Are French and German students being brainwashed to reject capitalism, despise the entrepreneurial spirit, and oppose globalization? Stefan Theil believes so (“Europe’s Philosophy of Failure,” January/February 2008). He lashes out at the presumably ill-informed and misleading economics curriculum in Europe. He even holds the economics teachers in Europe responsible for the backward European economy.
Not only is his unwavering belief in the market remarkable but his confidence in the powers of teachers and textbooks is astonishing. As an author of a forthcoming economics textbook myself—An Introduction to the Economic Conversation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)—I can only dream about having such influence. Having taught economics for 30 years, I am especially impressed by the ability of students to forget what I taught them, or to twist my lessons toward whatever direction they want to take them. Nonetheless, I agree with Theil’s assertion that the way economists speak of the economy influences the way people perceive things.
There are at least two serious problems, however, with Theil’s argument. First, he cannot account for the European economy’s positive performance at the moment; in fact, it’s even outperforming the U.S. economy. Should the teaching of economics be held responsible? And though his citations from European textbooks are disturbing, his own take on economics is just as disturbing. It does not account for the role of governments or society. At least some economists are becoming increasingly aware of the role of culture, social formations, and values in countries’ economic performance. I agree wholeheartedly that the teaching of economics is…
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