Financial Literacy

The liberal man is the man who knows how to give the right amount of money to the right person in the right way at the right time. – Aristotle 

An important aspect of the work of the Economics Conference concerns the what, why, when and how of the teaching of finance and economics in general and from an associative point of view in particular. This has been a concern of a number of colleagues in the Economics Conference, including Arthur Edwards in the UK and Daniel Osmer in the USA, both of whom have devised curricula and been party to wide-ranging work to research the background, as well as giving courses in secondary schools. In 2005, this came to a focus when members of the Economics Conference initiated a worldwide project aimed at bringing together those who teach finance and economics to young people of secondary school age (initially in Waldorf schools on the assumption that such schools are predisposed to this approach). 

The idea was to host meetings of those concerned in these fields – teachers, pedagogues and policy makers. A first meeting was held in July 2005 in London, since when various gatherings and discussions have been held around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, England, and Argentina, with a view to developing a more coherent approach for secondary schools, both Waldorf and non-Waldorf. 

In February, May and October of 2014, a series of workshops was held at the Mannheim Waldorf Seminar in Germany, and since 2013 the Annual Meeting of the Economics Conference has had financial literacy as a sub-theme, with its corollary of funding young people through Youth Bonds.

Associative Financial Literacy

In May 2013, a conference on The Future of Finance at Saïd Business School, Oxford University, England, was convened to discuss what caused the 2008 global financial crisis, and to ask how things might be done differently going forwards. The first day detailed what had gone wrong. The second day began with moderation by Economics Conference member, Christopher Houghton Budd, who opened the proceedings with the above quotation from Aristotle. The conference concluded with an all-female panel on financial literacy for young people, who argued that financial literacy needs to begin at an early age, so that today’s widespread ignorance and unconsciousness about money and finance can be overcome.

From this, a straight line led to the Associative Financial Literacy project described below. By way of two formal papers – In the Shoes of Luca Pacioli in Springer's International Handbook on Financial Literacy and a submission to an OECD conference, Money is Bookkeeping – The Key to Effective Financial Literacy – Christopher Houghton Budd and Fionn Meier linked associative economics to mainstream academic and policy circles, at the same time as focusing on secondary education in general and worldwide.

Indeed, due to many government-promoted projects, financial literacy is now becoming part of secondary school curricula worldwide. But in most cases the basic idea remains of money as something unto itself, something to be preserved at all costs and to reign supreme over the ‘real’ economy. However, what will change thereby, other than increased skill at ‘working’ and so maintaining the system known to be at fault, but now on the part of ever-younger generations?

By contrast, rather than treating it as a commodity within the economy, associative financial literacy sees money as a reflector of economic life, with true pricing as the main thing it reflects (or should reflect). For this, in turn, money needs to be differentiated by ‘upgrading’ its three functions – means of exchange, store of value and unit of account – to three kinds – purchase, loan and gift. It will then be seen that money in its modern form is accounting; indeed, it is the world’s moving bookkeeping system.

This, in essence, is the story that those who teach about money need to impart to their students – both secondary and tertiary. This has the potential to transform the global financial crisis into global financial awareness.

Following on from his Masters thesis on money as bookkeeping (­­­­­­­­­­see Money as Accounting’ and book review), Fionn Meier, a member of the Economics Conference, was then commissioned to research all that had been published in the German-speaking world linking Rudolf Steiner to double-entry bookkeeping, and to make this available in shortened format in English (see Perspectives in Finance). Together, these texts contribute to an essential and modern ground for today’s educators.

Ambassador for Youth Financial Literacy

In 2019, Fionn Meier was asked to act as an ‘ambassador for youth financial literacy’, which he did under the heading of ‘Financial Literacy for the 21stCentury’. Funded associatively by a dozen organisations and private persons for one year and mentoredjointly by Christopher Houghton Budd (of the Economics Conference) and Florian Oswald (of the Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science) the project centred on practical teaching projects in Switzerland and Germany and focused on generating concrete teaching material and curriculum proposals. See, for example, the teaching of students aged 14/15 (9th Class) reported on in Expedition into the World of Finance, published in the Swiss Steiner School Magazine Schulkreis in autumn 2019.  

Next Steps: Youth Financial Literacy Research Project 2020-23

In order to continue bringing together pedagogical aspects with the science of money, finance and entrepreneurship, the Economics Conference of the Goetheanum and the Pedagogical Section will continue working together through a series of Research Colloquia to be held at the Goetheanum (Switzerland) from 2020 to 2023. link to event flier.

Participation is open to anyone involved in the teaching of finance and economics, whether as teachers, administrators or those responsible for educational governance. The idea is to use the insights of spiritual science to develop together a shared sense of how these two closely-related subjects can be taught, together with the contribution this can make to the economics and financing of schools themselves.

Anyone interested in this topic or the research project 2020-23 should send an email to economics[at]goetheanum.ch with ‘Financial Literacy’ as the subject.