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Anchor defends capitalism in ‘Your Teacher Said What?!’

In “Your Teacher Said What?!,” CNBC co-anchor Joe Kernen offers his daughter and others his views on why capitalism really works and why it's important to defend. Here is an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Joe Kernen, outspoken co-anchor of CNBC’s morning show “Squawk Box,” took issue with some of the lessons his daughter Blake was learning. So along with his daughter, he wrote “Your Teacher Said What?!: Defending Our Kids From the Liberal Assault on Capitalism.” Here is an excerpt.

Preface: The Complaint Department

It took me twenty years to find something about America really worth ranting about. Oh, I ranted anyway. A lot. But I didn’t actually have anything all that awful to complain about, since for nearly the entire twenty years I was getting paid to share my rants about the world’s largest and freest economy. I got to talk about business and the economy with everyone from billionaire industrialist Warren Buffett to former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson. I met with the country’s — the world’s! — smartest investors and economists during the greatest bull market in history and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

A couple of years ago, however, I found the first truly worthwhile reason to rant about the economy. It wasn’t unfunded mandates, Medicare insolvency, CEO compensation, or the federal deficit. It was one nine-year-old girl. From the day Blake Alexandra Kernen was born, she’s done hardly anything worth complaining about. This didn’t mean that she never made her mother and me fret. And like any father, I worried about whether I would measure up — whether I would succeed in doing for Blake and my son Scott what my parents had done for me: giving them the values that reflected what their mother and I cherished most. We wanted our kids to believe in God, love their country, and respect the principles of hard work and fairness. We wanted them to value honesty, courage, and kindness, to be polite and respectful.

Vote: Do you worry about the politics of your kids' teachers?

Simple, right? After all, these principles are widely shared in twenty-first-century America. Our church teaches us that we are obliged to care for people who can’t care for themselves; our schools reward hard work and demand respect. The heroes of their favorite movies and television programs are generally pretty brave. With one exception. My wife Penelope and I are capitalists — and not just because we’ve done pretty well out of the capitalist system. We believe that free-market capitalism is not only the most powerful engine for human prosperity ever but also history’s strongest force for freedom and human advancement. We believe — no, we know — that economic freedom is as important as religious freedom or freedom of speech. We believe that productive work, freely exchanged, is a virtue, just like charity freely given.

Consider that, during Blake’s first ten years, the United States of America not only elected a Republican president who increased the nation’s debt by more than $4 trillion — yes: that’s trillion, with a T — and a Democrat who is certain to break even that dubious record but experienced the worst economic disaster since the Chicago Cubs were a dynasty. About the only constant of those ten years, in fact, is that trust in the free-enterprise system seemed to sink lower in every one of them. The country, of course, is still suffering from a loss of faith in free markets.

But at least in the Kernen household, it doesn’t have to incapacitate us. Which is why we decided to spend a year — it turned into nearly two — taking the antidote: a daily (okay, not daily — but nearly) dose of free-market philosophy. It started with asking Blake to start writing down words and phrases she heard but didn’t understand about the economy, politics, and so on. Some of Blake’s questions led me to discover ideas I didn’t know about already, like the Higgs effect: the way that governments manage to turn temporary crises into permanent programs. And sometimes her answers served to remind me that she was still, after all, ten years old (with Blake, you constantly need to remind yourself of this).

Cover@SentinelSubmitted by Amanda Pritzker / UGC

Blake and I learned something about the origins of the Progressive movement in America, and the fact that its strongest political component has always been labor unions. This is not a coincidence: Progressivism always prefers collective endeavors to individual ones, and the biggest collectivists in the American economy are the ones whose whole reason for being is — wait for it — collective bargaining. Unfortunately, they are also the adults our children spend the most hours a day with, and we spend a lot of time talking about the pluses (small) and minuses (humongous) of unionism, from the plumbers who fix our furnace to the teachers who wonder aloud about the benefits of the free-enterprise system that pays their salaries. There was more, and if you’re anything like me, I can guarantee that your jaw will drop the same way mine did once I started paying attention to the hostility to free-market capitalism that infects almost every movie and television show your kids are watching.

We had fun. We followed the complicated process by which even the simplest manufactured item gets made, all without anyone directing it from above. Free markets can be pretty elegant to watch in action. And we had a bit of torture: For a month, Blake and I compared the editorial pages from the New York Times with those of the Wall Street Journal, stopping just this side of child endangerment.

Blake didn’t always agree with Penelope and me. One thing I learned is that the most powerful way in which nine- or ten-year-olds resemble grown-up Progressives is in their love of regulating things. There’s just no way Blake can see something that’s not good for you — like smoking cigarettes, or eating too much fast food — without wanting a law to ban it. Progressivism is a durable bit of craziness. So is parenting. Trying to plant the seeds of what we hope will be a lifelong philosophy in a ten-year-old brain is an alternately satisfying and frustrating assignment, and the time that Blake and I have been embarked on this father-and-daughter exercise has taught me that educating a child in the way free markets are supposed to work (and, most of the time, the way they actually do work) has never been harder ... or more rewarding. If you already have kids, you already know this. And if you don’t ... well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Excerpted with permission from “Your Teacher Said What?!: Defending Our Kids From the Liberal Assault on Capitalism” by Joe Kernen and Blake Kernen. Published by Sentinel. Copyright © 2011