I've been trying to find ways to help my children see through the good-intentioned but ultimately disastrous view that the government should run the economy. So I was very happy to discover author Connor Boyack.
Boyack has written five "Tuttle Twin" picture books, in which the young heroes are 9 year old Ethan and Emily Tuttle. There is a moral to each of these stories, and it is always highlights a different government-caused economic problem.
The best of the bunch
So, for example, in my and my daughters' favorite of the bunch, The Food Truck Fiasco, the Tuttle twins find out their friend Amy is going to have to sell her food truck because government regulations are making it too expensive for her to stay in business. It turns out that the owner of Bob's Big BBQ – a bricks and mortar-type restaurant – is good friends with the mayor, and he encouraged the mayor to pass a law which banned food trucks from operating within 2,000 feet of a restaurant.
The twins learn a lesson in what "protectionism" is – this is when businesses lobby the government to pass regulations and restrictions that hamper and hurt their competitors. They use the government to stop competition. And, as the twins learn, that means customers are left with fewer, and often only the more expensive, choices.
When they hear about Amy's problem, the twins then organize a political rally and, eventually, embarrass the city council into changing the law. That means Amy will be able to still make a living with her food truck business. Hooray!
Now, you might think this sort of an educational book would be rather boring, but Boyack has done really good work here. The illustrations are bright and eye-catching, and by making the heroes a couple of kids the author inspired my own girls – five and seven – to ask how they can help people too.
They've also asked for me to read The Food Truck Fiasco repeatedly, which I have to admit was a surprise to me. I liked the book, but more for its educational aspect. They seem to like it for the story, and perhaps because it is just so different from anything else they are reading.
I do have a caution to share. To fight city hall, the twins – with parental help – organize a rally that is just across the street from Bob's Big BBQ. The rally includes a half dozen food trucks. Which means they are breaking the new law. Is civil disobedience warranted here? I don't think so. We can't just disobey any law we don't like; we can only do that when the law requires us to violate God's law. And at the same time, this is a very civil form of civil disobedience. I talked about it with my daughters and noted that if the food truck owners had been fined, then they should not fight the fine, but pay it – they broke the law and did not have to, so they should accept the consequences.
The bigger caution I would have is with another book in this series. While the author is either Mormon or Christian (it's clear he is operating from some sort of Judeo-Christian perspective) it's clear he is also a libertarian. Now, libertarians and Christians can get along quite nicely, and on many issues, because we both agree that government shouldn't try to be God. Thus we both believe in some form of smaller government. But in The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law Boyack's libertarian perspective comes out in a way that conflicts with a solid Christian perspective. In The Law children are left with the impression that governments gain their authority from people, and not God. And from that assumption the author argues that governments should only be able to do what people are able to do. So, just as it would be wrong for a person to forcibly take money from you, the same should be true of government. Children will be left thinking that taxation is theft, and that simply isn't so – God has empowered governments to do some things which individuals must not do, and taxation is one of them (Luke 20:25, 1 Peter 2:13-14). There are some good points made in this same book, but because it is aimed at children, I think it a bit much to expect them to sift out the good from the bad, so I would not recommend this title.
For similar reasons – libertarian ideas taken to excess in ways that children are not discerning enough to see through – I also wouldn't recommend Fate of the Future, The Golden Rule, and Education Station, although all might be though-provoking for adults. Now that I have all ten books I have set these four aside for my kids to chew through (maybe with my help) when they are older and more discerning, perhaps in their early teens.
There are four other titles in the series that are worth recommending.
Dragon's Den, or The Shark Tank) and decided to try their hand at starting their own business. But as their Nana explains, starting a business takes skills, resources, money, time, and a good idea, so she sits them down and together they work through what skills they have access to, including friends and family. And after creating a business plan, their Nana agrees to come on board as the principal investor. This is no little "lemonade stand" kid business – it ends up costing more than $10,000 to get things up and running! Then, after their successful show opening, they are faced with the hard reality of business of a competing theater company starting up shortly thereafter! But the twins embrace the idea of competition and start thinking through other ways they can improve their production and lower costs. This is a fun one that will get your kids thinking about possibilities for their own businesses.
In The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, the twins and their class go on a field trip to a pencil factory where they learn "not a single person on the face of the earth knows how to make" a pencil. They learn that the eraser was made up of three ingredients, that had to come from three different countries. The wood for the pencil could only be harvested with the combined efforts of loggers, and all the workers involved in crafting chainsaws, trucks, rope and more that are involved in bring the wood to the mill. Then they look at what was involved in making the graphite "lead", and the yellow paint, and the metal ferrule at the end that holds the eraser - the class learns that countless people are involved in making a pencil, but each one of them only knows about how to make their own contribution.
The point here is that a managed economy - where all decisions come up from the top, by people who are supposed to understand the whole process - couldn't make even a simple pencil. How wonderful it is then, that we have a market where we can trade with one another, and we can divide up tasks, and no one has to know every bit of it. Boyack has based this story on a classic economic essay promoting the free market, by Leonard E. Read, called, I, Pencil. It isn't long and it is very good, so be sure to check it out!
In The Tuttle Twins and the Creature From Jekyll Island the twins learn from their grandfather about why money was first created, how it is useful, but also how the government can, through inflation, decrease everyone's wealth – when the government prints more and more money, our savings becomes worth less as prices go up. (Government currency manipulation is the "creature" mentioned in the title.)
Though this is intended for kids, it would be a great one for adults to read too, to understand how government currency manipulation can have an enormous impact on the economy. It would also help explain the interest in alternate currencies like Bitcoin – people are looking for a type of money that governments can't manipulate. While my 7-year-old daughter read this, and liked it, I don't know how much of the lesson she actually understood.
Finally, in The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom the twins learn that a new road has so changed the traffic patterns that businesses on the wharf at their favorite beach are now going out of business. Boyack is doing a homage to economists F.A Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (a five minute video "cartoon" summary of Hayek's book can be viewed here). The lesson here is that government actions have enormous unintended consequences, and while those actions might help some, they can devastate others. It is, in other words, an argument for greater government restraint - the government should do less, and allow people to handle their own affairs, because individuals forging agreements with one another will come to decisions that are mutually beneficial.
While the series can be enjoyed by children as young as 5, I think to fully understand the concepts readers will have to be in at least Grade 2. I also shared this with a high school teacher because I thought it could serve as a helpful very quick introduction to some of these concepts in the older grades too.
If I were to order the books by preference, it would look like this:
- The Food Truck Fiasco
- Their Spectacular Show Business
- The Miraculous Pencil
- Search for Atlas
- The Creature from Jekyll Island
- The Road to Surfdom
- The Golden Rule
- The Education Vacation
- Fate of the Future
- The Law
I think the first through fourth are really something special, the next two are good but not great (because their stories just aren't as interesting), and the last four I don't recommend because there are problems with them too subtle for children to really understand or see through.
Overall, this is a wonderful, inventive way to get your children thinking the right way about some important economic issues. You can find Food Truck Fiasco at Amazon.com here. It isn't currently available in Canada, but you can get Miraculous Pencil at Amazon.ca here.