Monday, July 02, 2012

Entrepreneurship Summer Camp

So, I got myself into something difficult.  Being a professor, I do what many of us do, and assume that if students don't "get it," it's their fault for not being smart enough.  (I'm not as bad about this as Ricardo G, "El Certificador!"  He actually believes he stands between idiots and their diplomas, which would be meaningless without El Cert's watchful eye.  But I know I do sometimes blame the consumers when in fact the product is bad.)

But, in this case, I have agreed to give two four-hour* "classes" to a summer church camp.  The kids are 11-17 years old, and they come from (as the director described it) "urban backgrounds."  The time I have is 8:30 to noon, on Monday July 9 and Monday July 16.

My job?  To teach about (1) the American Constitution, (2) the importance of property and exchange, and (3) entrepreneurship.

You see the problem?  This is what people like me always whine about.  "No one is teaching our kids today about (1) TAC, (2) TIOP&E, or (3) Entrepreneurship.  THAT's the problem."  So, here's my chance. 

What you do?  I need advice.  Activities.  This obviously CANNOT be a lecture, or anything like a lecture.  11-17, summer, in a church basement, 8:30 am to noon.  What can I do that will help the kids think about the Constitution, property rights, and entrepreneurship?

I have gotten some ideas on some activities from .  And I can use some of those excellent videos from (I think they will enjoy this one.  And of course this one by the Great Zwolinski** is wonderful )

So, that will take up hour.  Out of seven hours.  This needs to work, folks. I need advice.  Please comment, or send an email to mcmunger at gmail dot com


*Look at that.  "Four" "hour".  How can two almost identical words be pronounced so differently, with different numbers of syllables, in fact?  Bizarre.

**The Great Zwolinski should either be a magician, or a porn star, in my opinion.  A shame to waste that name on a philosopher.


Anonymous said...

I can say this: economic experiments can be fun. Doing an auction like Vernon Smith's early one shows the invisible hand is real, even when each person only knows their own information.

If you put something worthwhile up for auction, and you play the role of a real auctioneer, it can be fun.


Anonymous said...

Set up some lemonade stands and hopefully they won't get busted by the cops.

Natalie said...

With entrepreneurship I like to focus on entrepreneurial activities that are in fact illegal or operate in the informal economy (drug dealing, child care among neighbors, undeclared wages, selling items on craigslist (boosting or otherwise)) and analyze the barriers to participation in the formal economy.

Don said...

Wow, that's a lot to cover in 4 hours (actually, 3 1/2, given your time slot)!

I'd suggest a round table discussion on some current events and how they relate to the Constitution.

As for the other stuff, setup a mock company or two. Some kids are producers of widgets, some are retailers of widgets, etc. You can play Big Brother and regulate the be-jesus out of them, and take their money for "taxes", "help" them with "labor disputes", etc. Show them at each step how when you increase "regulation" or "taxation" they have to raise their costs to stay alive, and maybe introduce a "foreign" competitor (not subject to the same regulations/taxes) to show them how competition is difficult.

Honestly, you have your work cut out for you!

Anonymous said...

I think you're going to have to dumb it down A LOT. I'd check out to get insight on high school level thoughts. I'd probably prepare 7 hours of material and feel out what to actually use as you go.

Prison Rodeo said...

A lot of the comments seem to be focusing on (3), and even those seem to have a particular take to them. (You could just as easily teach them about barriers to entry created by monopolists and the consequent importance of strong antitrust laws, etc., but I'm guessing that won't happen).

I'd suggest ordering things 2-3-1. That is, start with the idea of private property, gains from trade, etc. That flows right into entrepreneurship in a pretty natural way, which can then lead to problems with markets (including those stemming from states, like protectionism) that can stifle entrepreneurship. The Constitution can then be introduced as a means of overcoming those problems, while also being (somewhat) self-limiting (Takings Clause, etc.).

Tony Gill said...

You will actually do fantastic because you have a natural ability to connect abstract principles to real life situations. I take inspiration from you and your EconTalk lectures and just did the same thing with a group of 11-15 year olds for Citizenship in the World and Citizenship in the Nation merit badges (Boy Scouts).

The key is a little bit of lecture with examples that hit home, and then role-playing or games.

I've used the iterated prisoners' dilemma game (with candy) to teach about cooperation and then trade. I've used your $20 bill auction to teach about rent-seeking and the need for smaller government. Interestingly, I find that even though 11-14 year olds still don't have the capacity for abstract thinking, they do get the principles if put into a roleplaying or game exercise.

As for the first two tasks, I think you can teach about the Constitution and the need for property rights and freedom simultaneously by going through the process of setting up a government from scratch and comparing it to what the Founders did.

I will email you with more thoughts separately.

Tony Gill said...

Oh, and by the way, I just did an interesting podcast on whether or not Christians should have picked up arms after Lexington & Concord during the American Revolutionary War. We had three different perspectives from three different profs, and I reveal my own thoughts at the end. Good discussion.

Anonymous said...

Setup 3 companies. Have 1 of them be a supplier and 2 of them being manufacturers. The 1 supplier sells to both manufacturers, but one of them is a union company with artificial price floors on wages and the other is non-union. Have them set prices for the good they produce. Then hit the supplier with regulations, permit costs, taxes, etc. and force them to increase the cost of materials and watch the ripple effect in your micro-economy. Then, hit the non-union company with right to work laws where they are forced to unionize and further increase prices.

You should also reinforce that government protects existing businesses and prevents new entrants into the market versus helping them out. Using the micro-economy, try and get a new manufacturer to start up but be required to pay out the nose for permits and inflated union labor rates.

In regards to property and exchange, have one manufacturer have 30% of their profits confiscated by the taxman and have the other manufacturer have 30% of their profits stolen by marauding barbarians. Which manufacturer ends up better off?

You could also use the broken windows theory and test it. Simply having an exchange of money isn't good enough--value must be created. No exchange takes place without both sides receiving value. Therefore, all this BS you hear about with workers being exploited by evil Republican industrialists is nonsense since all parties are willfully engaging in an exchange of labor for wages and goods for services.

August said...

Just talk to them. The biggest mistake you are likely to make is to go right over their heads. Forget the constitution. You have to figure out where they are and teach them the next lesson. I have a friend who learned this the hard way with a bible study for women. Whatever you think is basic turns out to be advanced; the trick is to teach them the components of the basics- the stuff you don't even think about anymore.
This is why you have to draw them out as much as possible- to understand what they know. Do 90% of that, and then spend 10% trying to get them to make the next logical step from wherever they are at.

Dave said...

Ask them if their grades should be redistributed to kids who didn't study as hard. That one always hammers the point home.

Dave said...

Also good:

Mark Brown said...

You got stuck with almost the trifecta of impossibility: low capital environment, large age range, and way too long a time. (I know about trying to teach a church confirmation class in roughly the same scenario.)

First thing: you need to control the class. If you give up the offensive, the day is over.

Second thing: In the first minute ID the "cool" kids or tone setters. You must get them either with you or convince them to be passive, fast.

Third thing: Don't underestimate the kids. Aim high. Use source material. It shows you trust them with the real stuff. Then they will ask the questions when the realize you aren't giving them the Disney Constitution.

4) Those 11 year olds might actually be better than the 14 year olds. Depending upon the spread the 11/12's will have more in common with the 17's. For any group activities - that is probably a better age divide.

5) Actual activities: For Constitution have them "write one" and then make them live it for one scenario. (The biggest thing it teaches is respect for the power of the US constitution, and it brutally exposes simplistic ideas. Smart guys start looking at the original sources for clues.)

6) Version of monopoly, or a live action simulation could be helpful. Set different rules for different groups and allow "immigration". Watch how fast they all immigrate to the low regulation environment.

pkd said...

Contra Prison Rodeo, I'd suggest ordering things 3-2-1, from the practical to the theoretical.

Good for you, by the way.

Ten Mile Island said...

Best resource for discussion?


"The Constitution: That Delicate Balance."

Pick three kids to argue various sides of the debates, then open the debate to questions from the balance of the kids.

You will be Chief Decider.

Norman said...

I had great success teaching college students with no economics or math background about the importance of exchange and gains from trade using the desert island game:

It left a pretty big impression, and students kept bringing it up throughout the semester. You could also use it as a branching off point for the importance of entrepreneurship when the economy gets more complicated than 2 people / 1 good, as well as the importance of setting up a system of laws that make ownership and returns for effort predictable.

Eileen said...

Check out the Girl Scouts Financial literacy curricula at:
It is meant for middle schoolers and is pretty complete handouts and activities, etc.

Anonymous said...

Give them an assortment of different things, and they'll swap them.

SheetWise said...

I would start with Leonard Read's "I, Pencil" -- and if they get into it they will find that even with everything Pencil knew, it was certainly less than 1% of where he came from. And if you and your class were to work on the problem all day, you could never identify over 1%. It will be a lesson in how impossible it is to define any process that causes a thing to be -- even though processes spontaneously coordinate to bring us things we want ... it might also teach them why even a 2,000+ page health care reform bill could not possibly coordinate much more than the production of a band-aid.


tag said...

I am jealous of these students.

If you gave out monopoly money (with a fixed or nonfixed supply) at the start of the first class and said that at the end of the classes the students will be allowed to use the money on items of value, then a small economy will naturally develop.

Some students will save their money for the rewards at the end. Other students will trade their money for snacks. A lot of kids will gamble. Kids might rent things they own, such as toys or pencils.

A teacher did this with her class - at the end of the year each dollar would be worth an extra point on a quiz grade. She gave out money for participation in class - I think a great development would be to find a way to get money to continuously circulate back to the teacher, to avoid inflation.

If money is distributed as an award for doing good things, students will see inflation, although they might believe the system to be fair. Also, this gives students two options - students that study will be 'wealthy' because they can earn more dollars. Clever students that don't study will likely offer other services, or host games of blackjack.

I like it since the kids are deciding for themselves to get the most value out of their dollars.

The problem I see would be that, in a week, the student-economy will not become fully developed.

You might also consider going through some examples of business ethics, or business team-building exercises -exercises that require innovation. You can discuss how regulation could stifle entry into markets by entrepreneurs. These take fair chunks of time, but are quite interactive, and will keep kids' brains moving. I can't think of a good example off the top of my head, although I'm sure you know a couple of professors who could chime in.

Anonymous said...

You've got to use games.

Get 'em in groups. Let them use their competition and wits to compete in a project.

Make sure there's a good prize (so as to motivate all the groups).

Make sure they can't collude to "game the game."

If you can successfully harness their sense of competitive pride, then you can get them motivated to try to work harder then the other teams.

If worse comes to worst, bribery is marginally ethical.

Enjoy church camp!

Anonymous said...

ugh, please substitute the word "creativity" for "competition" in the above post.

Although the term "competitive spirit" would've also worked. said...

All these things lead to betterment. Trust me.

Deepa said...

My 12 year old's school in Austin TX, has a fantastic Civics and Economics teacher (Mr.Reynolds). He has them do a 3 week business project. Over the years, he has fine tuned how he runs this. My son has had so many insights about entrepreneurship, even though it's just a week into this project. If you'd like advice from him, please email him at