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Are Progressives Smarter Than Fifth-Graders?

Are Progressives Smarter Than Fifth-Graders?

By Heather Wilhelm - May 19, 2011

Personal political preferences can be a mysterious thing. Are progressives simply born that way, springing forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus's head, thoughts of social justice and monorails imprinted on their psyches? Or are they slowly molded, surrounded by lectures about fairness, National Public Radio, and frequent viewings of "Avatar"?

Joe Kernen, host of CNBC's "Squawk Box," believes the latter is true -- and he's not growing any liberals at his house, thank you very much. His new book, "Your Teacher Said WHAT?!," chronicles Kernen's efforts to defend his fifth-grade daughter and co-author, Blake, "from the liberal assault on capitalism."

Ah, Blake. Poor, innocent Blake. I have to admit I felt kind of bad for her at certain points of the book, given that as a reader, I was subjected to the same lectures that she undoubtedly received ad nauseum over the past two years. (Sorry, Joe -- your intentions are good, I know. My husband regularly lectures our children on deep philosophical questions, and they're still in Pampers. Thus far, they show no sign of favoring progressive ideas like state-subsidized cowboy poetry, but you never know -- to a 2-year old, that idea might sound pretty compelling.)

And, as a matter of fact, that's one of Kernen's main arguments: Progressives, he writes, "retain a child's view of the world. Like ten-year-olds, they retain a belief in obvious heroes and villains, in perfection as a place where things don't change (especially as the result of human action), and in happy endings." Progressives also tend to make Kernen's head explode. "Progressivism," he writes, "is a durable bit of craziness." (Ouch, right? "So," he admits, "is parenting.")

"Your Teacher Said WHAT?!" offers a laundry list of basic explanations for various progressive ills, most of which are, sadly, accurate: Our culture unfairly demonizes capitalism and business. Public employee unions have run amok. Government regulations come with unintended, sometimes destructive, consequences. The tax code is laughable. Both nature and hungry animals can be mean.

Other points, like Kernen's breezy confidence in plentiful oil (and our ability to transition off of it) or his bashing of high-end/grass-fed/organic food (have you read a hamburger label lately? There's meat from 11 countries in there), are more debatable. Those hoping for lurid tales of state-funded public school indoctrination, meanwhile, will be disappointed. (There are, however, some fairly entertaining dissections of anti-capitalist themes in children's movies -- in the movie "WALL-E," Kernen points out, "Earth has been destroyed not by fire or by ice but by "Everyday Low Prices.")

All quibbling aside, Kernen deserves credit for taking an active role in his children's education and for seeking to help other parents do the same. Throughout his book, he challenges destructive anti-market assumptions passed on by our culture every day, and he's often amusing while doing it.

Economic literacy is not a sexy topic, but it's exceptionally important. Many economists, including Friedrich Hayek, author of "The Road to Serfdom," have seen a strong link between state-controlled economies and the path to totalitarianism. On a less dramatic level, economic liberty -- and the future generation's embrace or dismissal of it -- will significantly impact their standard of living, health care, and personal freedom. And on a global historical scale, as Kernen notes, many progressive ideas, when institutionalized, can lead to starvation, famine, or worse.

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Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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