Brain Pickings

How People Earn and Use Money: Vibrant Vintage Illustrations from 1968

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“Before spending money a person should be sure he is doing the right thing.”

With the fiscal cliff towering over the mainstream media, one has to wonder how America cultivated its relationship with money and the economic mindset that got us where we are today. In 1968, at the peak of “the century of the self” and the consumerism of the Mad Men era, while Alan Watts was busy bringing Eastern philosophy to the West and trying to convince Americans to seek purpose beyond money, a primary school supplement titled How People Earn and Use Money (UK; public library) — from the same Social Studies Program series that gave us How People Live in the Suburbs and How We Use Maps and Globes — set out to explain to children the basics of economic theory and its implications for everyday life.

But far from a mere educational tool, the vibrant vintage primary-color illustrations by artist Jack Faulkner and words by Muriel Stanek capture both the era’s characteristic biases and the naiveté of an overly simplistic view of the market economy — from the gender stereotypes dictating what types of jobs are appropriate for men and women to the blind faith in banks that seems in retrospect a caricature of the recent global recession to the tragic conditioning that work for money alone is the only kind of work.

(The woman speaking with the male credit manager, of course, isn’t there to get a loan for a new business venture, but for a new fridge and stove.)

How People Earn and Use Money, sadly long out of print, was part of a Basic Understanding series of primary school supplements, also including such out-of-print treasures as How People Earn and Use Money, How Farms Help Us, and How Our Government Helps Us.

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