I Pencil

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  • Topic: Pencil, Leonard Read, Nashoba Brook Pencil Factory Site
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  • Published : March 13, 2012
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50th Anniversary Edition

I, Pencil
My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read

30 South Broadway Irvington-on-Hudson New York 10533 1-800-960-4FEE • 914-591-7230 www.fee.org

“I, Pencil” is a superb case study of free markets in action. Half of the world’s economic problems would vanish if everyone would read “I, Pencil.” Burton W. Folsom, Jr. Professor of History Hillsdale College

There is no better, more easily understood, and more fun explanation of the complexity of markets than Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil.” It ought to give considerable pause when we listen to the arrogance of politicians who tell us they can manage an economy better than millions, perhaps billions, of independent decision makers in pursuit of their own personal goals. Its message to would-be planners is to bug out! Walter E. Williams John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics George Mason University

The 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. Michelle Malkin Syndicated columnist


I, Pencil
My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read

Introduction by Lawrence W. Reed Afterword by Milton Friedman

This edition of “I, Pencil” is dedicated to our late esteemed colleague, Beth A. Hoffman, who worked on its production as her last project before her untimely passing on December 1, 2008. Information concerning the Beth A. Hoffman Memorial Scholarship Fund may be found at www.fee.org.

Foundation for Economic Education Irvington-on-Hudson, New York 10533


Leonard E. Read (1898–1983) established the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946. For the next 37 years he served as FEE’s president and labored tirelessly to promote and advance liberty. He was a natural leader who, at a crucial moment in American history, roused the forces defending individual freedom and private property. His life is a testament to the power of ideas. As President Ronald Reagan wrote: “Our nation and her people have been vastly enriched by his devotion to the cause of freedom, and generations to come will look to Leonard Read for inspiration.” Read was the author of 29 books and hundreds of essays. “I, Pencil,” his most famous essay, was first published in 1958. Although a few of the manufacturing details and place names have changed, the principles endure. This anniversary edition of “I, Pencil” was made possible by the generosity of Ralph Smeed and David H. Keyston.



Eloquent. Extraordinary. Timeless. Paradigm-shifting. Classic. Half a century after it first appeared, Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil” still evokes such adjectives of praise. Rightfully so, for this little essay opens eyes and minds among people of all ages. Many first-time readers never see the world quite the same again. Ideas are most powerful when they’re wrapped in a compelling story. Leonard’s main point—economies can hardly be “planned” when not one soul possesses all the know-how and skills to produce a simple pencil—unfolds in the enchanting words of a pencil itself. Leonard could have written “I, Car” or “I, Airplane,” but choosing those more complex items would have muted the message. No one person—repeat, no one, no matter how smart or how many degrees follow his name—could create from scratch a small, everyday pencil, let alone a car or an airplane. This is a message that humbles the high and mighty. It pricks the inflated egos of those who think they know how to mind everybody else’s business. It explains in plain language why central planning is an exercise in arrogance and futility, or what Nobel laureate and Austrian economist F. A. Hayek aptly termed “the pretence of knowledge.” Indeed, a major influence on Read’s thinking...
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