If you have never heard of or read the essay, “I, Pencil”, you are in for a treat.
Written by Leonard E. Read (1898-1983), who created the Foundation for Economic Education, “I, Pencil” was first published in 1958. It is an iconic, timeless demonstration of the incredibly amazing and miraculous concept of free market capitalism and demolishes the idea that the economy can effectively and efficiently be operated through central planning.
The essay’s subtitle, “My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read” hints at how this story is told…from the perspective and the voice of a pencil, explaining how he came to be.
I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.Foundation for Economic Education
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.
Read has chosen to explain the concept of economic freedom through the voice of a pencil for the very fact that a pencil seems so simple as compared to so many other products that we enjoy. For if these concepts are so easily shown with a simple product like a pencil, think how they would apply to way more complex products of today, such as computers, cell phones, and the like.
I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.Foundation for Economic Education
I won’t give away all of the details here. I urge everyone of you to take the 10 minutes to read this essay. If you have never read it before, it very well may change the way you look at economics forever. If you have read it before, then you know it’s a great read and worth reviewing. Here is one last excerpt to set the tone:
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding.Foundation for Economic Education
Read the full essay with an Afterword by Milton Friedman here: I, Pencil