Irrational Exuberance!

On Hegemony and an Anti-Capitalist Bias in European Textbooks

January 26, 2008. Filed under education

Recently I read a fascinating article in Foreign Policy about the economics curriculums in French and German primary and secondary schools, focusing specifically on their pro-socialist and anti-capitalist bias. Before discussing its merits, allow me to provide a brief quote to summarize the article's argument:

One might expect Europeans to view the world through a slightly left-of-center, social-democratic lens. The surprise is the intensity and depth of the anti-market bias being taught in Europe’s schools. Students learn that private companies destroy jobs while government policy creates them. Employers exploit while the state protects. Free markets offer chaos while government regulation brings order. Globalization is destructive, if not catastrophic. Business is a zero-sum game, the source of a litany of modern social problems. Some enterprising teachers and parents may try to teach an alternative view, and some books are less ideological than others. But given the biases inherent in the curricula, this background is unavoidable. It is the context within which most students develop intellectually. And it’s a belief system that must eventually appear to be the truth.

Europe is a fascinating place. A relatively small geographical area which has managed to exert its will onto the rest of the world for centuries by virtue of superior technology, a hateful wintery climate, and exceptionally good fortune. Europe has used its vast influences to convince the world that a few islands and a peninsula are in-fact a continent. Europe, as a whole, experienced a golden age of global hegemony for several sweet centuries. But, as America is now in the painful process of learning, that sweetness has a shockingly bitter aftertaste.

Thus, my first impression about the anti-capitalism bias in France and Germany--two of the European nations which most greatly enjoyed the fruits of their hegemony--is that this is their way of refusing to come to grips with their relative loss of significance. These are still great powers, but shades compared to their peaks. Is this memetic warfare against capitalism a symptom of an inability to adjust to a new role in the world1? Or--perhaps--is there a genuine argument for this seeming insanity?

Depending on Tyrants

The article mentions that one of the statistically documentable effects is that fewer Germans and Frenchmen wish to start their own businesses, and fewer want to be their own bosses. It casts successful entrepreneurs as greedy, and unsuccessful entrepreneurs as social deviants who damage those around them. Almost anyone would agree that this is a clear anti-capitalist slant, but the most interesting aspect is that despite the hostility towards capitalism, it still is instilling the same behaviors via its curriculums and teachings.

The mass-educated agenda in an industrialized society is to create workers who take orders well from authoritative managers. The propagandized agenda in these socialist societies is to create citizens who depend upon their government for solutions and instruction. One wants its citizens distrustful of government and running into the open arms of capitalism, the other wants its citizens berating uncouth entrepreneurs and dependent upon their government. Choosing between these two options is to choose between two tyrants who demand their subjects sign a pledge discrediting those who would challenge their authority.

Choosing between these tyrants is a dilemma for the damned, but are there better choices?

  1. Especially considering that Europe has long been attempting to battle this loss of primacy through its creation of a formidable power block, the European Union, but has found the proposed unity more a specter and less a club to bludgeon the rest of the world.