David R. Henderson  

Barbara Anderson: Learning from Children's Books

Forget forecasting, let's firs... A tale of two city-states...
She once told an interviewer that the children's book "Peter Rabbit" was an early influence on her political thinking. Her sympathies were with the gardener. "It was his lettuce," she said, "and Peter had no business stealing it."
This is from James R. Hagerty, "Barbara Anderson Spent Decades as a Taxpayer Advocate: 1943-2016," Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2016. That the piece was published on April 15 is, given what Ms. Anderson stood for, a fitting date.

My other favorite part of the obit is this:

When journalists called, she always had a pithy quote ready. She urged other conservatives to get over their distrust of the media. "They're just working stiffs like you," she said.

I don't totally believe that quote. But it's a better attitude to have to the media than the opposite.

Co-blogger Scott Sumner has written a brief obit for her already and so I won't cover that ground. I think, but am not sure, that I met her at a Libertarian Party convention in New Hampshire in the summer of 1978, where I gave a talk on energy. I remember in 2002 contributing in little bits at a time to a campaign to end the Massachusetts state income tax. A very effective libertarian activist named Carla Howell would send out emails saying "If you and x other people [where x was small] give $50 each, we can do a mailing to y people [where y was large.]" "Think-on-the margin" David responded to that. At the end of the year, when I saw all of my Visa charges on one big statement, arranged by category, I realized that I had contributed over $600. (None of it was deductible, by the way.) I'm guessing that Barbara Anderson was involved with that. Incidentally, a libertarian friend of mine in Massachusetts at the time told me it wasn't worth contributing to because the initiative would be lucky to get 30% of the vote. In fact, it got 45%. I had no regrets about spending that $600 or so.

Ms. Anderson had an independent enough mind that she learned from "Peter Rabbit" a lesson that, I'm guessing, Beatrix Potter didn't mean her to learn. Good for her.

That got me thinking about other children's books. My favorite is The Little Red Hen. The lesson you're supposed to learn is one that I approve learning: the importance of personal responsibility and not lying around and letting others do it for you, expecting something for nothing. I remember reading it to my daughter when she was about 3 and making a strategic error. I got so into it, that when I got to the part, "Who sowed the seeds?" "I did." "Who harvested the wheat?" "I did." etc. I knocked out the "I dids" with such emotion that my daughter got scared.

Question: What children's stories do you recommend that teach important lessons, directly or, as in the Peter Rabbit story above, unintentionally?

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Obituaries , Tax Reform , Taxation

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Kevin Erdmann writes:

The movie "Babe" about the little pig is a wonderful story about the low hanging fruit we can get from having a generous spirit.

Jared writes:

Just started reading a short board book version of Peter Rabbit to my eldest. Peter doesn't listen to his mother, steals from the farmer, loses his coat, is hunted by the cat and the farmer, and when he gets home, his mother scolds him and sends him to bed without dinner, while his sisters all eat... something delicious (can't remember what).

I'm not sure that Barbara Anderson got the "wrong" lesson. Stealing is bad; don't do it.

Pajser writes:

Stribor's forest. You need fifteen minutes to read it, and it will stay in your heart.


pgbh writes:

Good anecdote. The resulting mental image is highly amusing.

TerriW writes:

My kids came away from Little Red Hen with the lesson that you should coast until she's ready to bake the bread, and then jump in. So I'd say something about they'd get a smaller portion. And then they'd say something about the Parable of the Workers.

So, they'll either go far in life, or never leave my basement.

Steve S writes:

Someone gave us that "Alexandar and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" book. I *think* you're supposed to feel bad for the kid but really he's a little snot and nothing that happens to him during the day is really that bad. I barely made it to the end and gave the book away.

But if my son ever finds it in a library and starts reading it I'll be sure that he knows that Alexander made his own misery and he shouldn't be felt sorry for.

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