How many One-Another does it take to make a pencil?

A film from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, adapted from the 1958 essay by Leonard E. Read. For more about I, Pencil, visit

As Read explained in his classic essay, no single person on earth knows how to make a pencil. The pencil, like most modern wonders, is the end product of an intricate chain of human activity that spans the globe. There is no mastermind dictating the making of a pencil; not even the CEO of a pencil company could tell you exactly how to make one. It takes little bits of know-how of thousands of individuals—loggers in California, factory workers in China, miners in Sri Lanka, and everyone in between—to bring an ordinary wooden pencil into being. By sharing their skills and labor, these individuals each bring the pencil a step closer into being.

This is the miracle of One-Another. People who are strangers to each other—who might even hate each other if they ever met—are cooperating every day to produce goods that others want, need, and enjoy. One-Another compel men and women to voluntarily arrange themselves into efficient patterns of production through the pursuit of their individual interests. Without this constant spontaneous cooperation, the modern wonders of our world would not exist.

AuthorJohn Johnston