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Teaching Free Enterprise

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now spending $100 million to teach and promote free enterprise. The effort reminded me of similar efforts over the past few decades around the world.

I found a really neat story from 1997 Russia that makes the point that many of those in America today don't understand economics any better than those in Russia did then. Actually you will see from the story that at least one Russian first grader understood economics better than our current administration.

Over the past couple of decades I've read many stories about those in countries new to democracy being taught the principles and concepts I have always taken for granted. The following is an excerpt from one such story from a February 1997 New York Times article by Sarah Koenig.

In Nadezhda Shilyayeva's first-grade class, the words of the day are ''profit'' and ''inventory.'' As the kindly teacher bounces her pointer along the curly blackboard script, her 26 students at School 139 sing the syllables in unison.

''Now what do we call the money left over in Misha's wallet after all his expenses are paid?'' asked Miss Shilyayeva. ''Profit!'' shouted a pigtailed 7-year-old girl named Dasha. The teacher continued, ''And why does Misha need this profit?''

Silence. Then a small voice ventured, ''So he can'' -- a pause -- ''expand his store?''

''Excellent, Andrusha!'' boomed the teacher's voice.


Koenig was writing about Nadezhda Shilyayeva, an elementary school teacher in Russia after the fall of communism. Shilyayeva was teaching the youth of Russia the skills they would need to be successful in a capitalist economy.

Shilyayeva said, ''If we don't teach children about the market economy from an early age they will end up like us. The older generation knew nothing about economics. We never gave it a thought. As a result, we are like blind kittens bumping into walls, looking for a way out.''

Read the rest of my column to find out where the $100 million is being spent.


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