How does a pencil represent what Adam Smith called “the invisible hand” of the free market? A new film by the Competitive Enterprise Institute has adapted Leonard Read’s famous essay, “I, Pencil: My Family Tree As Told to Leonard E. Read,” to answer this very question.
Originally published in 1958 in an issue of The Freeman, “I, Pencil” was reprinted in 1996 to include an introduction by Milton Friedman. Every day, millions of people employ their various skills and talents and use their creative energies to create products, which no small number of humans could possibly create alone. The market force that controls these numerous energies is known as the “invisible hand,” and it creates all sorts of products without a single mastermind in control of the process.
Creating a single pencil involves a vast number of complex interactions. The metal band connecting the eraser to the wood is composed of material mined, refined, and shipped from all over the world. From loggers in the Pacific Northwest cutting down cedar trees to miners in China and Sri Lanka extracting graphite from the earth, workers participate in a number of activities that seemingly have nothing to do with creating a pencil, but in fact play a key role in the production process.
I, Pencil: The Movie shows that “if we can leave these creative energies uninhibited, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”
To see I, Pencil: The Movie with extended commentary, click here.