Day By Day

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Capitalism's Critics

The Financial Times has a disturbing article on the ideological bias of European educational institutions.
In France and Germany, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to the market economy. In a 2005 poll, just 36 per cent of French citizens said they supported the free enterprise system. In Germany, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs: 47 per cent in 2007 versus 36 per cent in 1991. In both countries, attempts at economic reform have been routinely blocked by a consensus against policies considered “pro-market”.

....

German textbooks emphasise corporatist and collectivist traditions and the minutiae of employer-employee relations – a zero-sum world where one loses what the other gains. People who run companies are caricatured as idle, cigar-smoking plutocrats. They are linked to child labour, internet fraud, mobile phone addiction, alcoholism and redundancies. Germany’s rich entrepreneurial history is all but ignored.

....

It is no surprise that the continent’s schools teach through a left-of-centre lens. The surprise is the intensity of the anti-market bias. Students learn that companies destroy jobs, while government policy creates them. Globalisation is destructive, if not catastrophic. Business is a zero-sum game. If this is the belief system within which most students develop intellectually, is it any wonder French and German reformers are so easily shouted down?
Read the whole thing here.

Actually, the anti-capitalist bias is not unique to European education. It permeates most American higher education programs too.

The question arises, why do educators and intellectuals persist in promoting ideas and programs that have failed so conspicuously in the real world? Peter Saunders has some ideas.

[T]he devil has always had the best tunes to play. Capitalism lacks romantic appeal. It does not set the pulse racing in the way that opposing ideologies like socialism, fascism, or environmentalism can. It does not stir the blood, for it identifies no dragons to slay. It offers no grand vision for the future, for in an open market system the future is shaped not by the imposition of utopian blueprints, but by billions of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Capitalism can justifiably boast that it is excellent at delivering the goods, but this fails to impress....

It is quite the opposite with socialism. Where capitalism delivers but cannot inspire, socialism inspires despite never having delivered. Socialism’s history is littered with repeated failures and with human misery on a massive scale, yet it still attracts smiles rather than curses from people who never had to live under it....

Environmentalism, too, has the happy knack of inspiring the young and firing the imagination of idealists. This is because the radical green movement shares many features with old-style revolutionary socialism. Both are oppositional, defining themselves as alternatives to the existing capitalist system. Both are moralistic, seeking to purify humanity of its tawdry materialism and selfishness, and appealing to our ‘higher instincts.’ Both are apocalyptic, claiming to be able to read the future and warning, like Old Testament prophets, of looming catastrophe if we do not change our ways. And both are utopian, holding out the promise of redemption through a new social order based on a more enlightened humanity. All of this is irresistibly appealing to romantics.



Both socialism and environmentalism also share an unshakeable belief in their own infallibility, which further ramps up their attractiveness. Both dismiss their opponents as either ignorant (‘falsely conscious’) or in bad faith, and they are both reluctant to allow counter-arguments, evidence, or logic to deflect them from the urgent pursuit of their proffered solutions. Although they both ground their claims in ‘science,’ their appeal is as much emotional as rational, and both take themselves so seriously that they lose any sense of irony.

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Boring capitalism cannot hope to compete with all this moral certainty, self-righteous anger, and sheer bloody excitement. Where is the adrenalin in getting up every day, earning a living, raising a family, creating a home, and saving for the future? Where is the moral crusade in buying and selling, borrowing and lending, producing and consuming? The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica describes ‘soul music’ as ‘characterised by intensity of feeling and earthiness.’ It is in this sense that capitalism is soulless, for although it fills people’s bellies, it struggles to engage their emotions.
It's a nice essay. Read the whole thing here.