Lesson in Economics for My 11 Year Old (or, Don’t Hang Up The Clothes you Try On)

A few years ago, I was in a department store with my daughter who was about 8 years old at the time. We were trying on clothes in the changing room. As we finished trying on each item, I laid it neatly on the bench. When we were done with everything, I was gathering my purse and keys to leave when I turned and saw my daughter starting to hang up the clothes we had tried on. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Genevieve, what are you doing?

Genevieve: I’m hanging up the clothes we tried on. The sign says to “Please hang up your clothes”.

Me: Do you want to hang them up?

Genevieve: I don’t know, but the sign says to.

Me: Honey, you know how upsetting it is for Mommy when I see you blindly following signs and instructions without thinking for yourself. You can’t even tell me if you want to hang up the clothes or not, which means you’re just doing what the signs says without thinking for yourself. So, tell me, what do YOU want to do?

Genevieve: Well, I would rather not hang them up but I was just trying to do what the sign said.

Me: When Macy’s starts sending me paychecks, I’ll start hanging up the clothes I try on. But for now, I don’t work for Macy’s and I don’t own Macy’s, so I’m walking out of here in 3 seconds.

Genevieve: Won’t they get mad at us when they see?

Me: Firstly, that doesn’t matter because we don’t work for Macy’s so they can’t fire us. We’re customers and they need our business so we call the shots here. Secondly, what we’re doing is good for us, good for Macy’s employees and good for the country and our economy. I will explain all of that to you when you’re older.

Fast forward to last week. Genevieve is now 11 and, thankfully, hasn’t attempted to hang up clothes in a changing room in years because she doesn’t work there and usually doesn’t feel like doing it. Of course, I’m super proud of her for making advances in her independent thinking (But, we still have a long way to go because I often catch her exhibiting non-thinking, rule following behavior that is beyond baffling to me since I teach, and model, the exact opposite to her. I’ll go ahead and blame this rogue behavior on her father.)

At this point, you might think I’m teaching my daughter to misbehave or to behave somewhat rudely. On the contrary, I’m teaching her how to be generous to herself, to the store employees and their families, and to our country.

These days, when we’re trying on clothes, we often joke with each other. “Genevieve, aren’t you forgetting to hang up the clothes?”. “Mommy, I don’t work here”. She’s fun!

We recently had another conversation about the hanging up of clothes in department stores:

Genevieve: When the sign in the changing room says to hang up the clothes, I know we don’t do it because we don’t work here and we don’t feel like it. But, does that mean the employees get in trouble?

Me: Think about it this way….if everyone hung up their own clothes, the store would need fewer employees. So, no, the employees won’t get in trouble. The employees will get to keep their jobs because we aren’t doing their jobs for them for free. Of course, the store wants us to hang up the clothes – they’ll take any free work if they can get it. That’s why the sign is there. But, if we do it, we will hurt the employees when they get fired because the store no longer needs them.

Genevieve: Well if the store employees get fired because we are hanging up our own clothes for free, then that will mean that the store won’t have to pay those employees anymore and they should lower the prices of our clothes. So, isn’t that good for us?

Me: If that actually happened, it could benefit us. But, that isn’t how it works. If the store finds a way to save money, it won’t usually pass that savings on to the customers in the form of lower prices. The store will use that money saved for other purposes – most likely to increase their profits, which may increase their stock price and have an indirect benefit to us (if we own that stock) and the economy.

Genevieve: So, if we do the employee’s job for free and they get fired, how will they get money to live?

Me: They may not be able to find another job. They may end up needing government help which means some of my paycheck will go to them in the form of paying taxes. So, let’s look at what we’ve done by hanging up clothes and blindly following the sign…we’ve wasted 10 minutes of our day on a task we didn’t want to do…we got an employee fired because we decided to do their job for free…we hurt the economy because that employee no longer makes money so she doesn’t buy things which means someone who “makes things” may soon be without a job too…and the cycle continues. And, to top it off, our “thanks” for blindly following the sign without thinking is that we also get to spend more of my hard-earned money on taxes to help this chain of employees we just got fired.

Genevieve: It should be illegal to have those signs in stores! I won’t ever hang up my clothes!

Sweet! Let’s get out of here and use our extra 10 minutes of free time to buy stuff!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>