An Experiment In Economy & Other Things

Yonah and Aitza expressed to me recently that they’d like to give gifts to loved ones for Christmas. Taking this as a sign of social awareness, and an opportunity to instill a sense of household and financial responsibility while teaching hands-on mathematics and economics (it’s the educator in me), I sat down with David and worked out a system in which we pay the children for work that helps to prepare the house for renovations come springtime.

Deferring to the only economic model I’m familiar with, I immediately set to work making paper vouchers symbolic of monetary amounts which total $40 altogether because this money is coming out of my monthly budget (and it’s all I can afford). In what I felt was a fair decision, I decided to put a $20 earnings cap on each of the two children. I give the appropriate voucher (vouchers are for $1 and $.25 amounts) once a task is completed to keep safely in their paper wallets, you know, as a way to keep track (and I know how much they enjoy sorting monopoly money). I’ve been keeping a ledger with the job and cost of the job recorded. Little pieces of paper in the children’s possession doesn’t last long, so they appreciate this extra measure, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

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If you know anything about the ethos of my upbringing, personal ethics and life experience, or are a close friend of mine in real life and/or on Facebook, you’re familiar with my passionate discourse on the topics of the American economy, improvements to the national welfare system and medicaid/medicare, and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). You know that I’m already questioning my reasoning and approach (my reaction) to the children’s holiday spirit. Here’s why.

Let’s use a child “A”/ child “B” set-up for explaining this. Say child “A” plows through those jobs on our family task list and quickly reaches their $20 pay cap, and child “B” can only get through half of that on account of some sort of limitation such as level of skill, not having special considerations for a physical/cognitive limitation met OR poor task planning and support on my, the “employer’s” part.

This means something to me.

One possible meaning is that child “B” is unable to purchase the gift they really want to give child “A”, because they can’t afford it since they have to stretch their earnings over four people. Will child “B” begin to feel any amount of stress? Will they compare themselves to their “higher earning” sibling, child “A”? Will child “A” feel that they received a present of lesser quality in exchange for what they bought child “B”?  Will either child develop some level of bias on what they can or can’t accomplish? Will this cause a temporary emotional upheaval, or resentment toward one another, or ME as the ’employer’? (I doubt the kids will get to this point because our family culture is SO very different than mainstream. I informed them that this is an experiment in mainstream. BUT, I have really intense anxiety that causes me to think about these scenarios over and over and over again, so this is a “what-if”, and fodder for my mental toiling on society at large).

I didn’t really intend for all this. I didn’t really think it through before I opened my big, fat mouth. In the end, I may create an anonymous “subsidy” for a child “B” to be able to give presents of equal quality to their recipients. Or, because I’m paralyzed with guilt or anxiety at having potentially taught something incorrect or hurtful.

I hope this secular holiday project will provide the experience they said they wanted, while learning something important about how America works. Maybe the silver lining is that we can talk about the process and what’s successful and not successful about it. And of course, along the way, they may discover that they can craft some interesting and wonderful presents. They may learn that limited financial resources make for heightened resourcefulness of what a person DOES have. I do not know. I’ll post updates to this. I think I’ll learn something here. Maybe you will too.

 

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