The image most people will retain of Friedman is the smiling, diminutive, unassuming professor holding up a pencil in front of the cameras in “Free to Choose” to illustrate the power of markets. It took thousands of people all over the world to make this pencil, Friedman said – to mine the graphite, cut the wood, assemble the components, and market the final product. No single central authority coordinated their actions; that feat was accomplished by the magic of free markets and the price system.
More than 30 years later, there is an interesting coda to the pencil story (which in fact was based on an article by the economist Leonard E. Read). Today, most of the world’s pencils are produced in China – an economy that is a peculiar mix of private entrepreneurship and state direction.
What would Friedman think of the turn that the global division of labor has taken?
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