KAI RYSSDAL: You know, as if the chairman of the Federal Reserve doesn’t have enough to do, what with all that running the economy thing. Now he’s got a bunch of high schoolers to worry about.
Ben Bernanke spent part of his day at Wilson Senior High in Washington, DC. It’s part of a campaign to teach financial literacy. The central banker told the kids they ought to learn how to handle their money. Things like budgeting and using credit wisely.
Commentator Ben Stein finds the choice of messenger on that subject interesting.
BEN STEIN: It is an experiment noble in purpose, and I applaud Mr. Bernanke for it. Children should know what a stock is, what a bond is, what an annuity is, what a mutual fund is, what an index fund is and so on and so forth.
But I’m not sure that “financial literacy” is really the name for it. Maybe it’s something more like “financial responsibility.” Or maybe even just “financial gravity,” as in how, as my pal Ray Lucia says, you have to make sure your assets always balance your liabilities.
If you’re working, you have to know that your savings in stocks, bonds, real estate, annuities, are going to equal your retirement liabilities.
And this is a gargantuan responsibility for most of us. You have to know that you’re not going to be able to count on Social Security for much, that Medicare will probably be insolvent in 20 years or less.
That means a lot of weight on your shoulders, young Americans. You have to learn to assume it, know what the yields on stocks usually are, what advantages there are to investing offshore.
You have to learn what skills can’t be lost to technology change or to foreign competition. You have to learn how to work hard at what counts — supporting your family by developing the human capital that pays the bills and adds to saving.
These are all good lessons, but it’s a tiny bit strange to have these lessons taught by the federal government — probably the most extravagant, irresponsible entity in the history of financial life. With our government’s immense deficits, staggering future liabilities — largely unfunded — under Medicare and Social Security, maybe it’s the kids at Wilson High School who should be teaching the government about fiscal and monetary responsibility.
Somebody’s got to teach them. Or maybe they won’t learn until the roof falls in. It’s happened before to governments and it could happen to us.
Oh well. We’ll think about that tomorrow.
RYSSDAL: Ben Stein is an actor and a writer. But he’s a lawyer too, and an economist.
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