When trying to work through a complicated issue in a complex environment, sometimes it helps to identify a simplified model that can be more easily understood. I’ve found this technique useful when thinking about economic and social issues.

Let me introduce what I call the “Frontier Family”. This is a family consisting of a mom, a dad, and four children under the age of twelve. They exist on the edge of some frontier and must depend on their own wits and effort for survival. Though other people exist in the region, the Frontier Family relies only on itself.

Mom and dad run the family. They are the providers meaning that they are responsible not only for their own survival but also for the survival of any dependents. Both have skills in fulfilling the needs to sustain the family, and both are capable in child rearing; however, historically dad has taken the lead in the former while mom most often provides primary support at home.

The children are dependents meaning that they count on someone else (i.e., their parents) for survival.  They are typical kids but are asked to pitch in and help at levels appropriate to their age and abilities. As they mature, the children will be expected to develop their own survival skills so they can ultimately become providers as they raise their own families.

Periodically in forthcoming posts, I will call on the Frontier Family as a means of thinking about the big issues we face in our daily lives. Stay tuned.


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