Stephens Inc. CEO won the LIFE Award from the nonprofit Economics Arkansas for his contributions to the free market in a luncheon in Little Rock on Tuesday (March 26).
Previous winners of the LIFE (Leadership in Free Enterprise) award include J.B. and Johnelle Hunt, Charles Murphy, the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, John Tyson and Sam Walton. Tuesday’s luncheon had a distinguished business crowd that included former Alltel Chairman and CEO Joe Ford, former Acxiom and current First Orion CEO Charles Morgan, and Dillard’s, Inc. CEO Bill Dillard.
Economics Arkansas pushes for education in Arkansas schools in the area of economics and financial literacy.
Stephens, who was recently inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, brought a plethora of statistics to the podium for his acceptance speech.
He noted that only 22 states require economics to be taught in high school, while 17 states require personal finance courses. Arkansas is among those states. He said 16 states require standardized testing for economics and only seven states for personal finance. Arkansas is not among those states, he said.
Stephens also highlighted a 2012 international student assessment that evaluated the financial literacy of 30,000 teenagers. American students ranked in the middle of 18 countries for competency, while one in six American teens failed to demonstrate minimal knowledge, he noted.
“I highly doubt our performance since that study has improved,” Stephens said. “To me, it is unacceptable that the country that produced Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely, and Sam Walton does not provide the fundamentals of financial literacy as part of its nationwide core curriculum. Make no mistake, this is a national crisis, but all is not lost.”
In 2017, Stephens initiated an educational video series called “This is Capitalism.” It offers video segments on the biographies and historical experiences of famous and not-so-famous American entrepreneurs. Stephens started the project to combat what he views as a growing inclination among younger citizens to embrace socialism.
“No other economic system has lifted more people out of poverty than capitalism,” Stephens said.
He has previously observed that in 2016 Bernie Sanders, who ran as a Democratic Socialist, came close to earning the Democratic Presidential nomination. Sanders and other progressives ran on popular campaign issues such as free college tuition and harsher regulation of free market capitalism. Ahead of the 2020 Presidential election, more candidates are espousing perceived anti-capitalism messages.
“Throughout my tenure, I have become increasingly concerned by a shift in the perception of capitalism and what it means to our country,” Stephens said when launching “This is Capitalism.”
At Tuesday’s luncheon, Stephens challenged the audience to take up the mantle of leadership for the cause.
“It is a privilege to be a part of a capitalistic society. But with every privilege comes responsibility. We need to demand better of future generations and provide them with the tools and facts to operate in and fully understand the free enterprise system,” Stephens said. “We have to support organizations like Economics Arkansas, whose mission will not only help thousands of students, but also the economic prosperity of our state.”
The Economics Arkansas board also recognized Jim Wooten for his 40 years of board service to the organization. Wooten, a Republican State Representative from Beebe, was a two-time chairman of the EA board.