Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"I Dreamed A Dream"

Stefan Theil, writing in the FP, reminds readers that the ideas which clashed in the 20th century, are still in conflict today. Theil describes how different places sustain themselves with their particular civilizational myths.

Millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation. Educated in schools that teach a skewed ideology, they are exposed to a dogma that runs counter to core beliefs shared by many other Western countries. They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts. And doing so will not be easy. But not because these children are found in the madrasas of Pakistan or the state-controlled schools of Saudi Arabia. They are not. Rather, they live in two of the world’s great democracies—France and Germany. ...

Just as schools teach a historical narrative, they also pass on “truths” about capitalism, the welfare state, and other economic principles that a society considers self-evident. In both France and Germany, for instance, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism. 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.

It's possible for some societies to exist in a love-hate relationship with certain ideologies or classes of people. The term "bourgeoisie" for example, "has pejorative connotations suggesting either undeserved wealth, or lifestyles, tastes, and opinions that lack the sophistication of the rich or the authenticity of the intellectual or the poor. ... In the United States, where social class affiliation lacks some of the structure and rules of many other nations, 'bourgeoisie' is sometimes used to refer to those seen as being either upper class or upper middle class." A continent which historically regarded the upper middle class with intellectual contempt would naturally be expected to regard gross capitalism as evil and welfare, the modern day equivalent of the King's largesse, as good.

And while curious, Europe lived with this love-hate relationship for a long time. And perhaps the welfare state bureaucrats have settled into an uneasy truce with their private sectors in much the same way the aristocrats learned to live with the burghers. Europe simply developed mechanisms to keep these conflicts at a reasonable level and muddled along. The history of the 19th and 20th centuries illustrates how the truce between classes can collapse and precipitate a crisis. Maybe it will happen again in modern form; with the welfare state reprising the role of the ruling aristocrats and the Muslims playing the role assumed by different minorities in earlier times. Theil concludes:

Minimal reforms to the welfare state cost former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder his job in 2005. They have also paralyzed modern German politics. Former communists and disaffected Social Democrats, together with left-wing Greens, have flocked to Germany’s new leftist party, whose politics is a distasteful mix of anticapitalist demagoguery and right-wing xenophobia. Its platform, polls show, is finding support even among mainstream Germans. A left-leaning majority, within both the parliament and the public at large, makes the world’s third-largest economy vulnerable to destructive policies driven by anticapitalist resentment and fear of globalization. Similar situations are easily conceivable elsewhere and have already helped bring populists to power in Latin America. Then there is France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to “rupture” with the failed economic policies of the past. He has taken on the country’s public servants and their famously lavish benefits, but many of his policies appear to be driven by what he calls “economic patriotism,” which smacks of old-fashioned industrial protectionism. That’s exactly what French schoolchildren have long learned is the way the world should work.

Both the French and German cases show the limits of trying to run against the grain of deeply held economic ideology. Yet, training the next generation of citizens to be prejudiced against being enterprising and productive is equally foolhardy. Fortunately, such widespread attitudes and the political outcomes they foster aren’t only determined by tradition and history. They are, to a great extent, the product of education. If countries like France and Germany hope to get their nations on a new economic track, they might start paying more attention to what their kids are learning in the classroom.

Maybe they're learning history.


Blogger Kevin said...

Interesting, Mr, Theil doesn’t bother to point out any evidence as to why life in France or Germany is so horrible compared to countries where citizens are indoctrinated into holding the “correct” views about socialism. Per capita income, hours worked, standard of health care, future outlook for a currency; none of those things matter. Which brings up an interesting question: If socialism is so wrong why was Stefan Theil a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, funded by, you guessed it, the socialist government of Germany? Thanks to many hard-earned tax euros meakly rendered by those indoctrinated German citizens that Mr. Theil is so concerned about, he was able to completely avoid being enterprising and productive. If the private sector is so wonderful why did Mr. Theil hide from it for so long?

1/09/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

It may pertinent to emphasize your own observation that Mr. Theil's benefits come from the "many hard-earned tax euros". The difference may be that Mr. Theil is aware of the irony.

1/09/2008 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

AMerican education is equally biased in a socialist/Marxist direction. However, there are enough outside influences and the overt example of Rich Capitalists all over the place outside of academia to make deprogramming college graduates easier here than it appears to be in Yurp.

1/09/2008 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts.

It is my conclusion that Western nations have what is essentially a moral obligation to liberate Muslims from Islam. The self-serving nature of doing so is mere icing on the cake. Shari'a law is so deeply abusive and corrupt that it represents nothing less than large-scale abuse of human rights. Freeing Muslims from this death trap is much the same as parents deprogramming a wayward child who has joined a religious cult. Feel free to accuse me of moral imperialism, as if I could give an effing rip. Islam is the source of so much misery and hatred that it cannot be dismantled soon enough.

As to the article's anti-capitalist horseradish: Please note how the author neglects to mention that truly successful high technology manufacturing is found only in capitalistic and democratically run countries such as America, Taiwan, Japan and—to a lesser extent—South Korea.

Anyone wishing to point out Europe's high technology base would do well to keep in mind that some experts estimate their grasp of semiconductor engineering to be one or two decades behind that of America's. Plus, due to socialistic influences, non-competitive companies are artificially propped up when global markets would otherwise have seen them perish long ago.

A final nail in this anti-capitalistic coffin is the simple statistic that the combined industrial output of the entire MME (Muslim Middle East) is some five billion dollars, a figure that is single-handedly matched by Finland's telecom company, Nokia.

1/09/2008 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Even stepping over the most important single issue - freedom of the individual - if one had the responsibility for establishing a modern, industrial state from scratch with the ultimate goal of establishing the largest possible middle class, would a socialist system be the best choice?

That the USA has the world's biggest economy, by multiples, and the largest middle class it would be difficult to make the case that socialism would produce a better result, especially after considering from-scratch socialist experiments like the Soviet Union, which was a human disaster on so many levels.

Socialist systems overlaid on top of the productive wealth created by capitalist entrepreneurs could survive and even look attractive for awhile, but once the wealth creation process is subsumed by bureaucrats the party ends too. No economy or political system can survive when consumed wealth exceeds produced wealth.

1/09/2008 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Kevin -- another criticism of Europe's socialist economies is that it is a free ride on America's defense shield.

Europe is next to very poor, aggressive, and unstable neighbors. It does not defend itself (the UK's Royal Navy has fewer ships than the Belgian Coast Guard) and depends completely and absolutely on US defense. From the Soviets in the Cold War. From masses of poor people in North Africa.

Historically, Southern Europe was the contested playground between Europeans and Muslims. Sicily for example was the astonishing three-way struggle between Italians, Vikings !!! and Muslims in the years 900-1100. Muslims ruled southern Italy for a good 200 years, and much of Southern France also. The Muslim occupation of Spain lasted 700 years and was much contested.

The socialist argument is that we are at the end of history. Every person and nation (except of course the US which is by it's nature the source of all evil!) is good and would not hurt a fly. Much less act aggressively. And if they do it's all Amerikkka's fault. And so on.

If Europe actually defended itself it's welfare spending would be likely LESS than America's. Being smaller and less united and subject to dis-economies of scale. I.E. coordinating French and Spanish and German defense brings costs of all their own.

1/09/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Hayek has probably written as well as anybody on why and how socialism always leads to serfdom.

Of course, if you see yourself as part of the elite, who cares?

1/09/2008 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

Success will decide it.

Free-enterprise is the easiest way for a nation to aggrandize itself -- i.e. it uses the most efficient means to generate wealth, the market, to generate proportionate power (degrees of freedom).

Socialism is the easiest way for an individual to aggrandize himself -- i.e. he acquires degrees of freedom by somebody giving it to him.

Where is the right balance? Well, one wouldn't want to pursue a nationally aggrandizing policy if unequal hardships and class envy, accrued by unmitigated free-enterprise, led to a crippling revolution. In the same vein, one wouldn't want to cure individual hardship if the cost to the nation was economic stagnation and international vulnerability.

For individual users the right balances may differ. A benign economic and military hegemon, whose disadvantaged persons are willing to tolerate a certain level of hardship to maintain it, could release other, socialist-minded nations from a full menu of opportunity cost -- allowing them to choose from the Children's Menu, so to speak.

1/09/2008 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger Mr X said...

Socialism is wonderful.
Just look at Eastern Europe, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe...

Perhaps in no other continent did the Marxist indoctrination go as far as in Latin America, where any form of thought in public school or the media other than "Yankees = imperialists; capitalism = evil" is not even considered.

Even the failure of Cuba is - of course! - attributed to the American economic blockade.

Why face the facts when to dream is much better?

The fact that actual socialism will never arrive (or will bring only misery when it does) is irrelevant. In this, it is very much like a religion.

1/09/2008 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

I have read (sorry, no link) that the South Korean school system is also run by socialists, hence these enormous, violent anti-capitalistic student demonstrations that you always read about.

The 2nd International Socialists that largely run Europe are not as stupid as the 3rd International Socialists that ran Russia. They realize that they need a capitalist engine to power the socialist machinery. The questions that they should ask themselves is do they have a big enough engine? Can they get a bigger engine? At what point does the load become too great and the engine stalls?

The modern European tradition of social control goes back to Bismarck. The elites just cannot let the masses go their own way. The abominable Nietzsche came close to the the truth in his ramblings a few times. Carlyle may have come closer to the truth with his foul writings on master and slave. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that he encapsulates the thinking of the Euro-elites better than any other.

1/09/2008 06:40:00 PM  

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