No single person can produce a pencil by themselves. Making something as simple as this basic writing instrument requires a lot of work from a lot of different people. That was the premise of Leonard Reed’s classic essay, “I, Pencil.” It is an essay that should be taught in every school in America. As crazy as it sounds, a product as simple as a pencil shows us that the government can’t match the power of the free market.
Our children are not being taught about the almost magical powers of the free market to transform all our lives. Instead, they are being taught to believe in socialism. Polls show that 71% of millennials would be willing to vote for a socialist candidate according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
It takes thousands of people across the world to produce items that we take for granted every day. All these products, from the most basic of tools to the most advanced machinery, have one thing in common: governments weren’t responsible for producing them.
In his famous 1958 essay, Reed tells his story through the eyes of the pencil. The following is an excerpt from Leonard Reed’s “I, Pencil:”
“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…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.”
Reed goes onto detail the various stages of the production of the pencil:
“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 loggers drink!
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.
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.”
But that is just a fraction of the stages of producing a pencil. Now imagine scaling that up to encompass an entire national economy. Socialists want to centrally plan the entire national economy by dictating what gets produced and at what cost.
History has proven that their plan is impossible. Over 100 million died under socialist regimes in the 20th century. Socialism inevitably produces shortages of essential goods, including food. The scarcity of food lead to mass starvation and death on a previously unimaginable scale.
During Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward,” 45 million Chinese starved to death in just four years from 1958-1962. The Soviet Famine caused by the central planning policies of Joseph Stalin led to the deaths of six million from 1931-1934.
All this could have been avoided if the government of those countries would have let private inventors and business owners produce basic goods needed to sustain life.
The ingenuity and creativity that drives the free market just aren’t present when a government controls every stage of production.
All these mistakes could have been avoided if these men had studied the stages of producing a simple pencil.