Friday, April 11, 2008

Why the public education system is a threat

Lasse Pitkäniemi wrote about the failure of the Finnish public education system to provide kids with actually useful knowledge such as computer skills and economics. The failure to understand
the mechanisms of economics leads to people making stupid decisions, such as voting for left-wing parties, and then wondering what went wrong. When GDP growth hangs around one percent and the unemployment rate remains high a country won't find much joy from being able to boast with its PISA results especially when the finest products of its education system decide to take their brains somewhere where they're rewarded, not punished, for their abilities.

But worse than not teaching economics at all is teaching some twisted version of economics. Some months ago I wrote about how some left-wing fanatics want to replace neoclassical economics (i.e., mainstream economics) with a more Marxist interpretation. This would provide economists the wrong kind of tools with which to fight the ignorance of politicians. This is being done in some European countries such as France and Germany with devastating results:
In one 2005 poll, just 36 percent of French citizens said they supported the free-enterprise system, the only one of 22 countries polled that showed minority support for this cornerstone of global commerce. In Germany, meanwhile, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs—47 percent in 2007 versus 36 percent in 1991.

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.

Attitudes in Northern Europe are not that bad, at least not yet. Despite the fact that kids here leave school without learning much about economics (in high school you have a chance to take an optional economics course) at least they have not been injected with outright collectivist, anti-individualistic attitudes. The same cannot be said of Germany and France, where kids leave school thinking it's not worth trying and that it's the government that should plan your future and take care of you until the day you die:
Taught that the free market is a dangerous wilderness, twice as many Germans as Americans tell pollsters that you should not start a business if you think it might fail. According to the European Union’s internal polling, just two in five Germans and French would like to be their own boss, compared to three in five Americans. Whereas 8 percent of Americans say they are currently involved in starting a business, that’s true of only 2 percent of Germans and 1 percent of the French. Another 28 percent of Americans are considering starting a business, compared to just 11 percent of the French and 18 percent of Germans. The loss to Europe’s two largest economies in terms of jobs, innovation, and economic dynamism is severe.
The presence of regulations, high taxes and bureaucracy doesn't alone explain the difference between economic performance of, say, the United States and France. Changing attitudes for the worse (i.e., brainwashing) creates a vicious cycle: if people don't acknowledge the superiority of the market economy they are left unable to act in a way that'd push countries toward market-oriented reforms. This problem is further enhanced by the fact that books written by monsters like Naomi Klein are bestsellers while books by classical liberals such as Milton Friedman are nowhere to be found. And, despite continuing poor economic performance, the public education system just keeps injecting its socialist toxin, making sure that kids never learn the benefits of free enterprise:
Edmund Phelps, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, contends that attitudes toward markets, work, and risk-taking are significantly more powerful in explaining the variation in countries’ actual economic performance than the traditional factors upon which economists focus, including social spending, tax rates, and labor-market regulation.
This remarkable difference in attitudes may explain why Americans who, despite the fact that they're left relatively ignorant by their public education system, continue to thrive, allowing "intelligent" Europeans to freeride.

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