Leonard Read’s “iPencil” essay in 1958 captured our imaginations globally by showcasing the “magic” and “wonders” of free enterprise through the lens of a seemingly simple, familiar, ordinary product – the wooden pencil. His masterpiece depicts an immensely complex, global, commercial production process where millions of people collaborate spontaneously, voluntarily, and often unwittingly to produce this good that the entire world needs, and most people can afford. Read makes an astonishing claim for us immersed in today’s digital technological era where so much is possible: no one single person on the face of the planet, alone, is able to make a pencil! (i.e. no person alone, can source or acquire every single raw material, and assemble them all together from a-to-z).
Read describes “a virtual symphony of human activity that spans the globe” and claims furthermore that an understanding of this symphony” is the key to understanding the world!” This symphony of human activity is what we know simply as the free enterprise or free market system. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) video rendition of iPencil brings that lesson to life even more vividly, emphasizing that every single day we benefit from the products of voluntary spontaneous cooperation, and ”if we can leave the creative energies of human kind uninhibited, there is no limit to what we can accomplish!’”
Since 1958, the world has made a quantum leap in technological advances. Today’s equivalent to iPencil is iSmartphone, a modern-day video rendition featuring one of today’s technological wonders – the smartphone. It is produced by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, (IFWE) whose mission is to enrich the understanding of work, vocation, and the economic interdependence of mankind, and all of creation, from a theological perspective. The iSmartphone version echoes our innate disbelief that such spontaneous creativity is even humanly possible…“if I (the modern smart phone) didn’t already exist, you would think such a flowering of free cooperation, competition, and creation is either impossible or magical!”
With more than 2 billion smartphones produced on the planet today it is safe to conclude that such “wonder” is not impossible. As iPencil taught us, the free market at work is indeed the best explanation in the… “spontaneous configuration of creative human energies of millions of people with their various skills and talents organizing voluntarily in response to human necessity and desire – as if led by an invisible hand – to promote an end which was no part of the intention.” IPencil meets iSmartphone and we can conclude then that if no single human being alone can make a wooden pencil – who could possibly ever make a smartphone?!