Candy Store

Middle school and high school
Subject: Economics
Time: One to two class periods
Preparation: Have class view "Wolves" (Tape 1, Hard Choices, Act 4, 53:32) or "Pattonsburg" (Tape 2, Deliberation, Act 8, 37:35)

Often in a democracy with all that needs to be done, changed, and fixed, there are simply too many choices. It's like the kid in a candy store presented with scores of temptations, but having only enough money to buy one thing.

As a game, create a series of boxes on the blackboard to represent the government's budget. Have your students fill in what the government should do with its budget. Make sure the class covers all of the government's territory: Defense, Social Security, the Attorney General, Energy, Health, Education, Welfare, Agriculture, Treasury, and so on, as well as regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission. Initially, the boxes should be for programs (needs, problems, and opportunities) despite whether those programs are the proper province of the federal, state, or local government. Don't get bogged down in specifics about the federal budget. The aim of this game is to realize that there are many competing interests; this is what inevitably leads to hard choices.

Jobs, people's livelihoods, are affected by almost every decision. If an army base is closed to save money on defense, people are put out of work. If cutbacks are made on agriculture subsidies, some farmers go under. The people and/or their lobbies will fight.


1. Pick some students in your class to be lobbies that are against funding cuts in certain government programs (represented by the boxes). Now, let the rest of the class try to make the hard choices that are necessary to divide tax dollars in the face of those who may lose their jobs. Democratic choices are seldom made out of the public eye or out of the range of some aggrieved voice. This is what makes democracy especially noisy and clumsy. On the other hand, in a democracy, everyone has the opportunity to have a say.

2. Divide the population into the following categories: elderly, middle age, students, and young. Then divide again into: very rich, well-off, middle class, scraping by, and poor. And lastly, divide into: race, religion, or any of the other ways you can look at our diverse nation. Now imagine that you're in one of the categories -- say retired, poor, and Italian-American. How would you reset priorities from your point of view? How do the priorities established in the candy store game look to you now?

In a democracy, the way that hard choices get decided depends on whose toes are getting squashed and who has the individual or collective power to yell loud enough to be heard. The point is that hard choices only get harder when the people who will be affected are taken into consideration.

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