glyph 455: networks of vast complexity support everything simple and make it possible . Leonard Read's good friend, a pencil, tells us about this and makes it clear ... economics, engineering, government, philosophy ... G. K. Chesterton: "We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders." ... what seems obvious is, on reflection, not obvious at all


"I, Pencil"

My Family Tree, as Told to Leonard E. Read, 1958

One of the most elegant and important essays ever written, begins this way:

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write. (My official name is 'Mongol 482.' My many ingredients are assembled, fabricated, and finished by Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.)

Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that's all I do.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery— more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, 'We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.'

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that's too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.

... to continue, download this pdf:

'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 home of Read's essay has always been The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
The turmoiled pencil was drawn by Meg Biddle (Meg Biddle Art), cartoonist, illustrator, painter, and author of Little Biddle art books.
The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance ••• by Henry Petroski •••. The book is a study of the complexity underlying the very simple. —leif
January 12, 2009; edited/updated August 9, 2019

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