Young people do not look with awe or a sense of wonder at an iPhone, a computer, or the incredible medical miracles happening every day. But they should. Our tremendous material wealth; extended life expectancy; falling infant mortality; and even our enjoyment of arts, culture, sports, and recreation are brought to us by freedom and the free market system.
To ensure that the rising generation appreciates our free enterprise system, I offer several recommendations.
Teach economics in high school and college. According to the Council for Economic Education, only 20 states currently require high school students to take a course in economics. That is less than half of the country and two fewer states than in 2014. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni reports that only 3 percent of colleges and universities require economics. Yet economics affects virtually every aspect of life, from personal finance and public policy to international affairs and culture.
Improve the teaching of economics.Emphasis in an economics course should be on the way the world works, not simply on graphs and equations that are easy to test but difficult to relate to human behavior. The economic way of thinking, if taught right, can be applied to nearly all aspects of life. Therefore, the best economics is taught by doing economics, not talking about it. A variety of games and activities can be used to teach how trade creates wealth and why property rights are essential to prosperity. Economics should not be taught as “the dismal science,” but as a remarkable study of how prices coordinate the activities of millions of strangers from diverse backgrounds to produce mutual gain.
Read important articles and foundational books. At the risk of neglecting many outstanding contributions, I will suggest a few:
“I, Pencil” by Leonard Read, Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, The Law by Frederic Bastiat, The Federalist Papers, and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. There are dozens and dozens of other classics out there. Choose ones that are age- appropriate and cover the range of concerns to those who favor freedom and free markets.
Author Jonah Goldberg has observed that “capitalism is the greatest collective enterprise in the history of humanity. It is the most successful cooperative endeavor ever undertaken. It has just one flaw. It doesn’t feel like it.” Freedom and free markets allow billions of people in this world to pursue their interests and improve their living standards without interference from elites who think they can plan a better life for them. We should celebrate that and teach the next generation why they should too.
Mr. Ream is the President of the Foundation for Teaching Economics.