Sunday, August 21, 2011

Economic meaning in children's books

In the NYT today, an article about economic meaning substituting for moral teachings in children books. To say that this is a new trend seems way overstated. Even in the article most of the books cited are old. Moreover, it seems to me that the best books about economics are those that go alongside numeracy (e.g., this).

One point struck me as wrong.
One of the most common themes in books for young people reflects parents’ fears that their children will become “bad” consumers, said Marah Gubar, director of the children’s literature program at the University of Pittsburgh. 
That often means rampant consumers are cast as villains, or at least losers. Take Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt are spoiled brats whose parents buy them whatever they want. And even in “Harry Potter,” Ms. Gubar noted, the appalling Dursleys shower their son, Dudley, with presents, a pointed symptom of the family’s wickedness.
First of all, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is teeming with economics beyond annoying, spoilt kids. The whole plot is one of innovator rights and the use of trade secrecy as a means of intellectual property protection. And, by the way, the moral message on that is in favour of such protection. Second, Harry Potter is unabashedly the Magical World of Monopolies. Almost every significant economic good or service is provided by a single provider from banking to wands to books and, finally, to school. The only exception is the entrepreneurial entry by the Weasley brothers into an existing but clearly underserved market. One suspects had Voldemort gone after the monopoly businesses rather than the government he may have been more successful in his evil ways.