by Art Hilgart

Once upon a time, as a Fortune 500 executive, I was invited to teach in a special program for the local high schools designed to deal with "economic illiteracy". My reaction to the materials supplied was not favorable--my degree is from Chicago, but I am not an idiot--and I begged off on the grounds of insufficient time. Meaning I did not have time to take on the people who funded and wrote the program.

After brooding over "economic literacy", I disposed of the issue by writing the following to my computer. The curriculum I declined included a "practice" business in which the students would play various roles in a little company making ashtrays or hot dogs, selling them to friends and relatives, keeping books, and maybe earning a profit.

A realistic kids' model of our economy would include these ground rules: one kid in each class (Richie Rich) would have all of the raw materials and the exclusive right to create money (by lending it). Others would have to borrow from Richie to buy or make anything. Whenever Susie Poor's little business moved into the black, little Richie would raise his prices to her. Whenever anyone fell behind in interest payments, Richie would get back all of that person's assets.

This is not fully realistic, since the kiddies would be in a welfare state situation by virtue of getting "free" food and lodging at home. If the class could somehow be isolated from the outside world and denied incentive-sapping handouts, Richie Rich could give Susie Poor the completely free and unregulated choice of performing certain acts for him in exchange for stale bread, or starving to death. (This is the Latin American version of the game, favored by the International Monetary Fund and military dictators.)

Of course Susie Poor could get a paper route and save enough money to go to Harvard and then work real hard for Richie. He would pay her so much money that she would get the power to make loans and own all of the raw materials and then Richie would have to work for her. (This is the Who's Kidding Whom? edition of the game, favored by those who claim that most people don't know enough about economics.)

CyberCorpse, Exquisite Corpse © 1999