Money Lessons from Dad - Commie or Cappy?

David Larson |

My dad, Ron Larson, believed in education. While very few things in life are certain, he knew that becoming more educated is the most sure-fire thing you can do to improve your lot in life. Ron’s father died when he was very young, leaving his working mom alone to raise twin boys. They struggled to make ends meet, and yet he persevered to earn a PhD while growing his own family and teaching at a community college in Southwest VA.

Actually, both of my parents worked for over 30 years in education. Teaching was so ingrained in them, they rarely missed the opportunity to instruct me and my siblings on a host of subjects. 

In 1985 when I was 7 years old, my hometown of Wytheville, VA had very few places to shop. As a result, we often took a trip through the tunnels on I-77 to go to the Mercer Mall in Bluefield, West Virginia. Mercer Mall is where I first played Galaga and Pac-Man in the magical arcade, and where I first experienced those crispy Chick-Fil-A waffle fries. These luxuries were not available anywhere close to us in Virginia.

There were also other items found in West Virginia that you could not purchase in Wytheville. Lottery tickets! This regressive tax system had not come to our state yet, so merchants from West Virginia were all too willing to sell tickets to Virginia residents just across the border. 

My dad made sure we knew that the lottery is a very poor investment. However, it can be a cheap form of entertainment, and in this case, a valuable education tool. 

Many times we would pop into the drugstore in the mall and dad would generously give me and my sister Anne a couple of $1 scratchers. As he would hand the tickets over to us he would grin and say, “So what’s it gonna be? Commie or Cappy?”

We knew exactly what he meant. One of dad‘s favorite presidents was Ronald Reagan. It was no secret in our household that communism is a bad deal for almost everyone except the government officials. Dad was looking for a simple way to teach his elementary school children the core difference between communism and capitalism.

If we chose “Commie” then we would have to share our potential winnings from our scratchers with one another. So if my scratcher was a dud and my sister won big, she would divide her bounty with me, and vice-versa. 

If we chose “Cappy”, I would keep my separate winnings from the tickets that I scratched, and also run a higher risk of walking away empty-handed if I had a loser.  

All of the times we played the Commie/Cappy game, my sister and I knew what the right answer was. We always chose Cappy. We would make our decision and live with the consequences, for better or for worse. 

Through this simple lesson, and in countless other moments, dad taught us that we simply cannot rely on other people, or the government, to give us what we need. He also taught us that we need to make decisions and we need to live with the consequences, for better or for worse. While the lottery may seem like an odd way to teach this lesson to some, he knew that if we understood this key fact, our chances of success in life would increase.  

So does capitalism neglect those who do not have the means or education to improve their lot in life?  On the contrary, look to people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who have used their wealth to improve the lives of so many. In my experience, successful people and creative non-profits have a far better track record of helping people than the track record of our government.

My dad helped teach us that capitalism is not perfect. However, it works better than any other system available. With proper checks and balances, individuals will benefit, and thus, society as a whole will be better off.

It seems like with each election cycle in our country, the Commie/Cappy pendulum swings back-and-forth. Some people may argue that the pendulum swung too far to the right in the 1980s, while others are concerned that it will swing too far to the left in the coming years. Regardless, the pendulum will continue to swing. I believe that our founding fathers set a system in place to ensure that it does not swing too far in one direction for very long. 

I am optimistic in the long-term growth of our economy. Look past the headlines and all the negative news out there and focus on your long-term goals. When you look at the numbers on your investment statements, always remember this: Behind those numbers are hard-working people just like you and me who simply want to provide for their families and perform well for their company.  

While capitalism is not perfect, it fosters individual accountability. When you invest in stocks, you are investing in the belief that capitalism will hold up over time, and history has shown that you have been rewarded for this belief.

Choosing “Cappy” places a bet on innovation and the American system our founding fathers created.  


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