Monday, 13 January 2014

I, Eraser

By Loren Chue
Her author profile can be found below this article.

I am a rubber eraser, a common tool often kneaded and worn by children, students, and adults alike.
I help expunge stray marks of pencil leads, heavy marks, you name it, and I’ll obliterate them all with a trusty rubbing of elbow grease.
But believe me—there’s much more behind my seemingly simple makeup and outer fa├žade. Simple, you say. But have you ever thought of how much juggling I do in my metamorphosis from rubber to functional eraser?
So follow me from inception to full functionality and maturity. Swing around the globe from the USA to Malaysia, where my journey begins. I’m born as part of a rubber tree, a natural resource. A worker taps my tree by cutting a thin strip of bark away at 30 degree angle, allowing the latex to drain into a collecting container. Now a chemical is added to stop my latex from coagulating. After a few days, diluted acetic acid or formic acid is added to allow me to coagulate into slabs within the aluminum partitions of the tanks I’m poured into. I’m passed through rollers (such a tight squeeze!) to absorb excess water, and then I’m packed into bales and bales, bound with metal straps (I can’t escape now), and shipped to manufacturers several hundred miles away in China or Japan.

I’ve been cut from a tree, passed through rollers, and packed into bales. Now I have to be shipped? To where? To a bustling factory in either China or Japan (does Pentel ring a bell for you readers now?), where labor is cheaper and there’s a comparative advantage than if I were produced in say, the USA. In these factories, the important role of technology comes into play. Without factories and without entrepreneurs who used their human capital to design eraser factories, who knows how I would have been produced today? But let’s get back to how I’m processed and produced.
After arriving at the factory, I am mixed with pigments, vegetable oil, pumice, sulfur, and other ingredients that change my chemical makeup. Since I’m made from a natural resource, I’m either pulverized or dissolved before I can be mixed. Whew, this process is making me tired! But we’re almost done! So it turns out that I’m going to be made into a flat eraser. Subsequently, I’m poured into a mold and allowed to cool into a solid. I’m finally given time to rest as I cool and harden. When I’ve finished cooling, I’m awoken from my rather peaceful state of metamorphosis from a liquid to a solid, and I’m ready to be stamped (or screen-printed) and shipped to retailers.
Now follow me again back around half of the globe to Office Max in the USA, where sealed in a tight wrap and barely able to breathe, I am squeezed and handled until a certain consumer picks me up in my flat package and tossed carelessly into a shopping cart. Watch it! I almost got bruised from that throw!
Finally, I’ve reached my final destination. My wrappings are torn apart, and small chubby fingers admire my pristine whiteness and smoothness with admiration. But not for long! Very soon strong fingers grasp me up and start rubbing away at a dark pencil mark in a notebook. I’m doomed. I’m starting to wear away now.
The cycle of life continues.

Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson.”

When people are more creative and work together, their minds can cooperate to form new insights for production. Such is what Mr. Leonard Read wishes to teach us in his article, I, Pencil. After reading his article, I would agree with him because the increase of the division of labor will definitely increase efficient production. The use of laborers, human capital, natural resources and technology, as well as the cooperation of laborers and entrepreneurs combined will increase production greatly. In terms of microeconomics, this specialization of labor will in turn benefit small markets because their profit margins will increase as they can sell more of their goods to consumers. Specialization also helps workers with different skills to focus on the area of production which they have an advantage, thus increasing production even more. In this case, all three economic questions are answered—what should be produced (pencils and erasers), how should these goods be produced (with natural resources, labor, and factories), and for whom should these goods be produced (consumers all around the world)? 


About the author:

Loren is a junior who has a passion for biology and music. This is her fourth year as a first violinist for the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. In her spare time, she enjoys biking with her Australian Shepherd (called Wish), hiking, running, dogsledding, and traveling. When she grows up she would like to become a medical physician. 



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