All Commentary
Monday, July 8, 2013

Economics for Boys and Girls


In 1946, Leonard E. Read founded FEE to “concentrate on improving our own understanding and practice of freedom, with faith that others will be attracted precisely to the extent that we are able to show self-improvement.” Further, Read thought FEE’s best approach was “to leave [adults] alone until they seek such instruction or light as we may come to possess.” 

What a very long way we have come. As our current president, Lawrence W. Reed, explained just a few days ago, FEE is no longer interested in creating more monks for liberty. We are also no longer interested in being that singular beacon for liberty, hoping that people come to us. Instead, we are actively looking for “missionaries.” We want students who, yes, want to learn but then want to do something with that knowledge. Students should come away from a FEE program or article and feel inspired to get out there and connect their friends, family and colleagues with their knowledge of how a free society works.
Make no mistake: FEE’s mission and methodology have changed, even as our principles and our ultimate goal have not.
So imagine our surprise when we discovered the document from which the above Read quote is taken, titled “Economics for Boys and Girls.” Here is FEE’s founder claiming his organization’s inability to reach a younger audience and yet strongly linking economics and character development: something FEE is now directly focused on. 
Through short, pithy and easily remembered statements, Read manages to teach lessons on an elementary level that even our “greatest” politicians have yet to grasp.
“If you drop something, pick it up.” Responsibility for your actions is a key part of character development. If only our so-called leaders took that to heart.
“If you make a promise, keep it.” “Whatever you borrow, pay back.” It’s simple grade school stuff. Yet our mounting debt and our culture of blame say that we have a long way to go.
“Play the thank-you game.” This is Read’s most insightful message to youth. In a short explanation, Read lays out deep concepts like subjective value, freedom of choice, and the value of trust in a society. I suspect Read was selling himself short when he said of ministering to youth, “We have shaken our heads, pleading ignorance of how to go about it.”
This newly discovered document shows how much FEE’s history and tactics, though shifting and adjusting constantly through the years, have always been focused on economics and character development. We will keep that focus going.

This essential work can now be read even in Farsi. How far we’ve come.

  • Carl Oberg was the Director of Finance for the Foundation for Economic Education.