"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. Friedman (the 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics) used the essay in his 1980 PBS television show Free to Choose and the accompanying book of the same name. In the 2008 50th Anniversary Edition, the introduction is written by Lawrence W. Reed and Friedman wrote the afterword.
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"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.
No Master Mind
There is a fact still more astounding: The absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the invisible hand at work.
... Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.
... The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society's 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", 2008 edition
- I, Pencil, first edition version (1964), provided by Mises Institute
- I, Pencil, 50th Anniversary Edition, provided by the Foundation for Economic Education
- Excerpt of Free to Choose video referencing I, Pencil, as told by Milton Friedman
- 'When Ideas Have Sex' video referencing I, Pencil, as told by Matt Ridley
- MacKenzie, D.W. (October 2002). "I, Government: Why Do I Inspire Such Wonder and Awe?". The Freeman. Foundation for Economic Education. 52 (10). Retrieved 5 September 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) – a similarly styled essay also published by The Freeman
- It Takes a World: On Liberty and the Welfare State article expanding on I, Pencil to show its implications for the concept of society and the ethics of the welfare state.
- Featured on the February 28, 2016 episode of Freakonomics Radio by Stephen J. Dubner