Monday, October 27, 2008

Your Guitar Teacher on Economics

The following illustration is a conversation Billy Dyer (hughewitt.com) had with his daughter, Molly. As a teacher, I greatly appreciate the illustration:

"Grades come out tomorrow," said my daughter Molly, an eighth grader, when I picked her up at school this afternoon.

"Great," I answered, "How d'ya think you're gonna do?"

"Pretty well," Molly said confidently.

"What will probably be your best grade?" I asked.

"Guitar," she said, "That will probably be a 97 or a 98."

"Cool," I said. "You really have been successful. But I think you should tell your Guitar teacher that you want to give six or seven of those points to some of your classmates who haven't practiced so hard or don't have the talent you have."

She looked up at me, startled. "What?"

"That class is easy for you, and you have lots more points than you need for an A. They need those points more than you do," I explained.

"Then they should have worked harder!" she protested. "Yeah, I'm sort of talented, but I worked hard to get those grades! I earned them!"

"So you're telling me that you think it's fair for you to get to keep all of those good grades, both the part that comes from your having worked harder than your classmates, and the part that comes from the musical talent you inherited from me and your mom. Is that what you're saying?"

"Well, yeah!"

"Show me your lunchbox," I said. She looked at me strangely again, but found it on the floorboard and held it up.

I pointed at the "Barack Obama" sticker on its side, which she got from my ex. "That guy," I said, "wants to use the tax laws to take away more of the money that wealthy people have, whether they got it by working harder or because their parents worked harder to be able to give it to them. He says other people need that money more. He thinks we need to spread the wealth around.

"What I was saying when you first got in the car," I continued, "is just that we should spread your grade wealth around. You disagreed. Good for you. I don't really think your Guitar teacher should do that anyway. But let me ask you another question."

"Okay," she said, listening thoughtfully.

"Let's say even though you object, your Guitar teacher decides to spread your grades around to the other students in your class. Do you think you'll work as hard to get top grades during the next nine weeks?"

"No way!" she said.

I just pointed at the sticker on her lunchbox again. We spent the rest of the short drive to her mom's house in contemplative silence.

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