In November 2012, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released I, Pencil: The Movie, an animated short film adapted from the 1958 essay by Leonard E. Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education. CEI’s I, Pencil film and extended commentary series, featuring Larry Reed, Deirdre McCloskey, Art Carden, and Walter Williams is available online here.

Awards | Resources | Media | Reviews

The Story of I, Pencil

Do you know how to make a pencil? You don’t, do you? As Read explained in his classic essay, no single person on earth does. The pencil, like most modern wonders, is the end product of an intricate chain of human activity that spans the globe. There is no mastermind dictating the making of a pencil; not even the CEO of a pencil company could tell you exactly how to make one. It takes little bits of know-how of thousands of individuals—loggers in California, factory workers in China, miners in Sri Lanka, and everyone in between—to bring an ordinary wooden pencil into being. By trading their skills and labor for wages, these individuals each bring the pencil a step closer into being.

This is the miracle of the free market. People who are strangers to each other—who might even hate each other if they ever met—are cooperating every day to produce goods that others want, need, and enjoy. Markets compel men and women to voluntarily arrange themselves into efficient patterns of production through the pursuit of their individual interests. Without this constant spontaneous cooperation, the modern wonders of our world would not exist.

CEI’s Production of the I, Pencil Film

CEI adapted I, Pencil to translate Leonard Read’s story into an exciting and accessible film for the Internet age. Under the direction of libertarian filmmaker Nicholas Tucker, the project has successfully realized—and even exceeded—CEI’s original vision. At six minutes long and expertly animated, I, Pencil is a colorful, easy-to-share reimagining of Read’s timeless narrative.

CEI Founder Fred L. Smith, Jr. said:

“Throughout my career, I’ve sought new and better means of communicating classical liberal ideas to people of all political persuasions. Leonard Read’s original essay continues to be one of the most poignant free-market narratives I’ve ever come across. I’m proud of CEI’s film adaptation of Read’s work, and I’m very hopeful it will successfully bring classical liberal ideas to new and diverse audiences.”


Educational Resources

Associate Professor of Economics at Samford University, Art Carden created a one-day I, Pencil course curriculum for middle school, high school, and college classrooms, which is now being taught at all levels across the U.S. and abroad.

To supplement these educational materials, CEI produced a series of Extended Commentary videos on the fundamental themes of I, Pencil. Thematically organized by topic, the interviews cover Spontaneous OrderConnectivity, Trade & SpecializationCreative Destruction, and The Importance of I, Pencil featuring University of Illinois Professor Deirdre McCloskey, George Mason University Professor Walter E. Williams, Samford University Assistant Professor Art Carden, and Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) President Lawrence W. Reed.



Special Thanks 

CEI owes great thanks to all those involved in the I, Pencil project. In particular, CEI is grateful to FEE for its help and support. Leonard Read founded FEE in 1946; now, today’s president Lawrence Reed gives his endorsement to CEI’s film:

“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!”

Please watch I, Pencil and share it with friends! You can also find it on YouTube.