Economics of Integrity

Six timeless teachings to build strong character in kids

Stumbled upon this gem of an essay from the 1960’s by Leonard Read entitled “Economics for Boys and Girls; Methods for getting young people on the track of sound thinking.” Being a home-educating momma who works around economists I had to take a look. Although some of the writing could be considered dated (like the statement that mothers, rather than the fathers, are the ones who primarily influence their kids’ thinking) the values promoted are timeless and desperately needed in the next generation.


So here are the six life lessons that if taught and reinforced early-on will set children on a track to be honest, responsible and care for others. Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed. Even Read states that he likes to “think of the child as a budding plant with all the potential for beauty and happiness which such a growing organism portends.” Not every plant fully blooms, but as parents we need to do everything in our power to ensure our children have the right soil, nutrients and sunlight so they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.


1.       If you drop something, pick it up.

“…assuming a responsibility for one’s own actions, that is, of not burdening others with one’s behaviors. A child who takes this simple first step in self-control — should the steps continue and become habitual — will likely, when attaining adulthood, look to himself rather than to the rest of us to bail him out of economic difficulties brought on by his own mistakes.”

This is personal responsibility 101 and the first chore us mommas teach our kids. You made the mess – you clean it up. Oh, if only more grown-ups were taught and remembered this basic life skill.


2.       If you open a door, close it.

“This is a sequel to the above; it is merely another practice that confirms the wisdom of completing each of life’s transactions.”

When the going gets tough, the tough shouldn’t get going, they need to stay and finish what they started. Launching new projects and ideas is easy, seeing them through to completion is the hard part. Every successful entrepreneur will tell you that the difference between success and failure is not an initial good idea; it is sticking with it even when it gets boring and difficult. Our children need to learn this sort of perseverance.


3.       If you make a promise, keep it.

“Children not brought up to keep their word will be the authors of treaties written not to be observed; they’ll run for office on bogus platforms, cancel gold contracts, use the political means to expropriate property; they’ll sell their souls to gain fame or fortune or power. Not only will they fail to be honest with their fellow men; they will not even heed the dictates of their own conscience. On the other hand, children brought up to keep their promises will not go back on their bond, come hell or high water. Integrity will be their mark of distinction!”

At some point every parent has to address those “little white lies” our kids try to tell us. From eating their vegetables to not finishing their chores, we must reinforce the importance of giving and keeping your word. It used to be a man’s word was his bond, times have changed but there is no reason why we can’t set higher expectations in our homes.


4.       Whatever you borrow, pay back.

“No person, thus brought up, would think of feathering his own nest at the expense of others.”

This should also extend to ASKING before your borrow (sibling toys and clothes) and returning the item in the same condition. We should also not instill an entitlement mentality in our kids to assume other kids’ toys are theirs to play with (check out this blog for my ranting about compulsory sharing).


5.       Play the thank-you game.

“In exchanging toys or marbles or jacks or whatever with another, can he not play the thank-you game? Can he not be taught to express the same “thank you” himself as he expects from his playmate? That something is wrong with the trade if this is not the case? That both have gained when each says, “Thank you”? Accomplish this with a boy or girl and you have laid the groundwork for sound economic thinking.”

Successful business people know it’s not just about making a deal – it’s about creating win-win situations where every party in the transition feel like they benefited from the interaction. This is a difficult concept to teach your kids but we want to look for ways to create value in interactions with others. So they should no be motivated by greed or try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes – instead they strive for honesty and look for ways for both themselves and others to gain.


6.       Do nothing to a playmate you wouldn’t enjoy having him do to you.

“But the effort to teach the Golden Rule to boys and girls will, at a minimum, result in a better observation of it on the parent’s part. Children — highly impressionable — are far more guided by parental conduct than by parental admonishments.”

What we say and what we do can be two different things. Children notice if the words of our mouth match the values we live by and our actions. So the Golden Rule is a fantastic yard stick to measure how we treat, speak and even think about others. I know I fall short – but it is an important goal to always strive for.

So what do you think? Are these as valuable today as they were 50 years ago? What is missing from this list? And more importantly, how can we practically teach and model these lessons to our kiddos? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. 

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One Response to “Economics of Integrity”

  1. LucyOctober 26, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Six great rules. How about showing gratitude to the giver by person or writing a note.