Video: I, Pencil the Movie

posted at 3:31 pm on November 15, 2012 by Mary Katharine Ham

Based on the classic essay by Leonard Read, a beautiful production from the Competitive Enterprise Institute explaining how the market works to create a simple pencil:

The market is truly an amazing thing. Much of the time, as illustrated by the story of the pencil, it functions so well that we can get away with enjoying its fruits without ever noticing the tree. Its greatest strength is its downfall because it’s so easy for so many to take it for granted. But taking a look at the tree— the impossibly complex tangle of incentives that brings graphite, wood, metal, and rubber together— is the path to appreciation and humility. It’s harder to believe one central power can produce more prosperity once you’ve seen what the market creates without one.

As Read wrote: “There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a mastermind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being.”

I’ve always thought this would make a great children’s book. The illustrations from this video would work perfectly. Get those kids started right!

Read the whole essay, here. CEI is doing a series on this subject, available at IPencilMovie.org.


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Someone somewhere sometime must have tried to determine what a pencil designed and manufactured — from scratch and before there were ever pencils — by socialist politicians and government bureaucrats would look like and what it would cost.

farsighted on November 15, 2012 at 3:38 PM

I want to see “I, Hardees biscuit”

That impossibly complex tangle of incentives that brings flour, water, bacon, eggs and cheese together.

BacaDog on November 15, 2012 at 3:39 PM

@BacaDog, there’s this.

Mary Katharine Ham on November 15, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Wow. It is, in fact, the exact opposite.

Dante on November 15, 2012 at 3:45 PM

All I could think of while watching it was “you didnt build that!”

SPIN

Spinstra on November 15, 2012 at 3:46 PM

There is also a Milton Friedman clip on youtube taken from his lecture series in 1976 and 1977 based on this essay. It is well worth the mouse couple of mouse clicks.

Flyovercountry on November 15, 2012 at 3:46 PM

I saw one of those on-the-street interviews where someone said “why do we need to manufacture things, can’t we just buy them at the store?”

Thank you Teachers Union!

slickwillie2001 on November 15, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Here’s Read’s essay:

Link

Dante on November 15, 2012 at 3:47 PM

Stupid Republicans, still talking about bayonets and pencils.

faraway on November 15, 2012 at 3:47 PM

I guess you really didn’t build it…

/

Seven Percent Solution on November 15, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Mary Katharine Ham on November 15, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Thanks MKH!

My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

BacaDog on November 15, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

I don’t think that at all. Maybe because I am so clueless when it comes to technology of any kind. I am fascinated that when I flick a switch on my wall, the light comes on. I would never in a million years have been able to figure out how to make that happen. Not only because I’m clueless, but I have no interest in that sort of thing. Instead, I admire people who provide so many things that I could never have created, that have made my life so much better. Those are not people who worked for the government.

Night Owl on November 15, 2012 at 3:50 PM

Idiots! I use a pen!

Shy Guy on November 15, 2012 at 3:55 PM

I would have rather seen something that demonstrated how the capitalist system can produce a pencil for 20 cents, or whatever the current cost where it would take you…. well, you, on your own, could not produce one at almost any cost.

AndrewsDad on November 15, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

If we can leave creative energies of human kind unhibited, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Click here

EnglishRogue on November 15, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Obama and Chu should watch this.
Might help them understand why all that inventment in green energy goes bad.

Naw. It would be over their heads.

Jabberwock on November 15, 2012 at 3:56 PM

There is also a Milton Friedman clip on youtube taken from his lecture series in 1976 and 1977 based on this essay. It is well worth the mouse couple of mouse clicks.

Flyovercountry on November 15, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Agreed.

steebo77 on November 15, 2012 at 3:57 PM

If we can leave creative energies of human kind unhibited inhibited, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

D’oh!

EnglishRogue on November 15, 2012 at 3:57 PM

This essay must also have inspired the great Milton Friedman’s pencil monologue which I remember seeing a while back – it’s a great addition to the this new film.

about 3 minutes here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5Gppi-O3a8

a1776patriot on November 15, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Stupid Republicans, still talking about bayonets and pencils.

faraway on November 15, 2012 at 3:47 PM

.
They need to follow the lead of our Media like WaPo.

Energy in them thar hills

Had Romney been all over this domestic Shale fuel and energy stuff like WaPo is so excited about…..who knows, maybe Nov.7 would have been a day of joy.
.

Stop asking Lucy to hold the football.

FlaMurph on November 15, 2012 at 4:05 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Wow. It is, in fact, the exact opposite.

Dante on November 15, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Everyone, things happen outside the political news cycle of 2012, fercryinoutloud. The essay is a tribute to the power of the market to bring disparate materials and people together without FORCING any of them to do any of it—-the unexpected harmony of a thousand self-interested actors, spontaneous. And, yes, it is perhaps most well-known for its use in the Milton Friedman (crypto-Marxist, that one, I’m sure) series, “Free to Choose.” Watch or read and learn:

Mary Katharine Ham on November 15, 2012 at 4:07 PM

“spontaneous order,” that should read.

Mary Katharine Ham on November 15, 2012 at 4:08 PM

Take it away, Milt:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5Gppi-O3a8

Mary Katharine Ham on November 15, 2012 at 4:09 PM

Crap – bad link sorry-

WaPo taking the lead on Shale energy…who knew
Dems embrace domestic fossil energy

FlaMurph on November 15, 2012 at 4:10 PM

This is really, really good. Thanks, MKH.

TXUS on November 15, 2012 at 4:11 PM

Who the hell uses a pencil anymore?

I use my Obamaphone.

Got it free, too…

Bruno Strozek on November 15, 2012 at 4:15 PM

I heard this pencil thing on Mark Levin on the day of the election and he also made it sound eerily like the socialist “you didn’t build that” BS from Obamao that several people have commented on above. You need to depend on government. Rugged individualism is overrated. When you had two socialists running for election, I guess the new “conservative” pitch is we’re way better at managing socialism because we’re only driving off the cliff at 95 mph.

sauldalinsky on November 15, 2012 at 4:19 PM

I don’t think that at all. Maybe because I am so clueless when it comes to technology of any kind. I am fascinated that when I flick a switch on my wall, the light comes on. I would never in a million years have been able to figure out how to make that happen. Not only because I’m clueless, but I have no interest in that sort of thing. Instead, I admire people who provide so many things that I could never have created, that have made my life so much better. Those are not people who worked for the government.

Night Owl on November 15, 2012 at 3:50 PM

don’t sell yourself short…

equanimous on November 15, 2012 at 4:22 PM

When you can’t find a pencil, you can just use a piece of charcoal out of the fire. That’s what I do.

PrepperMark (formerly known as SailorMark)

SailorMark on November 15, 2012 at 4:26 PM

I would have rather seen something that demonstrated how the capitalist system can produce a pencil for 20 cents, or whatever the current cost where it would take you…. well, you, on your own, could not produce one at almost any cost.

AndrewsDad on November 15, 2012 at 3:55 PM

I cut a cedar down last year but I’m still digging in the back yard for a graphite deposit that I think is down there.

slickwillie2001 on November 15, 2012 at 4:27 PM

I’m tired of watching the progressives, “How to create a bureaucracy to fill an imaginary need!” And it’s sequel, “Never let a crisis go to waste and always blame it on conservatives!”

Deano1952 on November 15, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Eeee-vill pencil corporations are the 1%.

#occupythepencilmen

IronDioPriest on November 15, 2012 at 4:28 PM

ink and quill…

equanimous on November 15, 2012 at 4:30 PM

kinda picky … but the creator has evidently never used a chainsaw

W_Ganoush on November 15, 2012 at 4:36 PM

The free market is anti-entropic. Government interference increases entropy.

MaggiePoo on November 15, 2012 at 4:37 PM

It’s a beatiful video, but it fails. Here’s why: The teeth of the essay was its effective vituperation aimed at masterminds who would interfere with spontaneous free market harmony arising out of the barren chaos of nature. The video fails at analogizing that harmony with the presence of G-d in the universe. It fails to indict statism by inference, as it should. From the essay:

“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 referred.”

Also, the music is about 2 notches too loud. I hate to criticize something so well meant with so much obvious effort in the final product. But the great essay was not well-served. It comes off too touchyfeely with the effect being, ‘Hey, we’re all making pencils in our own small way.’ We are not.

Western_Civ on November 15, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

I grew up in the 70′s. This was common knowledge. I remember lots of teachers would use the example of a pencil as being the brilliance of capitalism and free enterprise. I bet nobody teaches this anymore in the schools. Watching it, there were many images and phrases that were politically incorrect. For instance.. loggers? They are evil. They kill trees. Graphite? America is stealing it and forcing slaves to mine it. A cheese burger and fries as an example of a good meal? You kidding me?

Today you would more likely see in schools a video of how the pencil is a sign of everything evil about America.

It’s a great video and should be required viewing in all schools.

JellyToast on November 15, 2012 at 5:10 PM

As Read wrote: “There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a mastermind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being.”

Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”.

Paul-Cincy on November 15, 2012 at 5:13 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Obama’s “you” is the private sector, so this is nothing the hell like that. Sorry.

Ronnie on November 15, 2012 at 5:32 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

1. “These are the basic materials that go into a pencil: Graphite, cedar, rubber, and metal. But if you had all the elements of a pencil right in front of you, could you make a pencil?”

2. “It’s not as easy as you might think. In fact, no single person on the face of the earth could do it without the help of countless others. And this is the key to understanding the world.”

My 1 and 2 are emendations for us. I think you and others who are frowning a bit are tripping over 2.

The point of the essay is that the market is a function of our desires and creativity, and it is created naturally whenever people live. The essay is a substantive argument for the free market, a natural and excellent state. It doesn’t really address out focus, like stinging over Obama’s “You didn’t build that” hubris.

With respect to 2, I can make a pencil.

But 1 is important. There is no pie. Wealth is created. Obama and progressives argue that, because the materials we use are the products of other people’s work, all people are in debt to all other people. I could not make my pencil without “countless” other people, so I should not claim credit for the work I did. They aggregate all the work from entropy up and then tell you that the tiny bit you did was only a small fraction of it. In this way, they minimize individuality and magnify collectivism, and it’s only a short hop from their personal balances to public policy.

The truth is, I’m the one who made the pencil. I made this, no one else. All the credit for making the pencil should be mine and no other person’s, because I and no other person made the pencil. They had all the elements of a pencil right in front of them, and they did not (and possibly could not) make a pencil. And this is where we can begin to untangle their knot.

Axe on November 15, 2012 at 5:35 PM

Hey, MK, how about revisiting the Hayek/Keynes rap battles?

Fear the Boom and Bust: Hayek vs Keynes

Fight of the Century: Keynes vs Hayek Round 2

For those who missed it, they’re pure genius.

CPL 310 on November 15, 2012 at 5:45 PM

Sorry, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Obama’s claim “you didn’t build that”…

Hill60 on November 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Exactly the opposite.

http://thepatriotperspective.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/obama-and-milton-friedmans-lesson-of-the-pencil/

Obama reversed it completely. Obama wasn’t celebrating the voluntary cooperation of those who build things individually and combine them together voluntarily, showing how great the individual is and how their individual portion contributes. Obama was tearing down the greater achievement in order to drag it down to a baser level, which tears down all achievements.

CPL 310 on November 15, 2012 at 5:51 PM

I cut a cedar down last year but I’m still digging in the back yard for a graphite deposit that I think is down there.

slickwillie2001 on November 15, 2012 at 4:27 PM

LOL!

I don’t remember where I first read the essay this video is based on — maybe two years ago — but it really blew my mind. It’s a great essay and the video is good as well.

It is a terrific answer to that insipid liberal video produced a while back where it showed how terrible capitalism was in ruining the Earth with pollution, waste and excess consumerism. IIRC, that was shown in elementary schools. I don’t remember the name of it, but I vaguely remember that there were cartoon drawings of factories belching smoke, etc. on a white background, while a smarmy, know-it-all voice talked about how terrible it all was.

PatriotGal2257 on November 15, 2012 at 6:08 PM

They left out explaining how the government was crucial to inventing and manufacturing the pencil. Also, they were generous enough with graphite and cedar, but shouldn’t there be some governmentium included that pile of ingredients? We all know you can’t manufacture anything without using some governmentium.

Blacklake on November 15, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Very nice production but what’s with pronouncing ferrule as fair-ool?

jix on November 15, 2012 at 6:50 PM

I’m not sure what the point of this essay is, because I tend to agree with many of the commenters. It DOES sound a lot like “you didn’t build that”.

The essay attempts to portray the humble pencil as some sort of miraculous device that sprang forth from the mind of God. It makes the nonsensical claim that a pencil is so complex, that “no one single person on the face of the earth could do it”. Except he did: Nicholas Jacques Conté. Conté singlehandedly invented what we recognize as the modern pencil: A rod of graphite mixed with clay, extruded between two hollowed out pieces of wood. A design that has remained unchanged since the Nepoleonic wars.

If this essay is trying to push the idea of free markets, it does a piss poor job of it.

Macgawd on November 15, 2012 at 9:53 PM

Milton Friedman did this better:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5Gppi-O3a8

williamg on November 15, 2012 at 10:27 PM

Not impressed. Milton Friedman’s discussion of the pencil was much more impressive, because his story revolved around the price system. The logger doesn’t know what the wood is being used for, but the price system indicated to him that there is a demand for wood, so he produces more. The miner has no idea what the graphite is being used for, but when he notices that the price of graphite goes up, he knows that demand has increased for his product, and produces more.

The point it that no one person could organize all of the work that goes into making a pencil as efficiently as the price system. I thought that point was missing from this video.

HarryBackside on November 15, 2012 at 11:49 PM

The point it that no one person could organize all of the work that goes into making a pencil as efficiently as the price system. I thought that point was missing from this video.

HarryBackside on November 15, 2012 at 11:49 PM

Yes, indeed.

I’m not a teacher, but I have imagined a class project for 5-6 graders that would last the entire year called, “Caveman Wants Chocolate Chip Cookie”. The whole point of the exercise would be to demonstrate the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars worth of effort and resources someone would need to make one without the availability of markets, and to show how markets ultimately deliver one for about 75 cents.

Saltysam on November 16, 2012 at 8:33 AM

Hey, MK, how about revisiting the Hayek/Keynes rap battles?

Fear the Boom and Bust: Hayek vs Keynes


Fight of the Century: Keynes vs Hayek Round 2

For those who missed it, they’re pure genius.

CPL 310 on November 15, 2012 at 5:45 PM

WOW.

I mean just, WOW!!!!

Thanks for the links. I definitely missed those.

We need more of that. That cheered me up. Those productions are so well done on so many levels. Impressive.

Saltysam on November 16, 2012 at 8:59 AM