“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. 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.
When French students are not getting this kind of wildly biased commentary on the destruction wreaked by capitalism, they are learning that economic progress is also the root cause of social ills... The ministry mandates that students learn “worldwide regulation as a response” to globalization… The overall message is that economic activity has countless undesirable effects from which citizens must be protected… And just in case they missed it in history class, students are reminded that “cultural globalization” leads to violence and armed resistance, ultimately necessitating a new system of global governance.
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. This kind of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization discourse isn’t just the product of a few aging 1968ers writing for Le Monde Diplomatique; it is required learning in today’s French schools.
If, as Theil suggests, students are being steered towards an absurdly loaded outlook and zero-sum thinking, one has to wonder what impact this may have, not only on the individuals concerned, but on the economic performance of the country more generally. Teaching teenagers that capitalism causes cardiovascular disease and “according to some, even the development of cancer” hardly seems a recipe for inspiring the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, or for instilling rationality and a sense of proportion.