Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Author: Roald Dahl
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 2007 (paperback reissue)
Concepts: incentives, poverty, scarcity, producers, consumers, competition
Review: Given the popularity of Roald Dahl’s classic book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and of the 2005 Hollywood movie by the same name, few readers need a summary of the plotline and characters. However, less obvious are the valuable economics lessons interwoven throughout this beloved book. The reader meets Charlie Bucket and his parents and both sets of grandparents in the opening chapter, and quickly learns that this family lives in harsh conditions of poverty, with just one bed in a two-room wooden shack. Charlie’s father supports this household with a low-pay position as an unskilled worker in a toothpaste factory, screwing caps onto toothpaste tubes all day. The family suffers malnutrition and near starvation, with a diet based mostly on bread, potatoes, and cabbage. Once a year on his birthday, Charlie is given a chocolate bar, which he savors, morsel by morsel, over the course of an entire month.
In contrast, the other four children who win golden tickets to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory do not know the meaning of scarcity as they come from families with varying degrees of wealth. Also in contrast to Charlie’s wretched living conditions is the presence of Willy Wonka’s enormous chocolate factory within sight of his own house. The reader learns more valuable economics lessons from the tale of why Mr. Wonka decided to close his factory to all workers and other people. Earlier, “spies” had leaked secrets of his special production processes to competitors who then proceeded to copy Mr. Wonka and produce the same kinds of delicious and whimsical sweets. The process of producing chocolate and candies in a factory, and the natural resources used to make the products, are economics lessons that appear throughout the book. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also teaches about consumers and how they respond to incentives by buying more or less of a product; in this case, news of the five golden tickets causes a surge in consumers’ demand for Wonka chocolate bars.
Children may think they know the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but chances are they do not realize that they are getting a good dose of economics from start to finish. This book makes a nice addition to most collections, including those used to teach lessons about poverty, competition, consumers, and producers.
Review by: The Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children