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Stocks for Fun and Propaganda

Stocks for Fun and Propaganda

The most popular stock market games are played on the web. Stock market simulations are so sophisticated that they look just like actual trading. Participants can choose from nearly all available stocks, mutual funds, margin purchases, short selling, all at the prices delayed usually only a few minutes from actual stock market prices.

Many schools rely on the Stock Market Game funded by bankers and brokers through the Securities Industry Foundation for Economic Education. Increasingly, teachers are turning to commercially produced stock market games such as Stock-Trak and the Virtual Stock Exchange. These games are subsidized by advertising, usually for real-life, paid stock transactions. (Some commercial web sites have extended the stock market simulations to the "buying" and "selling" of predictions about athletes' performances at performances at Wall Street Sports and film earnings at the Hollywood Stock Exchange.)

Nearly all games follow a common script. Students begin with a tidy sum, usually $100,000, with no reference to the source of this initial endowment - although one curriculum offers the unlikely scenario that students have inherited money from "Uncle Mort," who helped Brazilian Indians profit from rainforest products. Since everyone starts out with the same amount of money, the games perpetuate the idea that individual effort is the reason that some people get rich and others do not.

Of course, in real life the starting line isn't even. Fewer than one out of 10 households own $100,000 in total financial assets, including not only stocks but also bonds, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. And in real life, stocks themselves are distributed in a very lopsided manner, with 10 percent of shareholders owning 90 percent of all stock, while the top one percent owns more than half of all shares.

Unequal distribution of stocks goes unmentioned in teaching guides such as the New York Stock Exchange's The Stock Market Wants You, or the National Council on Economic Education's Learning from the Market. Instead, these manuals emphasize the recent broadening of stock ownership, so that 50 percent of households now own stock. A true-to-life stock market simulation would show that, while it is true that more U.S. households own some stock than in the past, ownership has become even more unequal: The rich now own an even larger percentage of all stock than they did 20 years ago.

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