Skip to comments.I, Pencil
Posted on 07/27/2012 10:26:09 PM PDT by smokingfrog
"I, Pencil" is an essay by Leonard Read. The full title is "I, Pencil: My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read" and it was first published in the December 1958 issue of The Freeman. It was reprinted in The Freeman in May 1996 and as a pamphlet entitled "I... Pencil" in May 1998. In the reprint, Milton Friedman wrote the introduction and Donald J. Boudreaux wrote the afterword.
"I, Pencil" is written in the first person from the point of view of a pencil. The pencil details the complexity of its own creation, listing its components (cedar, lacquer, graphite, ferrule, factice, pumice, wax, glue) and the numerous people involved, down to the sweeper in the factory and the lighthouse keeper guiding the shipment into port.
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; its all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any persons home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to ones range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboardhalfway around the worldfor less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let societys legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.
To this day, the communist Chinese cannot make a simple wood pencil of as good quality as we can! The wood is too soft and crumbles rather than shave off cleanly when you sharpen it. The graphite lead is poor and sometimes off-center. The rubber eraser smears rather than erases.
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