“I, Pencil” screening scratches free enterprise surface

May 28, 2013

225px-Pencils_hbBy Nancy Thorner –


The Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) based in Washington, D.C. co-sponsored a movie showing of Leonard Reed’s classic essay, I, Pencil, on May 21, at the Union League Club of Chicago.

The co-sponsorship by The Heartland Institute  and the CEI was a natural collaboration.  Both organizations celebrate and defend free enterprise based on the freedom to prosper if liberty exists to pursue choices to accomplish personal dreams. Without this freedom options are drastically limited, for It is through free enterprise and limited government that society has the freedom and the chance to prosper.

“I, Pencil”, published in 1958, was Leonard Reed’s most famous essay.  Although a few of the manufacturing details and place names in the original story have changed, its principles remain unchanged. Specifically: Not one person, no matter how smart or how many degrees follow his name, could create from scratch a small, everyday pencil, let alone a car, an airplane, or even a tablet of paper.

In plain language the five-minute movie — based on Reed’s essay and produced by the Competitive Enterprise Institute — explains in language that can’t be misunderstood why central planning is an exercise in arrogance and futility, or what Nobel laureate and Austrian economist F.A. Hayek aptly termed as “the pretense of knowledge.”

Jim Lakely, Director of Communications at the Heartland Institute, presented welcoming remarks.  It was his preview of a upcoming Heartland event that should be of interest to many, as it centers around the now controversial, federally imposed K – 12 Common Core K curriculum. The details of the event are still coming together.  As of now it’s a Freedom Works conference call on Common Core happening June 6.  Invited panelists include Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Joy Pullmann (Heartland’s recognized expert on Common Core), among a couple of others.

Certainly no stranger to those who live in Chicagoland or listen to Fox News, Jonathan Hoenig, a founding member of the Capitalist Pig hedge fund and a regular contributor to Fox News Channel’s Cashin’ In, etc., made introductory, pre-screening I, Pencil film remarks.

Hoenig described I, Pencil as a truly remarkable film with its message that free market capitalism produces both the goods and the wealth.  It’s a system where everyone is able to pursue their own interests without being told that if money is made it was selfish to have done so and must have resulted in the hammering of someone else.  Phrases such as “you didn’t build it” and “there is fairness in spreading the wealth around” are in direct opposition to free market capitalism and reflect current administration policy.

The story line of I, Pencil begins with:  “I am a lead pencil — the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.”  Yet the pencil is not simple in its makeup.  Given all the elements that go in producing a pencil, a pencil needs the help of countless others.  Just as our family ancestry can be traced to understand what we are made of, so it is with the common pencil.

Ancestors of the pencil and first noted was a cedar tree that grow in Northern California and Oregon, followed by  loggers who fell the trees; those who produce the chains and the saws used by loggers; waiters who serve lunch to loggers, those who provide the food to be served to loggers, etc.

Noted also were Parts of the Simple Pencil’s Family Tree.  These were defined as the graphite mined; the eraser; and the brass metal ferrule.  Each part requires the collaboration of many with each entity supplying but a small part in the making of a pencil.  The process involves voluntary, spontaneous cooperation, with the absence of a mastermind, among many individuals who had the freedom to interact with one another.  This is the free market system at work, which is in direct opposition to those who believe that the only way to achieve order is to order people around.

The moral of I, Pencil makes it a must see movie for high school students across America to demonstrate the free market system:  There was no mastermind (government) involved in producing a pencil.  Instead, it was the spontaneous cooperation of thousands of people working together to produce the simple pencil through the basic idea that human freedom creates competition, while big government stifles innovation.  This involves having faith that men and woman will respond to producing goods that will benefit all mankind, without government masterminding to tell people what to do and what to produce.

Following the movie screening, recently appointed president of the CEI, Lawson Bader, spoke about the CEI and its activities. Believing in the power of a strong narrative to motivate people I, Pencil was a project of the CEI, produced during the time when Fred L. Smith, Jr. was president.  More movies are on the docket for CEI.  Lawson Bader, not unlike many Americans, was amazed how in the midst of the worst economic crisis, someone was elected who believes that Washington, D.C. knows better than the American people

The CEI is involved in creating coalitions, Hill briefing, and letter writing campaigns.  Bader also spoke in detail about the CEI’s lead action in filing to overturn Dodd-Frank, using FOIAs to badger the EPA.  With the cost of federal rules exceeding $l.8 trillion in 2012, a new study puts the cost of regulation at $14,768 per household.  Three of the four greatest paperwork years of regulations on record were churned out by the Obama administration, 78,961 pages during 2012.  Even so the administration didn’t break its 2010 all-time record of 81,405.  To be fair, George W. Bush set a lousy example when he routinely generated more than 70,000 pages a year in the Federal Register.

It stands to reason that government barriers must be removed for free enterprise to flourish.

An excellent panel discussion followed moderated by Jim Lakely.  The panel included Jonathan Hoening, CEI President Lawson Bader, and CEI Founder and Chairman Fred L. Smith, Jr.

Thoughts expressed by the panelists:

1. Regarding how to convey the message of free enterprise?:  We lose even though our ideas are right because we don’t know how to connect. People don’t care what we know but that we care about them and that our policies are compatible with their values.

2. We must first win by getting voters out with the message that capitalism (free market) and individual choice is the way to create wealth and general well being.  Sometimes that means winning elections first and then educating people in the aftermath.

3. There is a moral obligation for people to keep more of their earnings.

Thomas Jefferson intoned these prophetic words when predicting what the future would hold for this nation and its people if big government was chosen over capitalism:I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 at 07:00 AM | Permalink





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