For most of my life I wanted to be a businessman.
As early as preschool, I would insist on wearing only business attire to class everyday. And by business attire, I mean I’d put on one of my father’s button-down shirts and tuck it in with a ridiculously oversized pair of slacks that my brother had worn.
When I got older this interest began to manifest itself in ways that caused conflict in class.
The Young Entrepreneur
In 4th grade, I made a little business out of reselling Livestrong wristbands after class. I made about $150 with this side business before the school told me I needed to stop. My classmates were disappointed because I was the only reliable source when it came to getting bands. Plus, I had recently started purchasing Freedom Bands, which were available in far more colors than the Livestrong yellow. Needless to say, my customers were always satisfied.
In 6th grade, I loaned a friend money for a cookie but insisted of there being a 25 cent interest fee tacked onto each day he failed to repay. It took him two weeks and he paid the amount he owed, plus interest, without complaint.
Being a student with a side business was just simply against the rules.
The school found out and my parents received a call home.
What I always found interesting was that there was never any sort of explanation offered as to why my behavior was “bad.” It was just simply against the rules.
My classmates loved my attempts at offering services, but there was always the ever-present, and often unseen, force of teachers and school administrators hovering nearby waiting to stop our transactions.
High School Antics
As the associated student body president, I was required to work in the student store. I developed a practice of accepting tips in the form of the spare change students didn’t want to carry around.
I had a jar on the counter, like any food establishment might, and I would casually suggest students leave their change after a purchase. This was an innocent, voluntary donation in which I’d make a little bit of money every day.
But of course, my teacher found out and her response was a swift write-up. Again, I was not told why my actions were wrong.
It's Only Fair If Everyone Profits
One day, the administration decided to host a club fundraising festival where each club was allowed to sell one item purchased from a grocery store at lunch in order to raise funds for its club—the only time they ever broke the cafeteria monopoly.
At last the truth had come out in full: my teachers hated the free market.
I left campus to purchase 150 burgers from Wendy’s for $1 each. I then sold them for $5 per burger on campus, and gave away a free Arizona Iced tea with the burger, which undercut the two other vendors selling Arizona Iced tea.
We eclipsed the rest of the fundraising group that day by over 200 percent and the school accused us of cheating and being greedy.
They confiscated most of the funds and distributed it among the other students to make it more "fair."
At last the truth had come out in full. It had taken almost eighteen years but I had the answer they had never given me before: my teachers hated the free market.
The administrators regarded commerce as dirty. They didn’t see the value I created for students who wanted something better than cafeteria food for lunch. They saw value that had been acquired at the expense of others.
As children, we are born capitalists.
As I look back now with more knowledge and experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that this experience was both beautiful and saddening.
As children, we are born capitalists. We have no deep philosophies or moralities but we organize ourselves naturally around mutual exchange because we recognize quickly that life gets better if we do.
We trade cards, toys, our lunches, and other things we value for the things our friends value and rarely do we have trouble working out disputes. We don’t do it because we care consciously about free markets — we don’t even know the concept. Nor do we need to. Markets don’t require everyone to know their importance consciously. They just require people to be left alone.
It takes a lot of schooling to kill these natural inclinations towards freedom. Teachers and administrators stop these interactions on the playground, and in the classroom they teach material that distorts and obfuscates the truth. The process of schooling is the process of taking our innate tendencies towards liberty and destroying them.
As my friend Isaac Morehouse wrote in a comment when I shared this story on Facebook:
“Is it any wonder why Ayn Rand is making such a resurgence among high school students?”