Surprise, surprise! The Europeans don’t like market economics.
That’s hardly startling news. But it turns out that the educational system works overtime to demonize free enterprise. Stefan Theil of Newsweek writes in the Financial Times:
There has been much debate over the ways in which historical ideology is passed on to the next generation – over Japanese textbooks that downplay the Nanjing massacre, Palestinian textbooks that feature maps without Israel and new Russian guidelines that require teachers to acclaim Stalinism. Yet there has been almost no analysis of how countries teach economics.
In France and Germany, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to the market economy. In a 2005 poll, just 36 per cent of French citizens said they supported the free enterprise system. In Germany, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs: 47 per cent in 2007 versus 36 per cent in 1991. In both countries, attempts at economic reform have been routinely blocked by a consensus against policies considered “pro-market”. Might some of this be traced to the ideas instilled at school? In a project for the German Marshall Fund, I analysed French, German and US high-school curricula and textbooks for their coverage of the economy, the welfare state, entrepreneurship and globalisation.
“Economic growth imposes a hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer,” asserts Histoire du XXe siÃ¨cle , a text memorised by French high-school students as they prepare for entrance exams to prestigious universities. Start-ups, the book tells students, are “audacious enterprises” with “ill-defined prospects”. Then it links entrepreneurs with the technology bubble, the Nasdaq crash and massive redundancies across the economy. Think “creative destruction” without the “creative”.
In another widely used text, a section on innovation does not mention any entrepreneur or company. Instead, students read a treatise on whether technological progress destroys jobs. Another briefly mentions an entrepreneur – a Frenchman who invented a new tool to open oysters – only to follow with an abstract discussion of whether the modern workplace is organised along post-Fordist or neo-Taylorist lines. In several texts, students are taught that globalisation leads to violence and armed resistance, requiring a new system of world governance. “Capitalism” is described as “brutal”, “savage” and “American”. French students do not learn economics so much as a highly biased discourse about economics.
German textbooks emphasise corporatist and collectivist traditions and the minutiae of employer-employee relations – a zero-sum world where one loses what the other gains. People who run companies are caricatured as idle, cigar-smoking plutocrats. They are linked to child labour, internet fraud, mobile phone addiction, alcoholism and redundancies. Germany’s rich entrepreneurial history is all but ignored.