Sunday, August 21, 2011

Economics in Children's Literature

Motoko Rich has noticed that economics can be found in children's literature. From some of the examples given, this seems a place ripe for good economic criticism. One should probably not be surprised that most writers promulgate folk economics in a variety of forms (most not being economists, economics being a difficult, complex, specialized field of knowledge that too many economists themselves don't understand that well), but it should nonetheless be pointed out that this is where many children will get their first lessons in economics, and will thus have their folk economics reinforced.


  1. Isn't this generalizable to any discipline for about 99% of children's literature? Stories might reenforce "folk economics" because stories reenforce cultural beliefs and values. They're supposed to teach children about their heritage and the wisdom of their community.

  2. Different stories have different roles, even though there is clearly overlap. Children's stories tend to be designed to teach children something, including morals, heritage, wisdom, cultural beliefs, values, etc., as you note. We should be troubled, however, if there is a pattern of misinformation in children's literature. Our role in doing this kind of analysis is to try to find patterns of such misinformation (if and where it exists) and provide an eminent critique of it to try to guide writers to at least question their assumptions. I certainly expect writers to promulgate folk economics for as long as nobody is out there pointing out that that is what they are doing.

    Another thing stories do, though, is challenge those beliefs, values, heritage, etc. The best stories both reinforce and challenge them such that tradition is generally upheld, while change is encouraged on the margin. I have a 4 yr old daughter, to whom I read all the time, and I have read her books that promote a far more feminist world view than is prevalent in this country (as feminist as it is). And I have read her traditional stories where the damsels are always in distress. And I have read more marginal literature to her. Probably the latter are the best, because one starts with the known and pushes at the margins, into the unknown (which is still a lot of the world for a 4 yr old who is into princesses!). Why not, then, the same for the economics portrayed? (Oddly, one of the strongest pro-feminism books I read to my daughter -- and one of the worst, storywise -- actually didn't do a bad job with the economics, as the heroine and the hero ended up going into business together rather than getting married).