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Lessons from a Humble Pencil about Economics and the World

“I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe... not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

On National Pencil Day, we salute this marvel of capitalism and Leonard Read’s classic story about an everyday object. Beloved, yet often taken for granted, I, Pencil poignantly details the layers of knowledge, resources, and collaboration required to make anything—however simple or complex. Even more so, the pencil illustrates how seamlessly individuals, operating in their own self-interest, cooperate to create the modern world.

In November 2012, CEI brought Read’s brilliant essay to life with the animated short I, Pencil: The Movie. FEE President Larry Reed gave us his generous blessing:

For more than half a century, Leonard Read’s classic story has opened eyes and changed minds by the hundreds of thousands. It humbles even the high and mighty as it reveals the wondrous achievements of individuals whose contributions are coordinated by nothing more than incentives and market prices. This film guarantees that the insights of Read’s humble pencil will continue to work their magic for many years to come!

With I, Pencil: The Movie, Read’s narrative is now on display at the Dixon Ticonderoga National Museum and Fine Art Gallery. Passing Lane Films’ co-producers, Drew Tidwell, Helen Straight, and I had the opportunity to visit the collection last year, where I, Pencil is exhibited alongside a Norman Rockwell—another marvel entirely.