Friday, February 08, 2008

Indoctrinated against the Market – really?

Stefan Theil claims that French and German students are being taught that capitalism, free markets, and entrepreneurship are savage, unhealthy, and immoral. This is a crucial observation; such a pity, then, that the proof he presents in his Foreign Policy article Europe’s Philosophy of Failure is little more than a litany of inflammatory citations.

One can buttress almost any argument by selective quotation from a large enough corpus, and Theil does a good job. (Another good job is this video clip making the case that Top Gun is a gay love story.) However, a claim as sweeping as this requires at the very least a quantification of the frequency of critiques of the free market relative to neutral and positive statements. Even better would be opinion surveys of students that establish which biases they’ve absorbed; and best would be to show a correlation between specific texts/curricula and such opinions. He does quote polls, but they’re just ones of entire national populations.

I would not expect such rigor in Newsweek, where Theil is European economics editor. The readership of Foreign Policy, however, is well able to absorb a more academic approach – and deserves one.

It’s even more important to provide solid evidence when an assertion squares with most Atlantic intellectuals’ existing biases. (It definitely does with mine.) If he’s right, the divergence between the US and the EU will only increase over time, to both sides’ detriment. The implications for diplomacy and business strategy are profound. Even a greater loss, then, that he doesn’t give us better evidence to go on.

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