Read traces the family tree of the pencil from the Oregon loggers who harvest its cedar wood, to the California millworkers who cut the wood into thin slats, to Mississippi refinery workers, to the Dutch East Indies farmers who produce an oil used to make erasers. All of these people, and many more at the periphery of the process, have special knowledge about their life's work in their separate corners of the earth. But none by himself has the singular knowledge or ability to give birth to a pencil. Few will ever come in contact with the others who make the production of that pencil possible.
It's not because they "care about each other" that they cooperate to deliver any one good. It's the result of self-interest, multiplied millions of times over.
Read illuminates: "There is a fact still more astounding: The absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work." This spontaneous "configuration of human energies" is repeated endlessly in our daily lives. Think of the countless and diverse people involved in producing a Slinky, jump rope or baseball, a diaper, refrigerator or Boeing 747.
And, of course, an iMac, iPhone or iPad.
Appreciating this voluntary configuration of human energies, Read argued, is key to possessing "an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith." Indeed. Without that faith, we are susceptible to the force of class-warfare mobs and the arrogance of command-and-control bureaucrats in Washington who believe the role of private American entrepreneurs, producers and wealth generators is to "grow the economy" and who "think at some point you have made enough money."
The progressives who want to bring down "Wall Street" will snipe that Jobs was one of "theirs," not "ours."
He belonged to no one. He was transcendently committed to excellence and beauty and innovation. And yes, he made gobs of money pursuing it all while benefiting hundreds of millions of people around the world whom he never met, but who shed a deep river of tears upon learning of his death this week.
From "I, Pencil" to iPhone, such is the profound, everlasting miracle of iCapitalism -- a triumph of individualism over collectivism, freedom over force and markets over master planning. To borrow an old Apple slogan: It just works.