Teaching economics teaches young people who to blame for their problems

No wonder Michael Gove wants to stop doing it.

While young people in Europe rise up in the wake of economic crises, in Britain they seem to have swallowed the rhetoric that someone else is to blame. They have no stake in the systems that govern them and Michael Gove wants to keep it that way.

You've heard about The Economic Crisis, right? How could you not, everyone's worrying about it. Open a newspaper, turn on the television, tune in to the radio or zone in on social media, and there they are, worrying. The Economic Crisis is always lurking nearby, threatening to breathe fire on us at a moment's notice. Governments have boldly tried and failed to slay it, losing limbs and public confidence along the way.

Our current government ministers set themselves up as bold knights guarding the people, keeping them at arms length from operations lest they get their own ideas and jeopardise the mission to calm everything down. They tell us The Economic Crisis was spawned by previous, incompetent knights and fed by the lazy and feckless, and we believe them. But the new crop of knights is better and bolder, they tell us.

And Gove the Barbarian is one of the boldest. He will smash down everything that gets in his way. He will use his might to protect the delicate workings of the State from the course and lowly masses. Teaching them too much about how it works is at best a distraction from the important business of moulding the compliant workforce that the government's economic plan requires, and at worst - well, I suspect he shudders to think.

So, in spite of vigorous lobbying behind the scenes, he has taken economics out of the citizenship curriculum and replaced it with personal finance. In itself, personal finance is a very welcome addition to the National Curriculum: I wish I had left school with some understanding of banks and budgeting. But, for Mr Gove, that's as far as it goes. He wants people to be responsible with their own money (after all, personal debt is no help to the economic situation), but he doesn't want to let people anywhere near the economy itself. Keep the plebs in the dark about politics, a little knowledge will only lead to trouble.

How irritating it must be, then, that trained teachers have their own ideas about teaching. He’s giving schools more freedom because he wants to free up the market, not because he trusts teachers. (I doubt he wants to ‘let a thousand William Tyndales bloom’, as Fred Jarvis pondered in the Independent.) It's time someone stamped out such subversive tendencies. It's time someone whipped schools into glorious mirrors of business that turn out neat, fragmented packages of knowledge and manners with ruthless efficiency. Little packages that expect nothing from the State; little packages that are eager for the System to gobble them up and fart them into the only bedroom of the last remaining council house. And Gove the Barbarian is the man for the job. 

But what happens if the slaying fails? Or if our knightly overlords lose their remaining credibility? So far, this government has only proved that politics can be pretty hopeless against such beasts as The Economic Crisis, which will likely turn on the people with vigour in the end. The failed attempts of politicians are simply evidence that mainstream politics does not hold the answers. So, people will look elsewhere to protect their own interests, as we have seen with the rise of the far right in Greece and rioting on the streets of Spain. Britain, so far, has got off lightly; we are kept in our place effectively. But for how long? And when our politicians lose their grip completely, do we really want an uprising of people who have been kept alien from political life?

So, put the economy back on the curriculum, Mr Gove. Fulfil your promise to ensure citizenship 'is even better taught' in schools. Prepare our young people properly for economic and democratic life. Otherwise, it will be each for themselves when the fire gets too hot, and your government's precious economic plan will be toast.

Michael Grimes is Online Communications Manager for the Citizenship Foundation.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.