Do kids learn about econ before they even go to school?

Kathryn Fitzsimmons, Summer Morning

Do children know anything about economics? Your first inclination, of course, is probably to say no. They’re just kids, they can’t understand something as complex as economics, right? Wrong. While they may not be aware that they are learning about such an advanced subject, they are subtly being shown aspects of economics throughout their experiences, specifically in what they view as entertainment.
The Lorax, for those who don’t know is a book by Dr. Seuss that was made into an animated movie. It’s about a little town where one kid, nicknamed “The Once-ler” invents something called the Thneed. The Thneed is a pink, fuzzy, amazingly soft, sweater-looking object that supposedly fulfills a multitude of uses. In order to chase his dream, he goes out to the forest because the softness of the Thneed is acquired by using the tops of Truffula trees, which basically look like cotton candy and I would imagine feel like clouds. He fails at first, but eventually the thneed becomes so popular, that the Once-ler has to think of a way to speed up production. His solution is to just cut down the trees because it is much faster than harvesting the Truffula fluff, but this angers the Lorax. The Lorax is a mythical creature who “speaks for the trees” and only shows up when somebody is threatening to disturb the natural workings of the forest. The Once-ler gets greedy, refuses to listen to the Lorax, and ends up cutting down every tree in the forest. This causes the oxygen in the air to become scarce and a man named Mr. O’Hare decides to take advantage of this and starts to sell air. It sounds ridiculous, but people love him for it and he becomes rich. The town is closed in by massive walls to set it apart from the dead forest, and everything inside is artificial, even trees and grass. Years later, a kid named Ted becomes interested in trees, finds the Once-ler who has one more seed left, and reminds the town that they’ve been paying for something that’s been free the whole time.1
If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because it sounds kind of like A Petition by Frédéric Bastiat. He wanted to block off the sun in order to boost the economy by raising the demand of products that block the sun which would supposedly help the whole economy eventually.2

This movie, however, is a perfect example of things that could go wrong in this situation.
First of all, I will admit that it seems to help boost the economy. Not only does Mr. O’Hare make a lot of money, but it also makes money for other companies that make artificial grass, artificial trees, batteries, etc. The issue is, with trees, none of these companies are necessary. While one might say that jobs would be lost, it can also be said that jobs can be created and supplies could go towards something that is not a practically free good. One large issue is that Mr. O’Hare has a complete monopoly over the air business, meaning that he has all the control over the prices. Monopolies only really help the producer because the producer gets to make all the decisions. In perfect competition, companies have to compete against each other, giving the consumer some power in being able to choose the company that he or she supports and purchases his or her goods from. With a monopoly and no trees, people are forced to buy his air, which is unfair. Another obvious issue is that people need these things to live. The sun provides vitamin D and trees provide oxygen, shelter for animals, and many other things that assist in bettering the lives of people and animals. Nature is there for a reason and messing with it too much it can cause problems so immense that people aren’t capable of fixing them. Things like plastic and glass and other products that they are using to make these artificial trees are nonrenewable, so once they’re all used up, they’re gone. Trees on the other hand make seeds that grow into more trees, making them renewable and better to use so that the nonrenewable resources can be used for things that have no other way of being made.
In the movie, it is a child who knows that taking away such a helpful and free good is wrong. Granted, he is much older than a baby, but also much younger than the adults who are encouraging the terrible theft that is happening in front of their very own eyes. Aristotle says that “happiness requires not only perfect excellence or virtue, but also a full term of years for its exercise.”He said that people are not born with virtue, but rather they are born with the capacity to learn right from wrong. While I believe that there is always room to improve on one’s virtue, I would say that children are actually quite virtuous. In The Lorax, Mr. O’Hare is the villain. This is not something that children have to be taught, but instead they immediately feel discontent for him because of what he is doing to the people of the town. Kids understand that he is a thief and that it is a ridiculous concept that somebody would want to do such a thing. By Aristotle’s definition of happiness, kids may not be happy4, but then again if happiness is “perfect virtue”, then I don’t think anybody ever achieves it. There are some really good people in the world, but nobody is perfect. In my opinion, happiness can just be striving for virtue without actually having to reach perfection. I think that people really are born wanting to be good, but the many temptations and bad examples in the world are what cause people to lose their virtue. Children know good, but do not have the knowledge or power to actually do much about it, but by the time they are adults, they have been exposed to things like jealousy and hatred and it becomes much harder to do the right thing.
Another issue with the movie is that the Once-ler was an idiot. While this may seem harsh, it’s undeniably true. He literally caused his own business to fail. How did he not notice that there were barely any trees left when he could literally just look out his window? Of course the point of the movie is to educate children on the morality of selling something that rightfully belongs to people instead of how to run a business, but his business plan is so terrible that I feel obligated to comment on it. First of all, he had no reason to be in any sort of rush to cut down the trees so quickly. Sure, people wanted more thneeds, but that doesn’t always mean you have to give it to them. He easily could’ve continued to simply harvest the Truffula fluff and sold each thneed for a large amount of money. People were begging for thneeds and were seemingly willing to pay good money to get one. By raising the supply, he was just lowering the price and making each one worth less money. Not only could he have sold them for more money, but he also could’ve sold them for longer. Having a booming business is awesome, but if you’re only open for a short amount of time then what’s the point? Not only does the Once-ler have no more money coming in, but he also now has to pay for air and trees. Congratulations, Mr. Once-ler, you managed to lose money despite inventing an exponentially demanded product.
Overall, while The Lorax is just a movie, it is somewhat a learning experience for kids. People always say that we have to learn history because it repeats itself, and I think that the same thing applies here. Children learn that a successful business is more than just producing as much of a product as you can, because eventually you supplies might run out and you’ll be broke. They learn that while selfishness can get you pretty far in business, it isn’t good in the long run and a successful economy is one that benefits both the producer and the consumer. While they may not understand it in these terms, it gets the wheels turning in their brain and gives them a good ground to begin building their knowledge of economics.

1 The Lorax. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2012. Film.

2 “A Petition,” Fréderick Bastiat in How To Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, Ed. Mr. Aparicio, Ursuline Academy, 2015

3 “The Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle in How To Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, Ed. Mr. Aparicio, Ursuline Academy, 2015

4“The Nicomachean Ethics”

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