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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

No One Knows How to Make a Can of Coke

Over at Medium, tech pioneer Kevin Ashton unknowingly wrote a tribute to Leonard Read’s classic, I, Pencil.
What Coke Contains begins,
The Vons grocery store two miles from my home in Los Angeles, California sells 12 cans of Coca-Cola for $6.59 — 54 cents each. The tool chain that created this simple product is incomprehensibly complex.
From there Ashton gives a fascinating overview of what it takes to make a can of Coke, in the same style Leonard Read used for the pencil in 1958. I contacted Ashton after a friend shared his piece with me, and it turns out that he didn’t know about I, Pencil beforehand.
He closes with a wonderful hat tip to decentralized knowledge, spontaneous order, and the price system:
The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead—the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space. Coca-Cola did not teach the world to sing, no matter what its commercials suggest, yet every can of Coke contains humanity’s choir.
It is great to see these ideas being explored independently. If you haven’t read it yet, go read What Coke Contains