My Speech to a Local FBLA Chapter

FBLA stands for Future Business Leaders of America. The FBLA is a national organization of high school clubs whose members are planning careers in business. I never belonged to the FBLA in high school, although there was a chapter. I knew of it only by its initials. Back then, I did not intend to go into business. Thinking back, I’m not sure what I planned to do. I think I planned to go into education. I guess I did. I’m in the education business. But I’m not on anyone else’s payroll.

The FBLA was founded in 1940. The first high school chapter was begun in 1942 in Johnson City, Tennessee. Today, it has 215,000 members. The related college organization, Phi Beta Lambda, has only 10,000 members.

Clearly, there is very little carry-over between the high school and college organizations. It is basically a high school organization.

With 215,000 members, this is an average club size of almost exactly ten students per American public high school. There are 21,200 public high schools.

When you think about it, ten students per high school isn’t a large figure. Given the crucial importance of business in creating the wealth of this or any nation, a figure this low testifies to the bureaucratic nature of modern education. Students are not encouraged by the system to go into business.

Given the fact of either tax funding or the non-profit status of most education — rarely paid for by full-cost tuition — this bureaucratic mind set is not surprising. Educators assume that education must go begging. The old saying, “He never met a payroll,” applies to teachers and most school administrators. The idea that education must meet consumer demand — mainly, parental demand — is regarded as preposterous by professional educators. Their operating presupposition is this: “The education of children is too important to be left in the hands of parents.”

The mind set of a classroom teacher is very different from the mind set of a businessman. I say this as someone who has taught at the college level — briefly. The script writer of “Ghostbusters” had it right. The key scene in this regard was when the three self-appointed experts in paranormal science have just been fired by the university. Dan Ackroyd’s character bewails their expulsion from academia. “This means we have to go into the real world. I’ve been out there. It’s a jungle. You have to compete.”

We must compete in all areas of life, of course, but the nature of the competition is different. In business, consumers set the standards. In academia, the screening system is run by the recipients of the public’s money. The system is self-credentialed. Legislatures do not hold the system or its criteria economically accountable. Every failure of the system is dealt with by pouring more money into it — the standard response of all governments.

What saves the West is that business as an occupation still attracts highly creative individuals who have a knack for meeting consumer demand at prices that buyers are willing and able to pay. These entrepreneurs were rarely the top SAT score high school graduates or straight-A students. But without the productivity of these people, today’s teachers and administrators would still be in the corn fields somewhere, walking behind a mule. (Actually, they would never have been born, or would have died in infancy. The infancy death rate is high in non-capitalist societies.)

Business operates on this principle: “Formal education is so unimportant that you can leave it in the hands of professional educators.” The most eloquent testimony in favor of this view comes from John Taylor Gatto, who was “Teacher of the Year” in New York State and three times in New York City. His web site provides the first eight chapters of his book, The Underground History of American Education, plus his essays and other choice materials. Gatto says that he wasted his career as a public school educator, and his site, as well as his books (Dumbing Us Down, which I read this month, and A Different Kind of Teacher, which I read last year) serve as a kind of academic penance.

Gatto recognizes that the public school system cannot be successfully reformed, and that education is best left to parents. But he also recognizes that this country will not collapse just because public schools fail to produce consistently well-educated children. American society’s productivity is not limited to what its tax-funded schools produce. There is more to America than the graduates’ formal academic certification.

Gatto came to his senses mainly because he had senses to come to. He had not started out as a teacher.

After college, Mr. Gatto worked as a scriptwriter in the film business, was an advertising writer, a taxi driver, a jewelry designer, an ASCAP songwriter, and a hotdog vendor before becoming a schoolteacher. During his schoolteaching years he also entered the caviar trade, conducted an antique business, operated a rare book search service, and founded Lava Mt. Records, a documentary record producer. . . .

Gatto and I are both committed to education. The institutional legacies that I plan on leaving behind are all connected to education. But both of us have our sincere doubts about anyone’s ability to reform tax-funded classroom education.

So, I occasionally give speeches to high school students. I am sure that these students are moved by my speeches, because after every speech, the students stand up and walk out.


My most recent speech was given in a private K-12 school run by a large Baptist church. This lunchtime meeting was catered. For lunch, they had fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, huge rolls, and cookies with M&M’s. The entire school had this for lunch. (I don’t recall a single cafeteria lunch this good in my entire high school experience.)

Over 20 students showed up. That’s pretty good for a high school of fewer than 250.

I spoke on three issues: the future, business, and leadership. That’s three-quarters of what the FBLA acronym stands for. I didn’t have enough time to deal with point four: America. Had I had more time, I would have contrasted America’s future with mainland China’s, which American businessmen had better start thinking about if they want to survive.

In 2001, mainland China produced 465,000 college graduates in science and engineering — as many as the United States has in total.

Next year, they will do this again. And the year after that.

This doesn’t count thousands of mainland Chinese students enrolled in U.S. graduate school programs and other foreign universities. It is a well-known secret that the best science and technology students in American graduate schools are foreigners, and the largest single source of these students is mainland China.

The United States, on the other hand, is producing millions of people with B.A.’s in sociology, history, political science, and psychology — degrees that have hardly any market value without a Ph.D., and not much value even then. All this for only $135,000 after taxes (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford).

But I digress. I talked about their futures. These were all bright, enthusiastic students. Well, anyway, they were students. And, of course, they hung on every word of a man who entered high school during Eisenhower’s first term as President, a pre-historic world, i.e., pre-“Heartbreak Hotel.”

I began with one of my favorite themes: goal-setting. I handed out the following outline, since I figured that they would not remember as much as 10% of what I said within 24 hours or less.



Say that you are 70 years old. Your family has put on your 70th birthday party. All of your children and grandchildren are there. They cry, “Speech! Speech!” What will you tell them about your greatest successes, how you achieved them, and what lessons you have learned — in five minutes, so that they may actually remember at least half of what you tell them? Start planning now for that birthday party. To make plans, you must answer three questions, the most difficult three questions of your life:

What do I want to achieve? How soon do I want to achieve this? How much am I willing to pay to achieve this?

Remember these principles:

  1. You can change a goal.
  2. You can change a plan.
  3. A bad plan is better than no plan.

The Goals Notebook

Buy a three-ring notebook. Buy a pack of lined paper. Buy some tabbed dividers. Insert the paper into the back of the notebook. Using as your starting point the date on which you begin your notebook, write the following numerical dates on the tabs:

  1. Three months out
  2. Six months out
  3. One year out
  4. Age 18
  5. Age 21
  6. Age 30
  7. Age 40
  8. Age 50
  9. Age 65 (normal retirement these days)
  10. Age 70
  11. The reading of your last will & testament

On a sheet of paper, write down your goals. The further away, the bigger the goals. Aim very high. Use these categories for your goals for dates 1—10:

  1. Money
  2. Influence
  3. Legacy (if you dropped dead that day)

As for category #11, never forget this exchange: “How much did he leave behind?” “All of it!”

Every day that a tab’s date comes up, go to the notebook and write down on a new sheet if you’re on schedule, why you’re on schedule, or why you’re not on schedule. Then write down your specific plans to meet the next deadline.

You are entitled to modify your goals for the next section. Don’t throw away the sheet of your original goals. Write down on that page why you have modified your original goals.

After year one is over, add new tabs:

  1. Three months
  2. Six months
  3. One year

Keep doing this every year. Always have your short-term goals written down in three-month segments. Keep referring to your list every three months.

When you start courting seriously, insist that your prospective spouse participate with you in a joint goal-setting session. Here you will find out if this relationship has a future. If you don’t have a filled-in notebook to serve as an example, your insistence that the other person create one will not carry weight.

From that point on, both of you must keep a notebook.


You must begin to budget. You have two primary temporal assets: time and money. All of life is a trade-off between time and money. In a world of scarce economic resources, you buy what you want either by paying money (goods/services) or lining up.

You must set up a money budget. If you have a computer, use Quicken. If you don’t, then do it by hand. But get help in setting up your initial budget from someone who has Quicken. You must budget 10% for the church (pay God first) and 15% for your savings program (pay yourself second), which you will not spend except on capital assets. This is untouchable money for the rest of your life. You must be able to see where your money went. You need a budget.

You must set up a time budget. Buy a cheap pocket imitation of a Day-Timer. Start using it for your school work. You must be able to see where your time went. You need a budget.

Time management is more important than money management. Work on it.


I also handed out a bibliography on leadership. I told them that if they wanted to become business leaders, they would have to be economically successful. I also told them that they would need two skills: the ability to write and the ability to speak in public. The only other way to become a leader in business is to give away piles of money. It’s a lot cheaper to learn how to write and speak.



Extracurricular Activities, Beginning Soon

  1. On-campus: debate team, newspaper, annual.
  2. Off-campus: Toastmasters, Junior Achievement (high school).


  1. Career. Work for a successful small businessman locally for at least 5 years. Master all aspects of the business.
  2. College. Major in journalism. Minor in accounting.

Learn how to write and calculate revenues/costs.

Second-best: major in English, minor in business.


  1. Subscribe to The Economist. This year. Read as much of it as you can understand. This is the best single source of news on the planet. Subscribe (free) to “Gary North’s Reality Check.” Send e-mail to
  2. Books on business success: The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind, by Thomas J. Stanley. Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki. The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber. Acres of Diamonds, by Russell Conwell. This book is free on the Web:
  3. Books on leadership: Dedication and Leadership, by Douglas Hyde. Leadership is an Art, by Max DuPree. Stronger Than Steel, by R.C. Sproul. Mr. Anonymous: The Life of William Volker, by Herbert Cornuelle. Books of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs.
  4. Books on advertising: How To Write a Good Advertisement, by Victor O. Schwab. My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, by Claude Hopkins. Free:


1. Spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel). Master it. 2. Texas Instruments BA-35 financial calculator. Master it.


The reason why I gave the speech is that the son of a friend of mine needed to fill a lunchtime speaker’s slot. The father, who runs a successful small business, came along to hear my speech. Afterward, he said, “I wish I had head that speech when I was in high school.” I replied: “You wouldn’t have paid any attention to it. You would have been too young.”

They were too young, too. Anyway, most of them were. But if Pareto’s 80-20 rule holds good — and it usually does — then about four of them will actually put some of my material to good use.

That’s true of my readers, too. Who knows? Maybe some outfit will post my two outlines for their members. I hope they do, if they post the entire text. But the fact is, no matter how good my material is, even for free, most people who read it will not put it to productive use. This is why those 20% who do apply it can maintain their advantage. Most of their competitors are too busy, too bored, or too ill-informed to pay any attention.

The Rotary Club speaker announces, “This nation is going to the dogs because of two reasons: ignorance and apathy.” One member turns to the other and whispers, “Do you think that’s true?” His fellow club member replies, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

November 26, 2002

Gary North is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s twice-weekly economics newsletter, click here.

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