Parents’ Guide to Raising Economic Conservatives

We’d all agree, I think, that raising a generation of Americans resistant to the temptations of Obamanomics is important. But how? What are the keys, the two or three take-home messages that kids need to hear in order to grasp, deep-down and forever, the merits of capitalism and the free market?

Maybe if we put our heads together we can come up with a few easy-to-understand basics – a sort of parents’ guide for teaching economics. I’ll start, but please add whatever you’ve found works.

  1. King Banaian
    C
    The King Prawn: I wonder at times if people (my kids especially) are born socialists who must be civilized into capitalists. · 8 minutes ago

    One of my writing projects laying on the pile (and might not get picked up for awhile) is to respond to a paper Paul Rubin wrote years ago called “folk economics”, that people untrained in economics care more about fairness than do those with training.  My hypothesis is that this can be best overcome not by economists but by parents; your example is a good example of what I am looking for. Living a nomadic life, as we did millenia ago, fostered a preference for social insurance — hunting groups, tribes, communes.  Could we be imprinted at birth with that, and only by nurture can we overcome an anti-market bias?
  2. Dan Hanson

    The best way to teach your kids is always through example.    Kids have a keen eye for hypocrisy.  If you try to teach them the value of economic conservatism but they hear you complaining about not getting your government benefits, they’ll just be cynical about it.  

    Instead of telling them that they should be saving their money, show them by example by saving your own money.  Have a talk at the dinner table about how you wanted that shiny new whatever, but you realized that you had to be responsible and put the money away to protect your future.  Don’t complain about the rich people next door.  Don’t talk about how ‘unfair’ it is that you didn’t get something someone else did.   Show your kid how to live a good, happy life as a conservative, and do things that make your children proud of you, so that they’ll want to be like you.

    THEN you can teach them some formal economics.

  3. Spin

    My son became a conservative the day he first paid taxes, around age 8.  He saved money to buy the Star Wars AT-AT walker toy, which if I remember right was about $80.  He had about $100 saved up, and we went to the store.  He knew the price was $80 but couldn’t understand why the cashier asked him for close to $90.  The cashier told him “That’s the sales tax.”  Kenneth said, “I hate taxes.”  And just like that, an angel got it’s wings.  

  4. Lucy Pevensie

    I have told my daughter that, when she makes decisions about what to do with her life, she should consider that the amount of money you make is at least a rough measure of the amount of value you provide to the world. 

    Oh, and she too hates taxes–both of the sales variety and those that occur in “The Game of Life.” 

  5. Richard Fulmer

    Check out this excellent econtalk.org podcast interview with David Owen, the author of First National Bank of Dad.  Owen talks about out he taught his children the value of saving by paying his children interest on money that they “deposited” with him. 

    Like our own Dave Carter, Econtalk’s host, Russ Roberts, is a national treasure.  If you listen to his weekly podcasts (out every Monday morning) you know what I mean. 

  6. Mama Toad

    We don’t give an allowance here at Toad Hall — if you want $$, you need to work for it.

    Everyone has non-negotiable chores, such as sweeping, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, setting and clearing the table, feeding the cats — these do not earn money, just parental goodwill (a valuable commodity!).

    Stacking/splitting firewood, taking care of the smelly chickens (in the winter, when our outdoor hoses are turned off, bringing out fresh water from the house 2x a day can be tough for a kid) which includes cleaning out the chicken house once a week, clearing brush, certain garden chores, building stuff with Dad, etc. — earns about $5 an hour.

    Some indoor chores can be done by enterprising youth for $$, but most often they don’t ask for those jobs. 

    I kind of think that giving $$ and calling it an allowance is counter to the goal of raising a conservative, unless it is specifically linked to specific work, in which case I don’t really think it is an allowance. My children are fed, housed, educated, and clothed — that’s our gift to them. Any money they want from us they better do something for it.

  7. David John

    My teenager was inspired by the idea that the free market is a spontaneous, emergent, self-regulating system that grows out of the simple idea of people free to contract with one another – the government’s role being only to enforce freely-entered contracts. 

    We used to compare the ecological system (also a spontaneous, emergent, self-regulating system) to the economy and we would compare one or another regulation as a reckless spraying of insecticide in the economic rain forest. His teachers made him aware of unintended consequences in tampering with the real rain forest, so the transition was easy.

    Economic and ecological systems are comparably “awesome” in the parlance of those days, sadly long past.

  8. Paul Dougherty
    The King Prawn: I wonder at times if people (my kids especially) are born socialists who must be civilized into capitalists. · 2 hours ago

    You should see the looks I get from my wife when I interject

    “Share!?, That’s loser talk!”,into my kids disputes.

    On a serious note, children do have the start of a sense of private property. Mine, mine , mine. It is respecting others property that is tricky.

  9. King Banaian
    C
    David John: My teenager was inspired by the idea that the free market is a spontaneous, emergent, self-regulating system that grows out of the simple idea of people free to contract with one another – the government’s role being only to enforce freely-entered contracts. 

    We used to compare the ecological system (also a spontaneous, emergent, self-regulating system) to the economy and we would compare one or another regulation as a reckless spraying of insecticide in the economic rain forest. His teachers made him aware of unintended consequences in tampering with the real rain forest, so the transition was easy.

    Since Russ Roberts was mentioned earlier, you may want to point your teen to Roberts’ book, The Price of Everything. It’s a didactic novel that I think teens will like.  Adults too.

  10. CuriousJohn

    Have them do some mission work at nurseing home with welfare patiences. Also have them see you doing mission work as well.They will see how they don’t want to end up and they will see how to help people

  11. Mama Toad
    EThompson

    Mama Toad: We don’t give an allowance here at Toad Hall — if you want $$, you need to work for it.

    I must admit, C, I sometimes believe you are my father’s second daughter! ;) · 4 hours ago

    The Rico-sisterhood!

  12. Scott R

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    Quick story to illustrate how thinking of dollars as “certificates that prove one has served his fellow man” creates good instincts in kids:

    My daughter and I were in a room full of liberal adults who were riffing on how the pipeline from Canada shouldn’t be built because “the oil companies just want it cuz they’ll make more money – it’s just so obvious!”. My daughter and I exchanged knowing smiles. She knew — and I knew she knew — that the fact that the oil companies would make money is exactly the argument for the pipeline: Allow them to serve their fellow man, for heavan’s sake!

  13. Scott R
    sawatdeeka:

    Quickly: Explain to kids that conservatives are absolutely interested in helping the needy….

    Yes. I often make the point to our kids that we’re conservative because we care about the poor.

    Conservatives need to make that case more, imo.

  14. Scott R
    Mama Toad

    EThompson

    Mama Toad: We don’t give an allowance here at Toad Hall — if you want $$, you need to work for it.

    I must admit, C, I sometimes believe you are my father’s second daughter! ;) · 4 hours ago

    The Rico-sisterhood! · 1 hour ago

    That’s good advice. In truth, we don’t really have an allowance per se around here either. The kids don’t get paid for keeping their rooms clean, for instance; they’re just denied electronics whenever their rooms are in a state of not-clean. Payment comes from specific jobs — mowing the lawn or whatever.

    But you’re right, Toad — the word “allowance” is no good. It shall be eliminated starting today. Thanks!

  15. MJBubba

    In addition to paying for chores, we gave bonuses for time spent helping others or volunteering.  We talked about savings for large upcoming expenses and about investment choices while at the dinner table, so that they could hear our prioritizing and overhear our banking and investment practices.

    I have a book recommendation that I have made on another thread at Ricochet.  This turned both sons into monetarists, and sent the younger son on a course to become an economics major (he graduates in May):  “Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?”   It is written at a tenth-grade level.  We used it as a read-aloud family book when older son was in 8th grade and younger son in 5th.

    I also have a game recommendation.  “Gazillionaire!,” by LavaMind:  http://www.lavamind.com/

    It was a hoot.  Both sons had a good time with the game, but only Snooks ever beat the game.  (Well, with an MBA she had an advantage.)

  16. Mama Toad
    Barkha Herman: A quick explanation of socialism is to see if they would be willing to “share” their grades, the ones they worked hard for, with the slacker who never turns in their homework on time…

    Barkha, et al., have you seen this video? Students did just that — asking other students if they would be willing to redistribute grades to the poorer students. Very very funny and wonderful.

  17. Lucy Pevensie

    Actually, I like allowances.  If my daughter wants more than she can pay for with her allowance, she can earn more by doing extra work around the house.  But the use of the allowance is to avoid all the, “please, mommy, please” conversations I hear from other kids.  Either she has the money or she doesn’t, and she knows that.

  18. Margaret Sarah

    In addition to these mostly great suggestions, expose your children to literature that reflects a conservative world view. Very early they can start on classic tales like The Three Little Pigs, The Little Red Hen, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel. These deal with the importance of work, delaying gratification, charity, and a hopeful spirit.

  19. Kay Ludlow

    Why have I not heard Monopoly mentioned yet?

    One of the best lessons that my cousin and I learned about economics was when we upped the ante and not only took whatever taxes and fees were paid into the Free Parking lottery, but also a $500 bill…

    Three days later, I (yes I’m gloating) won the game with some $30,000 in cash, but the thrill was gone because we both knew how many fake Monopoly dollars we’d created to fulfill the banks obligations.

    My winnings were beyond worthless, but the lesson was priceless.

  20. Scott R
    Kay Ludlow: Why have I not heard Monopoly mentioned yet?

     

    OK, here’s a Monopoly story:

    One of my son’s teachers used Monopoly to demonstrate a social studies lesson – how rich people have an advantage in life. She started some students off with loads of money and others with very little and had them play the game. Soon enough the “rich” kids had all the money and the “poor” kids were ruined. 

    So the class learned from this exercise that the economy is a zero-sum game, that the rich are rich because others are poor, etc.

    It’s enough to make a father insane.

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