All Commentary
Wednesday, August 1, 1962

Moppets and Money


Mrs. Westerholm is a Registered Nurse, house­wife, and student of liberty of Inglewood, Cal­ifornia.

Ever face the allowance problem in your family? My guess is that if you have a child over the age of three, you have. They may riot score an “A” in arithmetic on their report cards, but when it comes to putting the bite on Dad they can become veritable whiz-kids! Naturally, they do not achieve this amazing degree of proficiency immediately—this type of polished performance takes time and practice and opportunity.

Somewhere along the way the parent has allowed his moppet to evolve the belief that a certain stipend, payable regularly in cool coin of the realm, is one of his inherent and Constitutional rights. All too often the principle of earned right, as opposed to inher­ent right, is simply left out of the reasoning.

We had observed this process with great interest in many a friend’s home, and pondered upon it during our own offsprings’ Pablum days. We did not wish them to grow up thinking that life owed them an allowance. Life, in general adult terms, might not consider their demands as cute and cunning as admiring parents had!

Three firm basic tenets evolved during the time spent shoveling the strained comestibles down greedy little gullets:

1.      They would understand what money is.

2.      They would understand that it was a product of labor.

3.      They would further understand that labor was not only necessary but honorable. That’s all. But we hoped to effect this understanding without tears, turmoil, or rebel­lion from the troops. We hoped, further, that it would be accepted with respect and not resentment—for we had no desire to produce a brood of future Scrooges.

We were well aware that this would take a bit of doing. As the years passed, we would be dealing with pretty sensitive tissue, so our efforts had to be both direct and prophylactic. Our earnest aim was to help them learn to become effective, responsible, and happy citizens.

Where Nickels Come From

Inevitably, the day arrived when the first of the children became old enough to join the herd racing madly after the Good Humor Man, and to learn that money was the source of all Milk-Nickles. For the first time he galloped into the house screeching, “Gimme a nickle, Mom!”

And it seemed that the time had come for the first specific lesson in regard to money. Since “The Cat” was barely five at the time, I asked my question as gently as possible. “But where do nickles come from, son?”

As gentle as it was, the thought of that delectable treat rolling in­exorably, if musically, away down the street made that question al­most more than five-year-old flesh could bear. “From Daddy!” he wailed. “Now can I have the nickle?”

Instead of answering, I quickly produced an ice-cream bar from the “Treasure Chest” in the freez­er, with proper motherly magic. After seating my now toothsomely smeared son on a kitchen stool and draping him like an Arabian Shah, I started the lesson by conversa­tionally reminding him in simple words just where and how his father was employed. I told him that in return for Daddy’s work he was paid a certain amount of money, and I explained how this money was spent. We spoke of the fairly familiar expenses of run­ning the household, such as food, mortgage, utilities, church tith­ing, doctor and dentist, and buy­ing clothes. I also told him about his own savings account—a fact which pleased him so much I could just see the translation of all those nickles into piles of Good Humor products!

I went on to point out that we all did our part to share in the labor which produced Daddy’s sal­ary—I with my housework and gardening, etc., and he with his help, too. He helped to keep his room neat (reasonably!), and he watered, pulled weeds, amused the baby, and he set and cleared the dinner table. So, he too was quite definitely and honorably laboring in the family interest, at his own age level. Until now his “wages” had consisted of indirect payments of toys, books, trips, additional clothing, church offerings, and the modest sums deposited regularly in his savings account.

(We did not consider food, shel­ter, medical care, or basic cloth­ing to be commodities he should earn. These we did consider were his simply by right of his age. Nor did we think every small help­ful act about the house called for a payment—there should, we felt, be sensible balance established here.)

Shifting Responsibility

Since he now had found that money could buy items which he individually desired, we would en­trust him with a portion of his “wages” in direct cash, in ratio to his extra chores. This would com­mence, however, only when he had a little better comprehension of what money actually is, and would continue for as long as he used this money with reasonable wis­dom and honesty. We on our part would offer as much assistance and advice as he wished, and would periodically review his needs with him, in a continuing attempt to make equitable adjustments. We would start the next day to learn more about money, and what it really is.

Not once was the word “allow­ance” used. The idea was to im­press the thought that labor was a positive and usually pleasant ac­tivity which brought about certain positive and pleasant results; and that he would have some control over the manner in which these results were obtained. Most im­portant, that this was actively earned right, and not inherent, passive entitlement.

Time enough later to speak of the intangible wages such as per­sonal satisfaction, inspiration, and self-realization. These were prod­ucts which demanded consider­ably more than a five-year-old’s maturity and experience to com­prehend. Right now, material ob­jectivity seemed the best teacher.

You may think that even with­out the above-mentioned intan­gibles the plain correlation of labor and profit alone was quite a large idea for a child so young to grasp in less than one hour’s chat. True—if that had been all a totally new idea to him; but we had been teaching him indirectly for much longer than this… as all parents do. By our own parental example of working cheerfully and happily, he had learned far more than he consciously realized. Our son had night by night seen his father come home from a job which quite openly was a challenge and a sat­isfaction, as well as a means of earning a livelihood. He had heard the expression, and seen the re­sults, of “salary increases.” He had day by day watched his mother doing her tasks with quiet but obvious pleasure. He had of­ten heard them both discuss money matters and come to amicable de­cisions.

Now, all of this is not to say that he had never seen his father return home disgruntled or dis­couraged, that he never saw his mother when she was less than de­lighted at the early morning pros­pect of a sink full of dishes and five unmade beds! He did see them so—this, too, is part of life—but he saw it as the exception and not the rule. He saw them overcome it and not be overcome by it. “Love ye one another” is not only an ideal theological command, it is also ideal advice for daily living. And so he had learned, and read­ied himself for the next lesson; which was, of course, the handling of money himself.

The following day arrived on the usual wave-crest of tooth­paste, eggs, corny gags, and sleepy greetings, and an added note of excitement; for “The Cat” (my son’s nickname) and I were going adventuring!

The Museum of Natural History

Our first stop was the Museum of Natural History. This was the quickest and clearest method we had been able to decide on as an aid to the first introductory ex­planation of the history of barter, exchange, and eventual commerce.

We did not expect him in one day to comprehend fully in detail all that he would see, but he could fol­low the continuity of the idea of the displays—especially with the explanations he would simultane­ously receive. Rather like a young­ster following a long Disney story, these progressing visual pano­ramas should be much more com­prehensible and interest-holding than words alone.

The Cat was awed and thrilled by the beautifully executed pano­ramas of early man’s habitat. The saber-toothed tiger in the back­ground, and animal skin clothing of the family in the foreground; the cave dwelling, the stone and wood tools and weapons, were all a fascinating introduction to the accompanying quietly worded com­mentary on very basic elementary economics.

He could actually see the hunt­ers procuring meat and fish, the herders guarding their undomesti­cated flocks, the first agronomists harvesting their tiny fields of na­tive vegetation, the women pre­paring the food and clothing, the early artists at work on the cave walls, the children playing and working at various chores, and the elders performing less ardu­ous tasks. He could compare yes­terday with today quite vividly; could not only see the contrasts but also the basic similarities.

As we progressed from frame to frame he saw the family unit ex­pand to the tribal group, then the first suspicious intertribal com­munication, followed by tentative first “markets” of barter and ex­change. He saw fish traded for furs, and protection traded for shelter—value for value.

Going further ahead up the time path, he observed the first money symbols used, such as tiny shells, animal teeth, dried red beans, and eagle feathers—all ex­changeable for real value such as food, clothing, shelter, or even a mate. And rates of exchange es­tablished quite directly and promptly, in a no-nonsense man­ner by skillful use of a club or spear! Now here was progress a young man of five winters could follow and understand even more readily than could an adult. After all, he was still convinced of the priceless value of a red “glassie” marble and a pair of dried frogs—and still young enough to view the law of the fang and claw with a certain wistfulness!

Early America

We blinked owl-eyed into the sunlight and then on to the Amer­ican history section, where we once more followed the cool, dimmed paths of forest and glen in pur­suit of duck and deer and fish. We saw the wandering tribes who followed the game herds and the more stationary tribes who tilled the soil, and fished and hunted in season—carefully preserving the surplus foods for the barren days of North American winter. We watched the scavenger tribes who simply raided the villages and took what they were too lazy or haughty to work for. We were shown fine intricately designed and wrought belts of wampum, used as money; as well as the less palatable scalps and animal claws and teeth.

We watched the Pilgrims land and briefly traced their early heartbreaking years as colony after colony was established. The Revolution and the final establish­ment of the central government, and the remarkable documents which accompanied it were not mere words; they were seen as real events occurring to real peo­ple—and these pictorial impres­sions would later help to make the words real, too.

We saw a national coinage and currency established (our form of wampum!), and studied pictures of early smelting and minting, and of the first Treasury vault at Phil­adelphia (later removed to the new Capitol at Washington), and ac­tual coins of silver, gold, and cop­per. We also saw gold certificates; and I nearly lost rapport here. It was not at all easy for a youngster to really comprehend the double symbology of a piece of paper rep­resenting a specified amount of stored gold, which was itself mere­ly representative of real value. Material facts helped again here, however, as we sat down and fig­ured out just how much two or three thousand dollars in our gold “wampum” would weigh—and how obviously bulky and unhandy it would be.

Time To Digest It

Well, by now he seemed to have the idea pretty well in hand that money was simply a convenient medium of exchange, representing actual goods or labor, and used as a nonperishable, accruable symbol. It could be received in place of perishable or inconvenient ex­change items, to be used when and as the receiver personally chose. (Although he would not have used these exact words for his own ex­planation.)

Feeling that more than enough had been given for one bout of mental digestion, we adjourned to a nearby restaurant for some food of a more physical nature. It was not only a tasty meal; it proved to be an excellent way of summariz­ing the morning’s lesson. We were partaking of actual “fruits of la­bor”; and when at the end of the meal, The Cat was allowed to proudly pay the bill, he did so that least the rudimentary under­standing that he was in an indi­rect manner paying the farmer who had produced the food. He un­derstood further that the money, with which he paid, was a symbol of the nonedible fruits of his father’s labor.

This background which we had seen so dramatically displayed at the Museum was, of course, a sketchy and very incomplete ex­planation of the complicated sci­ence of economics; but it appeared adequate for basic introductory understanding. He had a few solid planks to use as a platform for more complete eventual compre­hension. A five-year-old child na­turally could not be expected even to begin yet to grasp the actual intricacies of a monetary system which has baffled many adults.

He had seen pictures of Wash­ington and Hamilton and Jeffer­son, and understood that they were men great in wisdom and service to our country, but obvi­ously not precisely what these services were. Much later, in school, he would study Hamilton‘s financial theories, and trace out the amazing story of the establish­ment of our international credit reputation during the first forma­tive months of the Union. He would follow the organization of the First Bank of the United States and the employment of the first customs tariffs and tonnage duties. I hoped to see him one day grasp the significance of the dif­fering philosophies of Hamilton and Jefferson which became so ap­parent at this time—because these fundamental differences were and are still today a severe test of Constitutional interpretation.

Hamilton, by declaring the sep­arate state war debts to be a cen­tral federal responsibility, pro­claimed to the watching world that we were a united nation, and not to be viewed as a mere loose as­sembly of quarreling factions. Jef­ferson, on the other hand, saw pro­phetically clear dangers in too complete a step toward full cen­tralization. They both saw in this conflict of ideas the seeds which later actually materialized in the Civil War. This basic conflict still remains very germain today.

The thing my young son and I were investigating—money—is very important to both a family and a nation. Not the most impor­tant, to be sure, but important enough to warrant thorough study and application. As in an auto­mobile, where there must be cor­rectly designed and engineered co­ordination of all the parts to have a successfully functioning vehicle, so, too, is it with a family or a nation.

As we drove home, at least one of our heads was buzzing with mingled thoughts of saber-toothed tigers, and treasure vaults, piles of pennies, and Indian Chiefs—all to be sorted out and digested piece by piece in the days to come. He certainly had a better idea of what money was, and we hoped gradually to help him learn more fully to understand and apply these ideas in a practical and re­alistic manner in the years ahead.

The Results

All of this took place four years ago, and in these four years he has absorbed more detailed infor­mation and insight. He has not only grasped at least the basics of a complicated monetary system, but has indeed seemed to have es­tablished some pretty clear inter­pretations of his own. He does not take money for granted, but nei­ther does he value it for its own sake. He translates it as labor’s results, and labor and work are easy and honorable words in his vocabulary. Sure, he goofs now and then—he is still a child—but he has some fairly steady hand­holds to help him get back on the track, too.

Let me add here that we were richly blessed in that our children had early shown strong traits of generosity, and our money lessons in no way seem to have lessened this. They have learned to be gen­erous with their own time and money and property, however, and not simply to dispense someone else’s largess.

Individual initiative, personal responsibility, pride of achieve­ment, a firm sense of integrity, and realistic evaluation of worth are the things our children seem to be gradually learning—and they’re having fun learning them, too. The belief in the dignity and value of individual achievement would seem to be a basic neces­sity to the understanding and ac­quiescence of personal and nation­al liberty. We feel we would be derelict in our duty as parents if we did not do what we could to pass these ideals on to our chil­dren.

All too often, obviously good qualities of living may be unin­tentionally diluted, generation by generation, by the simple lack of clear specific communication of these qualities to our youngsters. We do not expect our children to learn algebra or physics by some sort of automatic osmotic process; these subjects are taught formally and deliberately. We merely plead the case for the same deliberate teaching of the essentials of lib­erty, in all its many forms.

 

***

One’s Own Business

Every man and woman in society has one big duty. That is, to take care of his or her own self…. Now, the man who can do anything for or about anybody else than himself is fit to be head of a family; and when he becomes head of a family he has duties to his wife and his children, in addition to the former big duty. Then, again, any man who can take care of himself and his family is in a very exceptional position, if he does not find in his immediate surroundings people who need his care and have some sort of a personal claim upon him. If, now, he is able to fulfill all this, and to take care of anybody outside his family and his de­pendents, he must have a surplus of energy, wisdom, and moral virtue beyond what he needs for his own business.

William Graham Sumner What Social Classes Owe to Each Other


  • Mrs. Westerholm is a Registered Nurse, housewife, and student of liberty of Gardena, California.