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The amazing tale of the pencil

Posted: October 9, 2011 at 10:03 am   /   by

A couple of days ago, I was driving my five-year-old to a playdate. I decided to continue his education in the free market, so I pulled a Leonard Read/Milton Friedman, and I talked to him about the miracle of the package of Keebler™ cheddar cheese crackers on the dashboard. The drive was about 12 minutes, and I told him for the whole time about all the thousands of people whose work contributed to the making of those crackers. People who live in maybe a half-dozen or more states or countries. People who have never met each other. People who might not have even known that they were working to make those crackers.

Yesterday, I asked him to tell me what we had talked about regarding those crackers, and he told me that “thousands of people had worked to make them.” Not a bad start.

Here’s Michelle Malkin on the subject:

MOST VALUABLE TRUTHS about economics and liberty can be found in a lowly lead pencil. When my children are old enough, I will read them a classic little essay by the late philosopher Leonard E. Read that turns a mundane writing instrument into an elementary lesson about free-market capitalism.

“I, Pencil” teaches what left-wing fossils on college campuses to this day refuse to admit: Governments and bureaucrats don’t make what people want and need. They only get in the way. It is individuals, cooperating peacefully and voluntarily, working together without mandate or central design, who produce the world’s goods and services.

“I have a profound lesson to teach,” Read writes in the voice of the pencil. “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. Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

It’s a miracle. A miracle of free people doing a million separate things yet managing to have coordination on a level of sophistication that cannot be mapped, understood, or replicated by government. And yet some people hate that miracle, and want to replace it, and deride those who are amazed by it as mean-spirited and anti-people. We live in a bizarre world.

Here’s the original, and an audio version too.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook