Childrens Books With Economics Lessons

NYTimes: Justin Wolfers, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, cited “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, a book about cows that withhold milk from a farmer until he provides electric blankets. Mr. Wolfers read the book to his 1-year-old daughter, Matilda, during the Wisconsin protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on union rights.

Me? I read my kids The Little Red Hen–sort of like Atlas Shrugged for children.


The Council For Economic Education has this:

Dr. Suess's classic "Green Eggs and Ham" is all about sales, and the economic value that sales professionals deliver to their customers

The first half of How an Economy Grows and Why it Doesn't by Irwin Schiff has some excellent microecon points. The second half is about FDR and is fairly uninteresting.

If we're talking about animals withholding their products, why not go straight to Animal Farm?

How about "The Duck in the Truck" by Jez Alborough as an allegory for banking crises? The duck is driving too fast, hits a rock and runs off the road and gets stuck in mud. Various animals stop and help and in the end the release Duck, he drives off at speed and they all get covered in mud.

Political rather than economics, but Vote for Duck also by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (whereby Duck runs for office to avoid having to do his chores, but ends up as president, which is just as much work) is excellent.

Hmm. I was read the Little Red Hen, and read it to my children too because it contains very good lessons about work, reward, and boundaries. But I still think Ayn Rand was a self-indulgent pornographer and think any one who mistakes the lessons of Little Red Hen with anything in Atlas Shrugs risks raising children who will become miserable adults.

Also, as my extraordinarily starchy, Plymouth Brethren protestant-work-ethic-preaching, Scottish-immigrant grandfather pointed out, if the Little Red Hen hadn't been a little more diplomatic she might have had butter and jam with her bread. But then he was a food wholesaler and marketer, not an economist.


I'm already fond of your grandfather - I can imagine my own Scottish grandfather saying the same thing. That kind of work ethic combined with resilience and humour frankly gives me much more faith in humanity than people, no matter how hard working, who have internalised the world-view that Atlas Shrugged promotes.

I feel that if Ayn Rand has written the little red hen, then the other animals would have starved to death with the hen berating them on their deathbed about their parasitic ways.

But... Atlas Shrugged *is* a childrens' book.


Ayn Rand is the reason a lot of us hate libertarians. Sure, I agree with a lot of their ideas but I'd never want to have a beer with one. I guess we should thank Ayn Rand for helping them signal what lame people they are.

Ayn Rand is why we don't give a shit.

Well there is always The Ant and the Grasshopper.

I wrote my own on a variation Dr. Suess's the Lorax in lieu of an essay for Russ Roberts last semester.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I fear that Prof. Wolfers may find that his children refuse to obey him unless he gives them electric blankets. How does that story go? Is it that the cows keep escalating their demands, threatening hold-up?

The Little Red Hen was the opening to the first lecture that I saw Hillel Steiner give; on Nozick I think ...

"Mr. Wolfers said the book also illustrated economic efficiency. A duck, the liaison between the cows and the farmer, persuades the farmer to install a diving board in the pond. 'That costs the farmer almost nothing but the ducks really value it,' Mr. Wolfers said. 'The diving board is a public good.'"

Actually, the diving board seems far more like an item which benefits a certain interest group than a public good. By its very design, this diving board does not seem non-excludable and non-rivalrous in the farmyard context. The physics of the diving board probably preclude the cows from using it. Also each duck's use of the diving board could marginally detract from the other ducks' use.

I think the diving board is better described as "something which costs the person asked to provide it a small but real amount of money, which another party wants for free." Put your money where your (duck) bill is, and pay the farmer to install it.

How about Chicken Little?

Or perhaps The Princess and the Pea...

We have Click Clack Moo, given to us by a humorous relative. I try to always append the coda: "Because the interruption in production caused Farmer Brown to lose his contracts, he was forced to sell the cows and chickens to the butcher. The End."

We then go watch nature shows and cheer on the poor hungry predators.

Little Red Hen on Wikipedia:

"It was also widely used as an analogy to defend President George W. Bush's decision to bar companies from countries opposed to the Iraq War from bidding on contracts for reconstruction work."

I did not know about this. Or the book.

I guess that's just the flipside of You Break It, You Buy It.
"You Didn't Break It, Someone Else Will Make Money Fixing It."

If you like the Little Red Hen, try Yertle the Turtle and Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose - both by Dr. Seuss :-)

Farmer Duck!

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie... is a good intro to the concept of unintended consequences.

Thanks for the recommendation -- with kids on the way I need to start stocking up on the healthy mind food. I think I remember that one. Probably read it to my little sister a time or two.

Ha, there's even a Kindle edition.

Ginger and Pickles by Beatrix Potter
How can this gem by the author of Peter Rabbit escape wide attention?
Dog (Ginger) and Cat (Pickles) run a store. Their customers make their mouths water.
"It would never do to eat our customers. They would go elsewhere."
"On the contrary, they would go nowhere."
The duo can't pay their taxes and are so forced out of business.
Jemima Puddle-Duck re-opens the store and gives unlimited credit.
"Sales were enormous, but there was no money in the till."
Something for micro-economists. Something for macro-economists.
Wonderful illustrations.

Given the cows' increasing pain from not being milked, I'd liken this more to war of attrition.

More to do with politics but a great book my five year old daughter loves is "The Very Silly Mayor" by Tom Tomorrow.

This might help you choose:
Researchers have recently argued that utilitarianism is the appropriate framework by which to evaluate moral judgment, and that individuals who endorse non-utilitarian solutions to moral dilemmas (involving active vs. passive harm) are committing an error. We report a study in which participants responded to a battery of personality assessments and a set of dilemmas that pit utilitarian and non-utilitarian options against each other. Participants who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness. These results question the widely-used methods by which lay moral judgments are evaluated, as these approaches lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that those individuals who are least prone to moral errors also possess a set of psychological characteristics that many would consider prototypically immoral.

Richard Scarry's "What do People Do All Day." All about spontaneous order arising from peoples' seemingly independent activities. "I, Pencil" without the Post Office bugaboo.

I'll note that the cows give up their ability to bargain (and the ducks probably do, too) for anything in the future in order to get those electric blankets. Also, 2 year olds love the repeated "click, clack moo" line.

No Smurfs? For shame...

"Me? I read my kids The Little Red Hen–sort of like Atlas Shrugged for children."

Golly, Alex, I hope you leave it at that.

I’d like to start by saying that I don’t get into belligerent shouting matches at the playground very often. The Tot Lot, by its very nature, can be an extremely volatile place—a veritable powder keg of different and sometimes contradictory parenting styles—and this fact alone is usually enough to keep everyone, parents and tots alike, acting as courteous and deferential as possible. The argument we had earlier today didn’t need to happen, and I want you to know, above all else, that I’m deeply sorry that things got so wildly, publicly out of hand.

Now let me explain why your son was wrong.

When little Aiden toddled up our daughter Johanna and asked to play with her Elmo ball, he was, admittedly, very sweet and polite. I think his exact words were, “Have a ball, peas [sic]?” And I’m sure you were very proud of him for using his manners.

To be sure, I was equally proud when Johanna yelled, “No! Looter!” right in his looter face, and then only marginally less proud when she sort of shoved him.

The thing is, in this family we take the philosophies of Ayn Rand seriously. We conspicuously reward ourselves for our own hard work, we never give to charity, and we only pay our taxes very, very begrudgingly.

Since the day Johanna was born, we’ve worked to indoctrinate her into the truth of Objectivism. Every night we read to her from the illustrated, unabridged edition of Atlas Shrugged—glossing over all the hardcore sex parts, mind you, but dwelling pretty thoroughly on the stuff about being proud of what you’ve earned and not letting James Taggart-types bring you down. For a long time we were convinced that our efforts to free her mind were for naught, but recently, as we’ve started socializing her a little bit, we’ve been delighted to find that she is completely antipathetic to the concept of sharing. As parents, we couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.

That’s why, when Johanna then began berating your son, accusing him of trying to coerce from her a moral sanction of his theft of the fruit of her labor, in as many words, I kind of egged her on. Even when Aiden started crying.

You see, that Elmo ball was Johanna’s reward for consistently using the potty this past week. She wasn’t given the ball simply because she’d demonstrated an exceptional need for it—she earned it. And from the way Aiden’s pants sagged as he tried in vain to run away from our daughter, it was clear that he wasn’t anywhere close to deserving that kind of remuneration. By so much as allowing Johanna to share her toy with him, we’d be undermining her appreciation of one of life’s most important lessons: You should never feel guilty about your abilities. Including your ability to repeatedly peg a fellow toddler with your Elmo ball as he sobs for mercy...[ Our Daughter Isn’t a Selfish Brat; Your Son Just Hasn’t Read Atlas Shrugged

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