Can you make a Pencil?
The ordinary lead pencil found at the next door stationery shop.
Do you know what it takes to actually make a pencil? The human effort, the technology, the resources.
No single human in the world knows exactly how to make a pencil, yet billions of them are churned out from factories around the world everyday.
Production of an ordinary pencil is a testimony to the power of human collaboration and ingenuity.
Economist Leonard E. Read wrote a short essay in 1958, beautifully demonstrating this irony. The essay was titled I, Pencil.
Much like the humble pencil, making of a nation also requires many complex human and technological collaborations to come through.
Collaborations which cut across national and cultural boundaries.
No nation in the world today can claim to be self sufficient, it cannot claim to not be dependent on some other nation for some commodity or service.
And its a good thing.
This complex network of interdependence helps nations focus on the things that they are good at, and outsource the things that someone else is better at. This sort of collaboration benefits both parties involved.
And yet, across the world, today we see a wave of protectionism and conservatism sweeping across. We see even countries which have benefited tremendously from international trade, raising their tariffs and discouraging international trade.
Couple of months ago, the Indian government kicked off its “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” campaign. It roughly translates to “Self reliant India” and its a clarion call for Indians to consume Indian products and services as opposed to foreign imports.
While there have not been any visible changes at the policy level, this seems like the government’s effort to jumpstart the economy and boost domestic consumption. Something which might now work if domestic production cannot match up to the country’s imports.
The move triggers more politics than policy, and seems fundamentally flawed.
Last month we sat down with our friend Gaurav Tiwari on a zoom call to discuss the merits of this bold ambition.
In this hour long conversation we discussed the historical patterns of protectionism across the globe, India’s relationship with China and we discussed areas where India can truly become a leader in the global economy.
You can listen to the audio version by clicking on the play icon at the top, or you can watch the conversation on YouTube —
Signing off for the week, here’s a quote worth pondering from the essay I, Pencil
I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human masterminding!
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This was Wisdom Letter #60. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 59letters, checkout our entire archive.
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Aditi & Ayush