Teacher! Don't teach nonsense
ANTIDOTE The Economic Times, TUESDAY, March 26, 2002
The Theory of the Vicious Circle of Poverty was the first thing they taught me as an undergraduate. Things have improved since. They now teach it in Class 9, in both ICSE and CBSE schools. What this piece of nonsense says is that poverty is inescapable. Poor people and poor nations are condemned to remain poor unless they get help from outside: state aid. As Lord Bauer says if this proposition were true, the world would still be in the Stone Age. The planet is a closed economic system. No Martians have helped us create the modern, wealthy world. Every nation that is rich today started off poor. The USA was built by poor immigrants facing religious persecution in Europe. Hong Kong was a barren rock some time ago. Singapore was a nation of coolies when India freed itself of white rule. The simple truth is: Economics is a study of the production of wealth. Economics is not a study of poverty. If we study how wealth is created, we come across innumerable rags-to-riches stories. We also see poverty as a great motivator. Those who are poor struggle extremely hard. Those who are rich usually slacken, get lazy and get hooked on to luxury: the Vicious Circle of Prosperity. If we study how wealth was created by immigrant communities in America, we find that the first generation came poor, worked hard and made wealth. We also find that, by the third generation, all the gains have been frittered away. It is time that the entire country realised that the educational system is bereft of genuine knowledge workers. Parents are 'rationally ignorant', and place full faith and confidence in the schools. Here, the principals are administrators, and the teachers are usually housewives. No genuine knowledge workers at all. The schools rely on the boards for knowledge, but they are all staffed by babus. No knowledge workers here either. This is no educational system. Instead of imparting knowledge, this educational system doles out socialist, statist propaganda. If we combine the VCP with the 'population problem', the student gets a vision of a country doomed to remain poor. Further, he sees his brethren as a problem, and he sees the state as the solution. This vision, imparted in Class 9, effectively kills his brain. Instantly. Today, many people are riled up over state interference in history textbooks. But history is just the rearview mirror. To forge ahead, the younger generation urgently needs to study the Economics of Prosperity. When they study the real Economics, they will see their brethren as an invaluable resource, and the socialist state as the great problem. A huge constituency for radical reform will be built. I know quite a few kids studying Economics in school. They find the subject boring. They also find it complicated: one kid I know takes expensive tuition. I feel extremely sorry for these kids. Carlyle called Economics a 'dismal science' after reading Malthus. It is this 'dismal science' that these kids are studying. What is being taught gives them no hopes for the future. No dreams for the nation. All these kids love to play Monopoly, but they find their Economics textbooks boring. Of course, inescapable poverty is boring. Wealth creation would be fascinating for kids. What can be done about it? Well, I posed this question to Professor Deepak Lal in an interview that was published in this paper a while ago. His answer: wait for them to die. According to him, the old fogies who rule the curriculum will not recant. The author of The Poverty of 'Development Economics' felt that only after that generation hits the happy hunting grounds can Economics education in India be revolutionised. Well, that requires patience, which is something we Indians cannot afford. We cannot be patient with socialism. We must give it the boot - fast. The softest target is the Economics textbook. The Centre for Civil Society is soon coming out with an alternative book aimed at Class 9. The first chapter is called 'Know Thyself'. It tells the student that he has been born with a miraculous gift: the ability to trade. It ends with the words: You are born to be rich. I do believe this little book will have a tremendous impact on the younger generation. The goal is revolution. First, an intellectual revolution. Politics can follow.