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(The following is the most elegant explanation of free market Capitalism
I have ever encountered, done simply and understandably. Enjoy.)
My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read
Read, Leonard E. (1898-1983)
I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.*
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that's all I do.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to
begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so
than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am
taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and
without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level
of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which
mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K.
Chesterton observed, "We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want
I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a
claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no,
that's too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the
miraculous-ness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind
is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. 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.
This sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Especially when it is realized that
there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the
U.S.A. each year.
Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the
eye—there's some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a
bit of metal, and an eraser.
Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it
impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would
like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and
complexity of my background.
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of
straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now
contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other
gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad
siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went
into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its
refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it
through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with
their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods.
Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the
The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you
imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad
engines and who construct and install the communication systems
incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents.
Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into
small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness.
These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put
rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid
white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went
into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the
light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill
requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are
the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas &
Electric Company hydro-plant which supplies the mill's power!
Don't overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation.
Once in the pencil factory—$4,000,000 in machinery and building, all
capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine—each slat is
given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine
lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat
atop—a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically
carved from this "wood-clinched" sandwich.
My "lead" itself—it contains no lead at all—is complex. The graphite
is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many
tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped
and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put
them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse
keepers along the way assisted in my birth—and the harbor pilots.
The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium
hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added
such as sulfonated tallow—animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric
acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally
appears as endless extrusions—as from a sausage grinder-cut to size,
dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To
increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a
hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax,
and hydrogenated natural fats.
My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the
ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans
and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even
the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involve
the skills of more persons than one can enumerate!
Observe the labeling. That's a film formed by applying heat to carbon
black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is
My bit of metal—the ferrule—is brass. Think of all the persons who
mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet
brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are
black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete
story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would
take pages to explain.
Then there's my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade
as "the plug," the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me.
An ingredient called "factice" is what does the erasing. It is a
rubber-like product made by reacting rape-seed oil from the Dutch East
Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is
only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and
accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment which
gives "the plug" its color is cadmium sulfide.
No One Knows
Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?
Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no
one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may
say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far
off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an
extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn't a single person
in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company,
who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From
the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of
graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how.
Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than
can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field—paraffin
being a by-product of petroleum.
Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor
the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes
the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that
does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company
performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less,
perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some
among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how
to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something
like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his
tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may
not be among these items.
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. This is the mystery to which I earlier
It has been said that "only God can make a tree." Why do we agree
with this? Isn't it because we realize that we ourselves could not make
one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in
superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular
configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among
men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in
molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is
I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc,
copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest
themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added:
the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows
configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity
and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! 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 above is what I meant when writing, "If you can become aware of
the miraculous-ness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom
mankind is so unhappily losing." For, if one is aware that these
know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into
creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and
demand—that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive
masterminding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient
for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this
Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for
instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe
that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely.
And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn't
know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also
recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are
correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation's
mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to
make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people—in the
unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and
miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity—the individual
cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be
delivered only by governmental "master-minding."
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what
men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little
faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it's
all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when
compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating
machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands
of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left
free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than
one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person's
home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to
Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one's
range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without
subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to
our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the
government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
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, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of
my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical
as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.
* My official name is "Mongol 482." My many ingredients are
assembled, fabricated, and finished by Eberhard Faber Pencil Company.
Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) founded FEE in 1946 and served as its president until his death.
"I, Pencil," his most famous essay, was first
published in the December 1958 issue of The Freeman. Although a few of
the manufacturing details and place names have changed over the past
forty years, the principles are unchanged.
(Here we see the unplanned, unwitting, un-intending, natural cooperation
of millions of strangers, some of whom might even be deadly enemies, in
the driving of a world economy. It is through the free market that
each is able to create his own wealth, feed his family and benefit from
his own work, ingenuity, opportunism, effort and vision. This is Adam Smith’s
Invisible Hand of Capitalism, illustrated.)
Sarcastic Acronym Hover-Link Footnotes: For the convenience of those readers using devices that lack a mouse, these footnotes are provided for all webpages, in case any webpage contains any hover-links. (If you don't have a mouse, you can't "hover" it over a link without clicking just to see the simple acronym interpretation. Click any footnote link to see the acronym and a detailed explanation; hover over it just to see the simple interpretation.)
Secularist Liberal Intellectual Media Complex
Gradually, Ever So Gradually, Over Eons And Eons Of Time
Punctuated Equilibrium's Wild-Assed Guess
Them There Real Scientifical-Type Fellers
Them There Real Smart Perfesser-Type Fellers
Them There Real Smart Journalistical-Type Fellers
Surely No Right Thinking Adult Could Believe Today
Surely Today No Serious Educated Adult Could Possibly Believe
We Don't Know
Baboons, Mongrel Dogs, Filthy Pigs and ...
Human Beings Are A Cancer On The Earth
Anti-Christian Litigation Union
Flagrant Liar, Or, Mindless Parrot, Or, Innocent Fool
Marxist Ends-Justify-The-Means Liar
Islamic Ends-Ends-Justify-The-Means Liar
Marxist Principles And Values
Wise, Benign, Elite, Super-Scientific World Governance
The Reason Man's In This Mess
Intellectual Yet Idiotic
Them There Real Smart Catholic Bishop Type Fellers
Illegal-Alien-Criminal Marxocrat-Party-Voting Nation-Destroyers
Palestinian Ends-Justify-The-Means Liar
"Psychological Operation" Mind Trick
Covid Developmentally Challenged
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