The Pencil Sharpener and the End of the World

by Milton Schlemm 9/29/2012


Okay, maybe the "End of the World" is a little strong. But Americans had always thought of themselves as the "World." I was accused of being like "Chicken Little" with the sky falling, but, really, the Emperor was naked as a jay bird, just as I had said when I pointed this little problem out to President in the Oval Office, close to 20 years ago. I told him this little tale:

This is a story about a pencil sharpener and a pencil sharpener. The former is a person and the latter is an invention.

Once upon a time, after the invention of the pencil, a fellow who had noted the dullness in his writing instrument, went to his kitchen and found a suitable sharp object and went outside and gently carved and whittled himself a new point. What a lovely opportunity to step away from the writing and thinking task for a moment and enter into a "sharpening the pencil meditation!"

And then one day, he invented a little device with a handle and some blades cleverly arranged to sharpen pencils. This pencil sharpener (the invention) became very popular, and pencil sharpeners (the people) took quickly to the little device.

But then came Corporate America. Soon pencil-sharpening became a job description. And, of course, with every job, quality control and record-keeping became part of the litigious environment of the late 20th century.

If a person needed to get his pencil sharpened, he would fill out a requisition slip and properly place the pencil and slip into a container and receive a properly completed verification of the transaction. The container would then go to an inspector to verify that, indeed the pencil did need to be sharpened (and, of course, check the paperwork and fill out his own.) At the inspection, the pencil would be given a Rating of Need to determine which pencils were to be sharpened when. The next step, the scheduler, and eventually, at the proper time, the Pencil Sharpener. Once receiving the pencil, the Pencil Sharpener would place the pencil in the Pencil Sharpener, and the deed done.

The return journey would include inspectors, rejectors, deflectors, and suspectors. Usually the job could be done within 60 days, unless you paid off an inspector or suspector.

How silly, everyone said.. Why not just get rid of all the Middle men, and have everyone sharpen their own pencil? And that's the history of the fall of Corporate America. When all the unnecessary people who did Middle Man work were fired, unemployment sky-rocketed. The unresolvable conflict between need for jobs, no matter how worthless, and a completely inefficient, cumbersome, and corrupted infra-structure, the "building" of corporateAmerica came crashing down. Fortunately, finally, early in the 21st century, the citizens re-claimed their government and elected the Mayor of Oakland, President. He changed everything over night.

And it works! To this very day!

Now, we all sharpen our own pencils.