When renowned economist Leonard E. Read wrote his famous essay “I, Pencil” in 1958 to celebrate the “miracles” that arise from the combination of God-given human creativity and the free enterprise system, even he might not have have envisioned a device as marvelous as a smartphone.
But he understood the unchanging principles that made it possible, and a new video evokes the sheer wonder expressed in his essay along with his warnings about the ability of government to crush ingenuity and the creation of wealth.
Produced by Coldwater Media for the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, “I, Smartphone” features two child actors who show “amazing things can happen” when no one person is directing the activity.
The video was screened at the FreedomWorks “Restoring Freedom” event Thursday night in Dallas that featured radio and TV host Glenn Beck, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
The non-profit Institute for Faith, Work and Economics says it is “dedicated to educating and inspiring Christians to embrace a Biblical understanding of faith, work, and economics.”
The child actors in the video, which is edited by Dave Stotts and written by Jay Richards, appeared in the “John 3:16” commercial produced by Coldwater Media for Focus on the Family, which aired during an NFL playoff game last winter.
The video concludes with a quote from Read’s “I, Pencil”: “Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.”
Read, an economist who lived from 1898 to 1983, founded the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946, the first modern free market think tank in the U.S.
In his essay, Read’s pencil says “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.”
Read, whose essay was first published in the December 1958 issue of his groundbreaking publication, The Freeman, boiled down the lesson of the pencil: “Leave all creative energies uninhibited.”
“Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” he wrote. “Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand.”
Read argued that once government has a monopoly on creative activity, such as the delivery of mail, people get the idea that such activity could not be efficiently carried out by men acting freely.
The reason is because each person “acknowledges that he himself doesn’t know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery.”
In “the absence of faith in free people – in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity – the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental ‘master-minding.'”
But the testimonies of “what men and women can accomplish when free to try” are endless, he wrote.
Read cited numerous examples, including delivering “four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard – halfway around the world – for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!”