We adults are accustomed to giving our kids stuff that is utterly unoffensive. They're fluffy bunny stories, for crying out loud! They have cute little animals hopping around doing cute things! We wouldn't want to see any blood now, would we? But somehow the Beatrix Potter stories contain those dark undertones that exist in so much of the natural world. Bad things happen--or at least, the threat of them is there. Animals get sick. Peter's father had been put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. They may be fluffy bunny stories, but if an overprotective parent is trying to create a world made of Nerf to keep the kids safe, these stories are quite out-of-place in that world.
Well, the kids liked those animated stories so much that Tonya started picking up the books on their weekly library trips. The girls especially like reading the stories they already recognize from the videos; but they also got a few of the books that hadn't been animated.
I picked up one of them and read through it a few days ago. It was entitled The Tale of Ginger and Pickles.
I mean, Good Heavens.
Now I thought that Dr. Seuss's Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose had shades of Ayn Rand when I read through it; but it's not the only one. The Tale of Ginger and Pickles seriously has that Atlas Shrugged vibe going too.
In case you'd like to take a look at it, here's a link to the entire book, with illustrations.
And as a brief digression, if any of you hasn't yet been introduced to Project Gutenberg, I'd like to make that introduction. The goal of Project Gutenberg is to get every public domain document ever written online. Just about any famous author and document ever written is already covered, from all the Beatrix Potter stuff to everything by Shakespeare to Canterbury Tales (in Middle English) to Churchill's The River War (about the British conquest of the Sudan) to anything by H. G. Wells. I've gone there very frequently when I want to look up quotes by famous authors, or when I decide I want to read a famous old document. It's a resource well worth bookmarking.
But here's a synopsis of The Tale of Ginger and Pickles:
- Ginger is a tom-cat, and Pickles is a terrier. They operate a general store.
- Their clients--bunnies, mice, rats--are afraid of them, since they're carnivores.
- But they don't want to eat their customers, because then they'd have no more customers.
- And their customers shop there because they offer credit (while their competitor doesn't).
- The trouble is, they are a wee bit too free with their credit.
- And no one ever pays them back. Some because they can't, some because they just won't.
- So they start running out of money, and have to eat their own goods.
- Then the taxman shows up, and they can't pay, so they go out of business.
- Then suddenly everyone is worse off, except the competitor, who gets to raise her prices.
- And Ginger and Pickles decide to go into hunting instead.
- The rest of the community finds itself having to get its goods from other sources.
- None of these goods had the quality of those in Ginger and Pickles' store.
- Everyone suffers until the store is re-opened under new management.
- The new management runs a decent store, but only takes cash.
I mean, just off the top of my head, here are a few economic lessons that can be drawn from the above synopsis:
- Note that the carnivores had a very real incentive not to prey on their customers. The free market has a civilizing influence. After all, you can only thrive in a free market if you're able to meet someone else's needs.
- It's easy to demonize businesses, and to feel no pity when they go under. The trouble is, their fate is tied to ours; if the businesses that serve us go down, it hurts us too.
- It's easy to feel pity for those who are in debt. The trouble is, if they can't or won't pay back their debts, it badly hurts their creditors; and that pain gets spread around to everyone in the community.
- The customers abused their credit; by the end of the book, there was no credit available anywhere.
- Taxes really do put a burden on business. In marginal cases--where the business is just barely hanging on--the taxes can put the business over the edge into insolvency. This does nobody any good either--not even the government, since the business they were taxing just ceased to exist.
We're supposed to be teaching our kids to be idealists! We're supposed to be defending their childhoods from cynicism and disappointment for as long as possible!
Actually, we're supposed to be equipping and preparing them for life. And while I'm not sure yet of the best age to start teaching economics to the wee ones, they will need to know at some point how to handle their money--and how to recognize an unhealthy market situation when they see it. I suspect that a lot more people in this country could have seen the current mortgage meltdown coming, had they just internalized the Tale of Ginger and Pickles at a young age. After all, while I'm no economist, our current economic troubles sure look to me like a case of too-easy credit causing too-big debts causing defaulting debtors causing bankrupt creditors causing no money available for borrowing causing big drop in business across the board. Hmmm...
Well, Tonya and I have decided that these books are worth having around all the time, so we went over to Amazon.com and placed an order for this. And just for kicks, I ordered a copy of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism at the same time, since I've been wanting it for my upcoming birthday. Coincidentally, Amazon was offering Liberal Fascism in a package deal with Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies. I didn't actually order that one too; I suspect that after Beatrix Potter, it's probably a little redundant. ;-)
Oh, and it gave my wife and me a little giggle when we thought about what our order would do to Amazon's "Customers who bought this item also bought..." feature. I can just see some future political scientist... or some parent of toddlers... seeing Beatrix Potter paired with Liberal Fascism, and seriously freaking out.
In the meantime, we're feeling a little liberated, actually. Who says that fluffy bunny stories have to be saccharine-sweet? I'm just wondering how much longer I have to wait before introducing my children to Richard Adams' Watership Down.