EUROPE'S SCHOOL BOOKS DEMONIZE FREE ENTERPRISE

January 9, 2008

French and German schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to the market economy, says Stefan Theil, Newsweek's European economics editor.

Consider France:

  • In a widely used high school text, a section on innovation does not mention any entrepreneur or company; instead, students read a treatise on whether technological progress destroys jobs.
  • Another text 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 organized along post-Fordist or neo-Taylorist lines.

Also:

  • In several texts, students are taught that globalization leads to violence and armed resistance, requiring a new system of world governance.
  • "Capitalism" is described as "brutal," "savage," and "American;" meanwhile, start-ups, according to another text, are "audacious enterprises" with "ill-defined prospects."

And in Germany:

  • Textbooks emphasize 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 labor, internet fraud, mobile phone addiction, alcoholism and redundancies; Germany's rich entrepreneurial history is all but ignored.
  • One book labels India and China successful because they practice state ownership and protectionism, while the freest markets are in impoverished sub-Saharan Africa.

It is no surprise that the continent's schools teach through a left-of-centre lens, says Theil. The surprise is the intensity of the anti-market bias.  Students learn that companies destroy jobs, while government policy creates them.  Globalization is destructive, if not catastrophic.  Business is a zero-sum game.  If this is the belief system within which most students develop intellectually, is it any wonder French and German reformers are so easily shouted down?

Source: Stefan Theil, "Europe's school books demonise enterprise," Financial Times, January 8, 2008.

 

Browse more articles on International Issues