Between the Civil War and World War II, railroads were one of the nation's most important businesses and an integral part of people’s lives. In this lesson, students assume the role of detectives investigating why the rail companies experienced a crisis in the 1960s and what helped the freight transport portion of the business return to profitability later in the same century. Students analyze a set of clues that help them explore the impact of government policies and changes in consumer demand on rail service. They discover that government policies (e.g., regulations, subsidies, and taxes) can have both positive and negative consequences in the marketplace. An interactive activity helps students understand that rail service competes in two different markets—passenger service and hauling freight. Students also learn that railroads and government policies have had to adjust as the transportation industry changed in the second half of the twentieth century.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 was a turning point for employee health and safety protections in the U.S. Students investigate the Triangle tragedy and how its impact is still felt today. Students identify eerie parallels between the Triangle Fire and more recent workplace events with safety implications – recent complaints of Wal-Mart employee lock-ins, a deadly fire in a North Carolina poultry processing plant in 1991, and a 1993 fire in a Thailand toy factory given the sad distinction of most deadly industrial fire in the world. How can future tragedies be prevented in the workplace? Students assess the costs, benefits and effectiveness of various government and labor actions. They discover that worker safety is a complex issue and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
This lesson introduces regulation and information as two tools used by government to promote fair competition and complete information in a market economy. Using the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act as a case study, students explore the reasons buyers and sellers asked the federal government to intervene with respect to food safety and quality. In a second activity, students examine how government has improved consumer access to food and nutrition information, more specifically, how government requires sellers to provide accurate, standardized information and how it provides information directly through federal agencies. Students then use this information to make a choice between two food products.
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