'Pig 05049' by Christien Meindertsma

While over in the Netherlands last year, I came across a book at a museum in Rotterdam that I couldn’t put down.  The book is called ‘Pig 05049‘ and it is a photographic documentation of all the commercial products that are made from various parts of a pig.  Here’s a description:

Christien Meindertsma has spent three years researching all the products made from a single pig. Amongst some of the more unexpected results were: Ammunition, medicine, photo paper, heart valves, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, cosmetics, cigarettes, conditioner and even bio diesel.

Meindertsma makes the subject more approachable by reducing everything to the scale of one animal. After it’s death, Pig number 05049 was shipped in parts throughout the world. Some products remain close to their original form and function while others diverge dramatically. In an almost surgical way a pig is dissected in the pages of the book – resulting in a startling photo book where all the products are shown at their true scale (1:1).

Just today I came across news that this book has won a 2009 Index prize, and I can’t say I’m surprised.  It’s a remarkable view of how our world actually operates, showing connections most of us have no awareness of.

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Comments

  • Jim  On September 20, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Sounds interesting. Reminded me of a George Will column a year ago titled “Pencils and Politics.” You can read it at:

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/158752

    The column comes from the other end of the subject in the above book. Russell Roberts, an Economist, tells the tale of a Stanford professor who states “No one can make a pencil” The students question that statement. The heart of her argument:

    “Nonsense, her students think—someone made that one. Not really, says Ruth. Loggers felled the cedar trees, truckers hauled them, manufacturers built the machines that cut the wood into five-sided portions to hold graphite mined in Sri Lanka, Mexico, China and Brazil. Miners and smelters produced the aluminum that holds the rubber eraser, produced far away, as were the machines that stamp TICONDEROGA in green paint, made somewhere else, on the finished pencil.

    Producing this simple, mundane device is, Ruth says, “an achievement on the order of a jazz quartet improvising a tune when the band members are in separate cities.” An unimpressed student says, “So a lot of people work on a pencil. What’s the big deal?” Ruth responds: Who commands the millions of people involved in making a pencil? Who is in charge? Where is the pencil czar?”

    There is probably part of PIG 05049 in your pencil!

    Where is the pencil czar? Or could it be the miraculous “free market” that creates our pencils and distributes PIG 05049? Would either have happened with “socialism” techniques? Or would we be writing with charcoal sticks and only consuming PIG 05049?

    I think we should all think hard before we push hard for an egalitarian society where miracles such as pencils and PIG 05049 don’t occur!

    Sorry for turning all into politics, but this is the time we live in!

  • Curt  On September 20, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I take your point, but I think it’s more about human ingenuity and specialization, which has been around for a lot longer than free market ideology. Even the communists had pencils! Innovation can and does happen in “socialist” countries, whether we like it or not.

  • Jim  On September 21, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Your first sentence assumes “free market” was only established with the “free market ideology”. I would disagree. “Free market ideology” was established only when “governments” began to interfere with “free markets”.

    Cave men – with no “government” – worked in a “free market” and progressed rapidly to Greeks and Romans when interference started and on to today when the “ideology” is being debated.

    I would posit the communists had pencils because the “free market” – outside their society and control – developed them.

    I do not think any of us can judge the human ingenuity and specialization within socialism since socialism is such a recent phenomena. Not so with “free markets”. This may be the “root cause” of our disagreement.

    But it is all worth the discussion!

  • Curt  On September 21, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I think we are mixing up a few concepts here. Clearly markets and human ingenuity have been around for a long time. I suspect certain types of market restrictions (or regulations) have been in effect for a long time as well (for instance, trying to ensure that weighing systems are honest).

    But free markets do not equal technology. As I understand Soviet central planning, they were trying to determine ‘how much’ of each product to build, not necessarily ‘how’ each thing was built. In that system there were lots of shortages (and probably occasional surpluses). In our system we rarely have shortages and more often surpluses. In either system there can still be technology breakthroughs and inventions of how to put together items to make something new.

    Our system does have great monetary incentives to come up with something new, but human ingenuity and technology goes way back. ‘Socialist’ policies are more about re-distribution of wealth, which clearly may have an impact on the monetary incentives, but does not eliminate technology and innovation.

  • Jim  On September 22, 2009 at 10:30 am

    WE ARE AT THE ROOT CAUSE OF OUR DISAGREEMENT:

    without monetary incentives the vast majority of technology and innovation will not come to fruition in my opinion. Will there be some? Of course, but I would estimate you will get 10% of the technology advances and innovations you will get with monetary incentives.

    Money may be the “root of all evil”, but it is also the root of 90% of technology advances and innovation!

    Parallel subject: how do you think Soviet Central Planning “drove technology and innovation”? Perhaps with monetary incentives – of some sort? Do you believe a “Central Planner” can duplicate the “free market”?

  • Curt  On September 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I actually don’t think we disagree about all that much here. I’m just trying to be clear in terminology.

    I think the ‘free market’ as we know it today provides extremely powerful incentives for commercializing innovations, and no, I don’t think central planners can ever duplicate the ‘self-correcting’ aspects of the markets, as price signals let producers know when to stop or forge ahead (not perfectly, of course, but better than planners could ever predict).

    But I do believe that innovation itself can be driven by a number of factors, not just market incentives. In fact, I think a fairly strong argument could be made that ‘socialized’ defense spending is a big driver of innovation. But we also see innovation coming from universities, and sometimes from just random people who ‘have a dream’.

    In each area the incentives can vary. I don’t really know much about it, but somehow the Soviets did pull off some innovation, for instance in rockets and space missions. For all I know the incentive was ‘work hard or else we’ll send you to Siberia’, but they did make it happen. Now one can argue that they used innovations from the Germans, but then again so did we. And the German innovations were from rocket research for the war. In academia the incentive can be reputational. In earlier days, the incentive may have been a whip. So all in all money incentives may well be the best of the lot.

    And as we’ve talked about before, there is no ‘pure free market’ nor is there any ‘pure socialism’. All countries are somewhere on a continuum. I think where we want to encourage innovations and commercialization, then market-based systems tend to work well, and these can be put to use in countries that practice some degree of socialism in other areas.

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