The market miracle of a pencil named Leonard Read


“The mere preservation of what we have so far achieved depends on the coordination of individual efforts by impersonal forces.” – F.A. Hayek

In a remarkable essay explaining the wonders of the free market, “I, Pencil”, Leonard Read takes on the role of–you guessed it–a pencil, simple and wooden, but as he explains, not so simple after all. “Simple? Yet not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me,” writes Read.

Read goes on to explain the miraculous complex market that spontaneously creates pencils, which involves millions of workers, none of whom actually know how to make a pencil. Many of the pencil’s creators around the world, if they were to encounter a pencil, could only guess at its purpose. Many of them cannot read or write, and have differing religions and differing philosophies from each other, yet they all work together unknowingly to create the pencil, which of course, no person on this earth knows how to make.

It is a short and beautiful essay, and should be read by all who want freedom. Leonard Read’s point, as a pencil, is this (he repeats it twice in the essay for emphasis): “if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.”

Without government protection of property and economic choices, freedom is only a word.


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