I, Pencil… And This is My Job.


[Photo found in Wikimedia commons]

Few essays illustrate with as much clarity and poignancy the miracle of the free market as the famous I, Pencil essay by Leonard Reed. It explores the cooperation of the hundreds, maybe thousands of people necessary to create a pencil. Yet, no single person alone possess the knowledge to create said pencil from beginning to end. Instead prices drive individuals to work cooperatively, to create goods, and provide services- the end product a writing utensil.

Now, the essayist is more a documentarian, and whether intentionally or not Mike Rowe has spent a good part of his adult life over the course of two shows exploring voluntary cooperation. His two shows, Dirty Jobs and Somebody’s Gotta Do It have toured the country to explore the different unique and often grimy jobs people do to make a buck. The variety is a bit stunning. Some of the jobs include worm hunters, cranberry farmers, cricket farmers, cow midwife, rice farmer, sheep herder, golf ball diver, window washer, tofu maker, charcoal maker, marble maker, coke manufacturer, skull cleaner, casino food recycler, drain maker, roughneck and so much more. Through all of this you see jobs and meet willing people that are a small part of the process hinted at in I, Pencil. Through the format provided by Mike Rowe and his crew the viewer sees the trees being cut, the mills, the factories, the processing, the packaging, and beyond. The shows constantly provide snapshots of different market segments working together to create a consumable product – glimpses of cooperation.

Throughout their journeys, Mike Rowe and his crews meet people with specialized knowledge. His questions help explore the job and his frequent incompetence (which increases the entertainment value) emphasizes the value many people bring to their respective fields. Further, he consistently finds jobs one may have never known about, but nonetheless depends on.

To be sure, there are certainly many programs that explore markets. From How It’s Made to Ice Road Truckers, job and production orientated programming is abundant. Each program highlights the miracle of the market in a similar way as the Mike Rowe programs, however, the Mike Rowe programs consistently ask the question: How did you end up in this job? Few programs explore that theme as consistently and across as broad a spectrum as Dirty Jobs and Somebody’s Gotta Do It. Mike Rowe’s catchphrase, “and this is my job” seems to indicate exactly that: that his job is to find what drives people into their respective markets.

Now, I have never met Mike Rowe, and from what I gather he is mostly apolitical, though he is a constant advocate for skilled job creation. However, the lesson of his show is much like that of I, Pencil, which concludes:

The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

As simple as his shows appear, as does the pencil, they offer tremendous value in demonstrating the complex miracle of markets; capturing information, incentivizing action, creating cooperation, and revealing just a portion of the invisible hand. And as the essay prompts, perhaps we should listen to the unvoiced lesson in Mike Rowe’s shows, “leave all creative energies uninhibited.” Turns out when we do just that we will be amazed at the creative outcomes.

James C. Devereaux is an attorney and freedom fanatic. He once had a dirty job repairing, remodeling and building dairy barns. He has since moved on to other fields. Questions, complaints and hysterics can be sent to james@reasonedliberty.com or follow him on twitter @jcdevereaux1.

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