John Stossel

"We have this engrained habit of thinking that if somebody plans it, if somebody lays down the law and writes the rules, order will follow," he continued. "And the absence of those things will somehow lead to chaos. But what you often get when you try to enforce mandates and restrictions from a distant bureaucracy is planned chaos, as the great economist Ludwig on Mises once said. We have to rely more upon what emerges spontaneously because it represents individuals' personal tastes and choices, not those of distant politicians."

Another way to understand spontaneous order is to think about the simple pencil. Leonard Read, who established the Foundation for Economic Education, wrote an essay titled, "I, Pencil," which began, "(N)o single person on the face of this earth knows how to make (a pencil)."

That sounds absurd -- but think about it. No one person can make a pencil. Vast numbers of people participate in making the materials that become a pencil: the wood, the brass, the graphite, the rubber for the eraser, the paint and so on. Then go back another step, to the people who make the saws and machinery that are used to make the materials that go into a pencil. And before that, people mine iron to make the steel that makes the machines that make the materials that go into a pencil. It's all without central direction, without these people even knowing they are all working ultimately to make pencils. Thousands of people mining, melting, cutting, assembling, packing, selling, shipping -- and yet you can buy pencils for a few pennies each.

That's spontaneous order, and it's replicated with every product we buy, no matter how complex.

The mind boggles.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate