Does economic growth cause cancer? Are businessmen the hit men of a “brutal” and “savage” system? Can start-up companies be a form of economic suicide? Is government our only protection against both employers and unemployment?
Globalization — is it true that it has “doubled unemployment, poverty, and exclusion,” while fostering “a profound social malaise?” And the Internet — does it really destroy intimacy?
If you are a kid in France or Germany, you know each of those propositions is true, because your textbooks tell you so.
This fascinating FP article by Stefan Theil (via No Pasaran!) looks at the standard textbooks on economics used in French and German high schools, and finds a “philosophy of failure” within. Education in both countries never teaches economics, but is a sort of prolonged fainting fit about the horrors of having to work for a living.
“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 the three-volume Histoire du XXe siecle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to Sciences Po and other prestigious French universities. The past 20 years have “doubled wealth, doubled unemployment, poverty, and exclusion, whose ill effects constitute the background for a profound social malaise,” the text continues. Because the 21st century begins with “an awareness of the limits to growth and the risks posed to humanity [by economic growth],” any future prosperity “depends on the regulation of capitalism on a planetary scale.” Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as “brutal,” “savage,” “neoliberal,” and “American.” This agitprop was published in 2005, not in 1972. [. . .]
German students will be well-versed in many subjects upon graduation; one topic they will know particularly well is their rights as welfare recipients. One 10th-grade social studies text titled FAKT has a chapter on “What to do against unemployment.” Instead of describing how companies might create jobs, the section explains how those without jobs can organize into self-help groups and join weekly anti-reform protests “in the tradition of the East German Monday demonstrations” (which in 1989 helped topple the communist dictatorship). The not-so-subtle subtext? Jobs are a right to be demanded from the government. The same chapter also details various welfare programs, explains how employers use the threat of layoffs as a tactic to cut pay, and concludes with a long excerpt from the platform of the German Union Federation, including the 30-hour work week, retirement at age 60, and redistribution of the work pie by splitting full-time into part-time jobs. No market alternative is taught. When fakt presents the reasons for unemployment, it blames computers and robots. In fact, this is a recurring theme in German textbooks — the Internet will turn workers into “anonymous code” and kill off interpersonal communication.
All this has an obvious ideological bias, the consequences of which much concern Theil: growing percentages of the population rejecting free enterprise in France and embracing socialism in Germany. I see it more as the triumph of demography over animal spirits: more precisely, of the old over the young. The failure of Europeans to reproduce themselves has been an occasional topic in this blog (see here and here.) France and Germany are aging rapidly. The old are naturally timid. They crave security and fear risk, being in no position to rebound.
Usually, the old are a fading minority. When the natural order is overthrown, and the old outnumber the young, the latter are educated into behaving like twentysomething grannies. In 1789, young people made revolution in the streets of Paris. They killed and they died, in the way the young, with abandon. In 2006, French students took to the same streets, this time in to worship the ultimate Old Fart ideal: security. No casualties were reported.