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April 2008, Volume 59, Number 11

April 2008, Volume 59, Number 11
» Notes from the Editors

United States and the world economy are now experiencing a major economic setback that began in the financial sector with the bursting of the housing bubble, but which can ultimately be traced back to the basic problems of capitalism arising from class-based accumulation (see the Review of the Month in this issue).

Things are clearly much worse, with respect to the general public understanding of these problems, here in the United States, the citadel of capitalism, than elsewhere in the world. We were therefore bemused by an article entitled “Europe’s Philosophy of Failure” by Stefan Theil, Newsweek’s European economics editor, appearing in the January–February 2008 Foreign Policy. Theil writes of the “prejudice and disinformation” incorporated in French and German secondary school textbooks dealing with economics. Such textbooks he complains “ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism.”

We quote here, for your amusement and information, some key passages in which Theil displays his outrage over what he calls the “biased commentary on the destruction wreaked by capitalism” to be found in European schoolbooks:

  • “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 siècle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to…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….Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as “brutal,” “savage,” “neoliberal,” and “American.”
  • In another textbook, students actually meet a French entrepreneur who invented a new tool to open oysters. But the quirky anecdote is followed by a long-winded debate over the degree to which the modern workplace is organized along the lines imagined by Frederick Taylor, the father of modern scientific management theory.
  • French students…do not learn economics so much as a very specific, highly biased discourse about economics. When they graduate, they may not know much about supply and demand, or about the workings of a corporation. Instead, they will likely know inside-out the evils of “la McDonaldisation du monde” and the benefits of a “Tobin tax” on the movement of global capital.
  • If there’s one unifying characteristic of German textbooks, it’s the tremendous emphasis on group interests, the traditional social-democratic division of the universe into capital and labor, employer and employee, boss and worker….Even a cursory look at the country’s textbooks shows that many are written from the perspective of a future employee with a union contract….One 10th-grade social studies text titled FAKT has a chapter on “What to do against unemployment.”
  • Equally popular in Germany today are student workbooks on globalization. One such workbook includes sections headed “The Revival of Manchester Capitalism,” “The Brazilianization of Europe,” and “The Return of the Dark Ages.”

In contrast to what he calls the “dangerous indoctrination” of such French and German economic textbooks, which spread “ideology,” “bias,” “disinformation,” and a “doctrine of dissent,” Newsweek’sEuropean economics editor praises the realism, conformity to “conventional wisdom,” and non-ideological nature of U.S. secondary school economics texts. Thus Theil notes that European economic textbooks are “a world apart from what American high school students learn.” In the United States “most classes are based on straightforward, [neo-]classical economics. In Texas, the state prescribed curriculum requires that the positive contributions of entrepreneurs to the local economy be taught.” (We do not doubt for a second that the section of the Texas curriculum on Enron embodied in secondary texts is particularly non-ideological and straightforward!) It is such responsible education in economic basics, Thiel tells us, that helps explain “American success” and “European failure.”

What is most interesting of course is the timing of this Foreign Policy article by Newsweek’s European economics editor. Published on the cusp of a worldwide economic reversal, in which the instability and exploitation associated with capital accumulation are coming alive for everyone to see, the attack on European “anti-capitalism” appears to be an exercise in ideological indoctrination of an old-fashioned capitalist kind. The goal of course is to put a stop to all critique of the system. The French and Germans, Theil concludes, should “start paying more attention to what their kids are learning in the classroom.” The same might be said with considerably more validity and for entirely different reasons of U.S. classrooms. Few in this country are equipped by the schools to understand the harsh realities of capitalism—or the need to rid the world of it.

Greg Palast’s preface to the new Monthly Review Press book On the Global Waterfront: The Fight to Free the Charleston 5 by Suzan Erem and E. Paul Durrenberger states:

The entire story rides on a detective story. We open on a scene with six hundred police in riot gear facing a few dozen angry-as-hell workers on the docks of Charleston. In the darkness, rocks, clubs and blood fly. Five union men arrested for conspiracy to riot. Four blacks and one white. The prosecutor: a white, Bible-thumping Attorney General running for Governor and a city ripped in half—union/non-union, white/black. The movers and shakers versus the moved and shaken….[T]he fight to free the Charleston 5 shows how courage, heart, and solidarity can lead to victory in the midst of a mad march into globalization that threatens to turn us all into the Wal-Mart 5 Billion.

We urge you to read this book. It can be ordered online or by calling 1-800-670-9499.

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