read’s classic article “I, Pencil.”
Leonard Read established the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 1946 to educate people about freedom and economics. The organization still exists today.
He wrote “I, Pencil” in 1958, and it became an instant classic. [See IPI’s “I, Pencil” podcast here.]
“I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. … Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”
The pencil then goes into a long, but far from complete, list of the “antecedents” that had to come together to make it: cedar trees, saws, trucks, and all the metal, parts and skills to make those tools.
Then there are saw mills to process the wood, factories to make the graphite, railroads—and all the materiel and labor to make trains and lay the rails—to transport the wood.
And, of course, all those workers need housing and food and clothing in order to produce their products. The list could go on and on.
Yet the amazing part about a pencil is that no one person, bureaucrat, government agency, planning committee, or even president of the United States planned it. Entrepreneurs, business owners and individual workers came together to create the supply chains necessary to produce a product that almost everyone sees as simple, inexpensive—and takes for granted.
The recent supply-chain disruptions in food, furniture, home-building products, and other goods and services are teaching Americans—and hopefully Biden—the “I, Pencil” lesson.
The vast majority of products and services we rely on and have come to expect to be there when we need them are the result of supply chains—supply chains that are created by individuals and companies seeking to meet consumers’ needs.
Those supply chains are interrelated and very complex. A shortage of one product or service can have a snowballing effect up and down the supply chain.
The Biden administration has been trying to take credit for the creation and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines—a process that started a year before Biden took office. But navigating the complex supply chain needed to make billions of doses may be an even greater miracle than creating and getting the vaccines approved in less than a year.
In short, the vaccine supply chain has worked far better than many other supply chains, and the U.S. government did not make that happen.
Biden and his big-government enablers believe that government can manage virtually anything, including supply chains, better than free markets.
But for-profit companies and free market supply chains created the pencil—and they are behind the creation of the Covid-19 vaccines available in the U.S. and Europe. If “not a single person on the face of the earth knows how to make” a simple pencil, that’s even more true for a pandemic-ending vaccine.