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Understanding the Role of Constitutional Government in Promoting Economic Prosperity

60 min

Video supplements additionally published on a product of Hoover Institution, Stanford University. To view them in their original format, click here.

Guiding Questions

  • Why is equality important for achieving prosperity?
  • How does rule of law create a stable and predictable environment for economic prosperity? 
  • What is the proper role of the government in regulating the economy?


  • Students will analyze examples of government approaches to providing equal access to prosperity.
  • Students will define prosperity, equality, and rule of law.
  • Students will explain the role of government and its relationship to economic prosperity.

Student Handouts

Teacher Handouts

  • Prosperity
  • Equality
  • Rule of Law

Facilitation Notes

  • Start with the Hoover videos to give an overview of the included concepts.
  • Depending on the level of scaffolding needed for your students, consider distributing the video viewing guides for added support. 
  • Teachers should review the Commerce Clause before doing this lesson.
  • Please note that all of the following are included in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938:
    • Child Labor Laws
    • Minimum Wage Laws
    • 40 Hour Work Week 


  • Scaffolding Note
    • Optional:  Use the following activity if you have not yet defined and discussed Prosperity.
    • Prior to engaging with the videos and other aspects of the lesson, have students review and complete the interactive glossary.  Alternatively, focus on a term at a time just before it is introduced.  Notes of where in the lesson terms are introduced are provided throughout the lesson plan. 
    • Use the viewing guides to create checks for understanding.  The questions from these guides could be added to a video editing tool such as Playposit or Edpuzzle.
    • Glossary Term(s): Prosperity
  • Have students watch the Prosperity video either independently or as a whole class. As you watch, think about what prosperity means or looks like to you and how it might be achieved. Students can record notes in their journal, notebook, online, or on the provided optional handout.
  • Have students turn to a neighbor and share reflections. Allow students to share their reflections with the class. Engage in class discussion as time allows.
  • Scaffolding note
    • Glossary term(s): Equality
  • Required: Display the following quote on the board or your LMS: “A government can be compared to our lungs. Our lungs are best when we don’t realize they are helping us breathe.  It is when we are constantly aware of our lungs that we know they have come down with an illness.”  — Lao-Tzu  (570-490 BC)
  • Transition: Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher. Consider the following quote from him and write down your thoughts on what you think he means. What do you think he means that the government works best when people are not aware that it is helping them? Why would a government that people are constantly aware of be problematic?
    • Students can record notes in their journal, notebook, online, or on the provided optional handout and then share their thoughts with a neighbor.
  • Transition: There will always be debate around the proper role of government in the economy. As you watch this video, think about, “How do governments support private enterprise to expand prosperity?”
  • Have students watch the Equality video either independently or as a whole class. Direct student attention to the focus questions: What is the best way for governments to try to expand prosperity? How does this video either support or contradict the quote from Lao Tzu?  Why? Students can record notes in their journal, notebook, online, or on the provided optional handout.
    • Have students turn to a neighbor and share reflections. As a pair, have students decide which response to share aloud with the class.
    • Allow students to share their reflections with the class.  Engage in class discussion as time allows.


  • Scaffolding notes: 
    • Glossary term(s): Negative externalities, rule of law
    • Reading strategies
      • Provide a PAT (Pay Attention To) list to help provide guidelines for what to highlight.  
      • Chunk the text using a two-column chart allowing for space to summarize each chunk of text or take other notes on the reading.
  • Transition: The government does play an important role in a prosperous society. What exactly is that role or what should that role be? As you watch this video, take notes on ways in which the government encourages or discourages behaviors to help manage resources.  
  • Have students watch The Government’s Role video either independently or as a whole class. Students can record notes in their journal, notebook, online, or on the provided optional handout.
  • Transition: What can a government do to help ensure our country prospers and citizens have equal opportunity to participate in that prosperity?  Let’s watch our next video.  As you watch, think about why rules, or laws, matter to prosperity, and how a lack of rule of law might impact equal opportunity to achieving prosperity.
  • Have students watch the Rule of Law video either independently or as a whole class. Students can record notes in their journal, notebook, online, or on the provided optional handout.
  • Transition: As you’ve seen, one role of the government in ensuring prosperity is through laws that encourage or discourage specific economic behavior.  Now let’s look at a specific example from U.S. history. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. Americans have debated the exact meaning of this clause, and how much power it grants the federal government. What do you think the proper role of government is in regulating commerce? 
  • Introduce the Commerce Clause in the United States Constitution – Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 by reading the “Engage: Background on the Commerce Clause.”
    • Suggested Guiding Questions:  
      • To what does interstate commerce refer to?
      • Why might the national government have an interest in regulating interstate commerce? 
      • What might be the effect of too much regulation on interstate commerce?
      • Which level of government should regulate commerce that is within a state? 
  • Next, read about the Supreme Court case of Wickard v. Filburn (1942).  Based on their perspective of what is “too little or too much” government involvement, have students render a decision to the case – “Should the national government be able to regulate Wickard’s production of wheat through the Commerce Clause?”
  • Scaffolding Notes
    • Provide students with thinking stems such as:
      • “I agree with the court’s opinion because…”
      • “I disagree with the court’s opinion because…”
  • Create two sides of the room, “agree” and “disagree” – have students stand up and walk to the side of the room that represents their perspective of the Court’s opinion.  Once they choose a side, have students share with at least 2 other students about why they chose their side.  Have students on each side share their reasoning or the reasoning they’ve heard from other students.  Students should be free to switch sides, as they hear convincing rationale from their classmates.
  • Use the following questions to debrief this activity:
    • Does the Wickard v. Filburn decision feel like it was helping the lungs (economy) breathe, or restraining breathing (economic growth)?
    • Does the decision simply support the rule of law for private enterprise or does it expand the federal government’s role in the economy? 
    • Should the measure of government power be its effect on the economy or on the rights of the individual farmer? 

Scaffolding Note:  Have students respond individually before sharing with a partner.  Gradually grow the size of the grouping. Smaller groups allow struggling students to practice and gain confidence before whole group sharing.


  • Transition: Now let’s think about how we apply the rule of law to try and help provide equal access to economic prosperity.  The following are some laws intended to help do this.  In your groups you will research one of the approaches so that you can share your learning with the rest of the class.  
  • Break your class into four groups and assign each group one of the following laws/topics
    • Minimum Wage
    • Patent Laws
    • Copyrights 
    • Contract Laws
    • OSHA standards
  • Have each group research their topic and complete the graphic organizer.
  • Once groups have completed their research, provide each group a poster board, large piece of butcher paper, or a shared digital document to have each group draw or find images that represent the intended and unintended effects they have written about.
    • Scaffolding Note: Roles help students focus on participating constructively and help ensure all students contribute in some way to the group work.  Students should alway reflect at the end of group work on their success on filling the responsibilities of the role.
      • Suggested roles:

Looks like: Manages the group by helping to ensure the group stays on task, is focused, and that there is room for everyone in the conversation.

Sounds like:  Let’s hear from ____ next.  That’s interesting, but let’s get back to our task.

Recorder: ______________________________

Looks like:  Records critical points form the group’s discussion and compiles group members’ ideas on collaborative graphic organizer.  

Sounds like: I think I hear you say…; is that right?  How would you like me to write this?

Time Keeper: __________________________

Looks like: Encourages the group to stay on task.  Announces when time is halfway through and when time is nearly up.

Sounds like:  We only have five minutes left.  Let’s see if we can wrap up soon.

Spokesperson: _________________________

Looks like: Presents the group’s finished work to the class.  Should rely on the recorder’s notes to guide their report.

Sounds like: How would you like this to sound?


  • Once all groups are done, have each group present to the class their work, while the rest of the class record the intended and unintended effects for their own notes.  
  • Once all groups have presented and shared their images – have students either individually or with their neighbor answer the analysis questions that coincide with the Explore Activity. 

Assess & Reflect

  • In a two to three minute podcast, or in a brief persuasive speech to the class, students will argue for what they think is the optimal amount of government involvement that best creates opportunity for a rule of law that supports business innovation, prosperity, and equal opportunity for everyone.  Include how this lesson either challenged or reinforced your understanding of the government’s role in the economy.


  • Using the below quotes as a basis, create a dialogue or a dueling rap battle between Lao Tzu and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, illustrating their difference of opinion on the appropriate amount of government involvement in the economy.
    • “Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it.”  — Lao-Tzu  (570-490 BC)
    • “Are we going to take the hands of the federal government completely off any effort to adjust the growing of national crops, and go right straight back to the old principle that every farmer is a lord of his own farm and can do anything he wants, raise anything, any old time, in any quantity, and sell any time he wants?”– Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) U.S. President. May 31, 1935 press conference, responding to a Supreme Court decision in Schechter Poultry Corp. v United States (1935), that defined the commerce clause narrowly enough to interfere with his regulation of farm products.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Understanding Prosperity Through Government Roles and Freedom of Speech

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