Wednesday, February 13, 2008

European textbook bias

From Foreign Policy:
“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 si├Ęcle, 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.

Funny for a lot of reasons, but since this is a broad summary of textbooks I won't go into attack mode. I'll just note that this may provide insight into the age-old and always difficult-to-model question of what degree culture impacts economic outcomes. It seems France instills anti-market bias into its younguns early on. Or does the U.S. instill pro-market bias early on? Personally, I think American econ textbooks for high schoolers are indecipherable--kids come out of school not knowing what the hell. Read more.