Acton Institute Powerblog

Train a child, secure the future: Educating our kids about the free market

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Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6 […]

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Like most children, I had training wheels when I first learned to ride my bike. Before riding without them, I needed to learn a few key fundamentals – how to peddle, how to steer, how to coordinate my hands and feet. Once I mastered the basics, I was ready to go.

In many ways, economic education is similar. First, we need to learn about a few key concepts – supply and demand, private property – but once we get some core truths nailed down, we can properly interpret any number of economic phenomena. Most kids learn to a bike when they are young.

But, when is a good time to teach our children economics?

For decades, the broader child evangelism movement has realized that most people who convert to Christianity do so between the ages of 4 to 14. It is within this “4/14 Window” where worldviews, convictions, and morality are formed and solidified in the minds of individuals.

While economics is not a religion, it offers a worldview and moral theory of how humans interact (and ought to interact) within society. Given that parents are primarily responsible for training their children in matters of religion, they should make a similar effort in making sure their children receive the right economic education at home and school.

F.A. Harper, in 1958 wrote of the importance of teaching children (beginning around the age of 4 or 5) economic principles in the home. He suggested allowing the child to start their own business endeavor (mowing lawns, lemonade stands, etc.) and to have them use their earned money to buy shares in securities.

He correctly stated that allowing the child to engage in, earn, and enjoy the fruits of their labor and ownership (of stocks, and other securities) will cause them to have pride in themselves and their work. They will see the benefit and reward of hard work and thrift. Thus, cultivating in them an appreciation of the Free Market system (its moral and ethical foundations) and its superiority over Socialism.

Parents have a unique role of stewardship when it comes to teaching their children morality, ethics, and the Christian worldview in all matters of life. One of those being the subject of private property – the key component of the Free Market system. Harper stated in his essay that private property “was the basis for the modern concept of moral justice. From an early day, this concept found support in rules of conduct such as the admonitions against theft and covetousness expressed in the Decalogue.” As such, if we are to preserve our moral society, we need to teach the basis for private property and free enterprise, and this education ultimately begins in the home, should spread into the schools, and positively affect society at large.

Towards the end of F.A. Harper’s 1958 article, he writes, “If we continue to go socialist, it will be because we have not taught our own children properly in the home, so that the forces of collective resignation engulf them as in a tide.” We may not be able to change the whole school system, the media, and the culture when it comes to economic freedom. However, as parents, you must train your child in the ways and virtues of economic freedom, so that they are not swept by Socialist tides, and instead are good stewards of the gifts (property and talent) God has given them.

When we have taught our children sound economics, they will have the foundation to withstand socialist tides, faulty socio-political rhetoric, and unsound economic or financial advice. Like having learned to ride a bike, they will be able to skillfully navigate and ride through the ups-and-downs of economic life.

Ryan Ferries

Ryan Ferries is a member of the Acton Institute’s 2021 Emerging Leaders class. He is a graduate student at Corban University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and a Masters of Divinity. Ryan enjoys reading about Austrian economics, reformed & puritan theology, and ancient Semitic religion. His other interests include progressive rock music and East Asian cinema.