Capitalizing on the '99 Percent'

George Will contemplates the production and sale at a reasonable price of a pencil – an allusion to Leonard Read’s classic, “I, Pencil”


Some months ago, President Obama famously announced: “You didn’t build that.” The “context” of that quote remains controversial. The White House claims that Obama simply meant that nobody can succeed in business unless government first provides things, including infrastructure and education. That’s arguable.

Big government, after all, tends to throw up roadblocks to progress. Washington produces few goods but churns out reams of red tape, rules, and regulations that make it more difficult to hire employees or grow a business.

There is, however, an invisible system that provides incentives to invest, produce, and succeed. We seldom think about it, but our lives would be very different without capitalism.

As columnist George Will wrote four years ago in Newsweek, “no one can make a pencil.” Some people cut down the trees; others mine the graphite; others manufacture the rubber erasers and metal connectors; still others deliver the raw materials to factories where machines produce pencils. And consumers across the country and around the world are able to buy a useful item at an affordable price. All this, Will notes presciently, without benefit of a “pencil czar.”

Of course, not everyone extols the virtues of free-market capitalism. “In the minds of many intellectuals and some politicians, profits are charges added to the real costs of production,” Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven wrote recently at National Review Online. “The dream of many utopian socialists is to get rid of all of those private businesses, and have the government run them without all of that profit-taking by capitalists, passing along the savings to the workers and consumers.”

Ivory tower residents aren’t the only ones who doubt the importance of capitalism. Remember the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters who camped out in public spaces around the country last year? They, too, frequently questioned the benefits of the free market. But what would the world look like if we really lived in a utopia organized by “the 99 percent” instead of by free-wheeling capitalists?

The Fund for American Studies has released a video that provides an answer by hearkening back to the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Enjoy!

Rich Tucker is a Senior Writer for The Heritage Foundation.

This article was originally published at Used with permission.

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Self-Educated American recommends: I, Pencil – My Family Tree As Told to Leonard E. Read