This is an excellent short read. More a pamphlet than a novel, it is the autobiography of an HB pencil. By looking at the birth and ancestry of the pencil a complicated topic of economics and knowledge theory is made easily understandable. As individuals we have only a tiny fraction of the sum of human knowledge and planning, not one of us is able to make a pencil by ourselves. But by our cooperative endeavours every one of us can own and use a pencil.
We are, in part, successful because we don’t need to know everything about everything. We can specisalise in what brings us most pleasure, and that which plays to our strengths, in the knowledge that others will be doing liklewise in different areas. By this, knowledge is distributed between all of us and is much more than the sum of its parts. When we act cooperatively, in a dispersed and decentralised manner we achieve much more than we ever could when we work under central guidance.
As the pencil decribes it :-
“This is not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not. It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.”
“None of the Robespierres of the world knew how to make a pencil, yet they wanted to remake entire societies.”