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A plan to teach the world

The epidemic of youth unemployment is betraying the promise of globalisation – but it doesn’t need t

Billions of people across the world are in need of and demanding a better globalisation - one that puts the economy to work for people and not the other way round. The financial crash exposed just how detached the global economy has become from our values - a misalignment that is most pronounced in the world's response to the global epidemic of youth unemployment.

The promise of globalisation is being betrayed as rates of joblessness climb to historic highs across the Middle East, Europe, America and sub-Saharan Africa. The window of opportunity is closing on millions of young people - yet I see little evidence that we have thought through how we can create the jobs that will deal with today's political instability and economic stagnation. Failure to do so is for me not simply a political but also a moral failure, because it cannot be right that a generation's chances be stolen before their life's journey has really begun. Nor can it be right that we should stand by and let that happen when such a result is so readily avoidable.

One of my favourite images in poetry comes from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", when he imagines beneath the gravestones "some mute inglorious Milton" - a person of huge hidden talents who was never given the chance to show what they could do: "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

What brought me into politics was my anger at the injustices that prevented people from making the most of their lives - and these injustices are at their most acute in the case of the life chances of young people. That is not because their lives matter more than the lives of others, but rather because years "missed" from work early in life are harder to recover from. This is a process economists call scarring - whereby a generation of school leavers or university graduates fail to find jobs, are soon overtaken by newer graduates with fresher skills, and end up falling further and further behind for the rest of their lives.

In recent months, there have been stirrings of resistance as young people the world over show that they are no longer prepared to tolerate a global economic order that is failing them so badly. The uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East show protest wearing a very youthful face. The reasons for this are obvious when we consider the figures. Two-thirds of Egypt's population is under 30 - and young people make up roughly 90 per cent of the country's jobless total. Youth unemployment has hit 30 per cent in Tunisia. The number is even higher - 45 per cent - in Algeria. By 2020 there will be an estimated 50 million young Arab workers without jobs.

Across most of Africa, too, there is a youth unemployment catastrophe. The continent will soon be home to one in every four of the world's young people - but already 80 per cent of them are either out of work or on a family income of less than $1.25 a day. Yet these headline figures, however shocking, do not tell the human or societal cost of youth unemployment: the tragic waste of potential, the damage to families and communities, and the colossal financial burden on societies.

The impact is also felt closer to home, with industrialised countries experiencing large spikes in worklessness among young people; in both Europe and the US, one young person in five is looking for a job. In my own constituency, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the impact is all too obvious. A community that worked hard to recover from the destruction of its mining industry is now experiencing a crisis of confidence that may soon rival the deindustrialisation of the 1980s; head teachers in the area tell me that teenagers are now asking why they should study hard for their exams or university entrance when there will be no local jobs waiting for them.

Going for growth

But it doesn't need to be this way. In developing and developed countries alike, education is the key to giving young people the skills they need to be successful in a modern economy. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography: "Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor." For that reason, I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Global Campaign for Education - an organisation that brings together some of the world's leading NGOs, trade unions and campaigners in this field - to convene, in the company of the activist Graça Machel, Mandela's wife, a "high-level panel" to promote the cause of education throughout the world. In that capacity, I have authored a report* on education and growth to argue the case for a global push on education.

The case, I believe, is compelling. It is built on the twin pillars of ethics and economics: ethics because it is unfair that so many young people are being denied - through no fault of their own - the opportunity to develop their talents and are condemned to poverty, and economics because this waste of human capital is grossly economically inefficient.

New research presented in the report shows that a renewed push towards the Millennium Development Goal of quality basic primary education for all the world's children by 2015 could increase per capita income growth in the poorest countries by 2 per cent over projected levels. That would be good news for devel­oping countries and would make a big difference to the fight against global poverty - but it would be good news, too, for western econo­mies. People are often surprised to learn that sub-Saharan Africa is now a trillion-dollar economy and that it grew faster than India and Brazil between 2000 and 2010. In an era when both Europe and America appear set for sluggish growth in the short term, we need to do everything we can to support the development of alternative poles of growth in the global economy - poles that can boost global demand for our goods and services. Tackling youth unemployment in developing countries and addressing it in the developed nations are, therefore, two sides of the same coin.

As Professor Michael Spence shows in his latest book, The Next Convergence, future growth will not inevitably create the millions of jobs we need. And, looking to the future, I realise that to be unemployed without a skill is to be as disarmed as the labourer standing on a street corner in the 1930s. So I believe we should also focus policies forensically on what will create the highest number of jobs for young people across the world.

That approach has a number of implications. First, we must increase investment in education and skills at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Parents throughout the world recognise the huge value of education, and often make great sacrifices to ensure that their children have the opportunity to go to school; the world must now match their aspirations.

We need to raise both the number of children in school (it is a scandal that today there are nearly 70 million children missing from school around the world) and the quality of education they receive, so that training is targeted to the growth areas in the global economy - services, high-end manufacturing, science and green technologies. We know that the size of the global middle class is going to explode - from a billion people at present to three billion in the next 20 years - and that only those young people with advanced learning, capable of providing niche goods and services, are going to be able to reap the full benefit of the surge in demand.

There is a danger that Africa and developing countries will undergo national "scarring"; the current global digital divide could become self-reinforcing, with children in the poorest countries locked out of new opportunities to gain the skills in information and communications technology that are vital for future employment and economic growth. I am determined that they should not miss out, so I am working on a number of initiatives to integrate Africa more closely into a globalised world, serving on the board of the World Wide Web Foundation and bringing people together to explore an Africa Fund to drive inward investment.

Second, we need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of what modern education means. Young people of today will not be taught the same things or in the same ways as previous generations. Mobile, online and distance learning are all creating greater access to resources than ever before. I am much inspired, for example, by the hugely imaginative proposals of John Sexton, president of New York University, who wants to open up access to his world-class institution to people around the world - not only by establishing campuses in different countries across the globe, but also by enabling internet-taught students to move into formal university learning with places at NYU.

Third, I believe we should be thinking imaginatively about how to redistribute the supply of workers in public services. If the world is going to meet the Millennium Development Goal on education, for instance, we need to train almost two million more teachers a year. At the same time, however, there are teachers in the developed countries unable to find work because of government cuts. So I propose the establishment of a Teach the World network, based on the Teach for America project in the US and Britain's own Teach First. I have already spoken to Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the Indian National Congress, about a start in his country, where Teach for India is making excellent progress. The global network I propose would act as a skills set transfer, where teachers from one country would help train those in another who have identified gaps in their educational programmes. The result would be a huge rise in teaching standards across the globe.

Head and heart

Fourth, I believe other countries can learn a lot from New Labour's New Deal for the young unemployed. We were successful in driving down youth unemployment in the UK, not just because we were willing to invest, but also because we were prepared to back rights with responsibilities. If the world comes together with a global plan for jobs, we must expect young people to fulfil their duty to work. The same dynamic should operate between aid donors and the governments of developing countries. The developed world must fulfil the pledges it has made to realise the promise of Education for All but, in return, developing countries, too, must do more to support education and training for young people - especially girls.

A renewed focus on education in poor countries is the right thing to do by way of meeting our moral obligations - but it is also a hard-headed investment in human capital. The economic case for investment in physical infrastructure - roads, ports and airports - is widely accepted. The case for investing in human infrastructure is just as compelling. The Commission on Growth and Development carried out a review of developing countries that have succeeded in sustaining high growth over a period of 25 years or more since 1950, and concluded that "every country that sustained high growth for long periods put substantial effort into schooling its citizens and deepening its human capital". Both the east Asian "tiger economies" (from the 1960s onwards) and the US (from the start of the 20th century) followed this pattern, pulling ahead of their rivals in education before doing so economically.

The twin problems of youth unemployment and global education comprise a rare but happy instance in politics where head and heart pull in the same direction. All we need now is the will to do something about them.

Gordon Brown was prime minister from 2007 to 2010. Download his report "Education for All: Beating Poverty, Unlocking Prosperity" at gordonandsarahbrown.com

This article first appeared in the 13 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Rowan Williams guest edit

Photo: STEFAN BONESS/PANOS
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What Britain needs to understand about the profound and ancient divisions in Germany

As Angela Merkel campaigns for re-election, the balance of power in Europe is changing.

On 24 September, Angela Merkel will be re-elected chancellor of Germany and that, we might think, will be that. With Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron in control of the European project, populism will surely be vanquished and the old Franco-German core of the EU restored. Yet things are changing, and if western Europe wants Germany to keep singing “Ode to Joy” as enthusiastically as “Deutschlandlied”, it will have some work to do. Our Brexit negotiators need to see how important this is to Macron, to other European leaders and, above all, to thinking Germans.

For we may all soon miss the old, self-effacing Germany. Despite having such economic power, it always seemed to have no greater wish than to exist as part of a larger whole. Konrad Adenauer, its first postwar chancellor and founding father, made Westbindung (“binding to the West”) the heart of West German politics. Adenauer came from the deeply Catholic Rhineland, “amid the vineyards” as he put it, “where Germany’s windows are open to the West”. His instinctive cultural sympathy was with France, but he knew that West Germany’s existence depended on keeping America in Europe. France he courted out of profound conviction, the US out of clear-eyed necessity, and he was worried that after him this twin course might be abandoned. His demands for reassurance during his final year in office led to John F Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech of 1963. Every West German knew about that, and about the Berlin Airlift: these became locations of national memory from which West Germany triangulated its sense of self.

There were some Germans for whom this was too much. Anti-Americanism was ingrained among West Germany’s hard left, the early Green Party and the tiny hard right. But even Germans who were suspicious of America had no fear of tying themselves closer to Europe. On the contrary, that was exactly what they wanted. The standard explanation of this is guilt. West Germans, in this argument, felt so remorseful about the horrors of the Second World War that they wanted to make amends. This idea fitted with others’ belief that Germany did indeed have much to feel guilty about.

A nuanced version of this held that the western Germans thought they had somehow “got away with it”, compared with their brethren in the east, who had felt the weight of Soviet vengeance: rape, pillage, occupation. Accordingly, Germany’s willingness to subsume itself so thoroughly, even as it footed the bills for the European Economic Community and later the European Union, was accepted with little gratitude, almost as an ongoing war debt repayment.

This guilt thesis is based on a misunderstanding of German history, especially of the experience of western Germans. The most graphic illustration of this comes from Adenauer. In 1955, he privately informed the British that while he was obliged to act in public as though he wished for reunification, he intended to devote his remaining years to blocking it. In 1961, he secretly proposed to the Americans that they offer the Russians a swap: they and he should, he said, give up West Berlin in return for Thuringia (the region containing Leipzig and Weimar). He wanted, in effect, to make the River Elbe the eastern border of Germany.

Why did Adenauer dislike the eastern Germans, think Berlin was expendable and consider the River Elbe to be the natural frontier? Simple: he knew that the Elbe was Germany’s Mason-Dixon line. Beyond it lay the flat, grim Prussian heartlands, which until 1945 stretched into present-day Russia. This vast region was known to Germans as “Ostelbien” – East Elbia. Adenauer viewed the “unification” of Germany in 1871 as East Elbia’s annexation of the west. That’s why in 1919, as mayor of Cologne, and again in 1923, he tried to get Britain and France to back a breakaway western German state. Having failed, he is said to have muttered, “Here we go, Asia again,” and closed the blinds every time his train crossed east over the Elbe.

Prussia was a different country. The victorious Allies agreed. On 25 February 1947, they declared: “The Prussian state, which from early days has been a bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany… together with its central government and all its agencies are abolished.” The name Prussia was eradicated. The Prussian hegemony of 1871-1945, an anomaly in the two millennia of German history, was over.

If we understand this, we understand what West Germany really was and why it acted as it did; why the “reunification” of 1990 – or, at least, the way it was handled – was such a mistake; why we may all have to stop taking Germany quite so much for granted now that East Elbia is back; and why our Brexit negotiators are on a hiding to nothing if they believe that the Germans have no more urgent business to consider than their car exports to us. Far more important to liberal Germans is keeping safe the western soul of Germany.

***

West Germany was anything but an artificial construct. It was the historical Germany, being almost geographically identical to what was, for almost 1,200 years, the only Germany. Julius Caesar named the land, together with its people, in 58 BC; 49 years later, Drusus, the greatest commander of the infant Roman empire, is said to have been supernaturally advised that after defeating every tribe he met in Germania, he should halt at the River Elbe. By 100 AD, Roman rule was shown by a fortified border, the Limes Germanicus. You can still walk large stretches of it; it encompasses most of the richest land in modern Germany and all of the great cities except Hamburg, Berlin and the 19th-century industrial monocultures of the Ruhr. Even these last were born as trading posts or forward bases within what archaeologists call the “market region” of Germania – the lands beyond the limes where commerce with the Roman empire defined the whole culture. Southern and western Germany’s cultural roots are almost as Roman as France’s.

But what about 9 AD and the destruction of three Roman legions by the German tribes under Arminius? There is a popular myth that this kept all Germany free and different. We owe this idea to Martin Luther and his supporters: Luther claimed from 1520 onwards to be a German, anti-Roman hero and identified himself with the newly rediscovered tale of Arminius. More decisively, the events of 9 AD were an obsession of later Prussian historians, who had an interest in claiming that the real Germany was one that was pure and un-Romanised. Yet the reverse is true. Under the Romans, then the Merovingians, then the Franks, the Rhine/Danube super-region of Germany remained politically and culturally a part of western Europe. After Charlemagne, a Rhineland German, “restored the Roman empire” (as his seals put it) in 800 AD, western Germany was the very centre of things. It was never a nation state, but always the key part of a greater whole, the Holy Roman empire.

Along the Elbe, things were different. Charlemagne extracted tribute from the pagan Slavs across the river, and his successors tried to build on this, but the German conquest and settlement of East Elbia only really began with the Wendish Crusade of 1147, the northern arm of the Second Crusade. Three centuries later, the entire region was still hotly disputed by Balts and Slavs, with German supremacy threatened by major defeats at Tannenberg (1410) and in the Hussite Wars (1419-34).

Long-contested frontier lands breed a special kind of society. The German incomers cowed the natives, such as the pagan Pruscie from whom they ultimately borrowed their name, through brute force. Where they couldn’t, they had to make armed deals with local elites. In this new sort-of-Germany, the Junkers, an aggressive landowning caste, lorded it over the Slavs and Balts – as well as poorer Germans, who knew that the locals would cut their throats if the Junker castles fell, so were loyal and subservient to their masters. East Prussia remained like this within living memory.

In 1525, Prussia named itself and declared itself the first Protestant state. From then on, it had absolute rulers, the Hohenzollern dynasty, backed by a quiescent Lutheran state church. The Junkers swore loyalty in return for exclusive access to all officer-level jobs in the army and the administration. By the mid-18th century, Voltaire quipped that while other states had armies, the Prussian army had a state. The overriding strategic concern of Prussia was always with the east. In his 1758-59 campaigns, Frederick the Great was shocked to find the Russians extremely hard to beat. He bequeathed to his successors a policy of keeping the tsars onside. Partitioning Poland between them was the sticking plaster that masked this Russian-Prussian rivalry, right until 1941.

This thoroughly east-facing power was, by the normal standards of European statehood – history, social structures, religion, geography – a different country from the Rhineland, Swabia or Bavaria. It defeated them all in 1866, laying the ground for the “unification” of 1871. The Prussian empire (for that is what it was) could now enlist the wealth, industry and manpower of Germany in pursuit of its ancient goal: hegemony over north-eastern Europe. By 1887, the future imperial chancellor Bernhard von Bülow was already musing on how to destroy Russia “for a generation”, cleanse Prussia of its Poles, set up a puppet Ukrainian state and take the Prussian armies to the banks of the Volga. This is the bloody Prussian – not German – thread that leads directly to the Nazi onslaught of 1941. In 1945, that centuries-long struggle was settled, in almost inconceivable violence. Half of East Elbia was ruthlessly stripped of Germans and handed over to Poles or Russians; the rump became the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a mere satrap of the Red Army.

So while it is easy and comfortable to say that the otherness of eastern Germany today is the result of that 40-year Soviet occupation, history says otherwise. East Elbia has always been different. Take the voting patterns: from 1871 to 1933, East Elbia outside Berlin (always a left-liberal political island) was the main electoral reservoir for the authoritarian right. The Prussian Conservative Party under the empire, the Deutschnationale Volkspartei until 1928 and the Nazis from 1930 depended on rural and small-town East Elbian voters. It was they who (just) swung things in 1933, by going 50-60 per cent for the “Hitler coalition”. Had all Germany voted like the Rhineland or Bavaria, Hitler and his Junker allies would have got nowhere close to a majority. Small wonder that Adenauer didn’t want East Elbia back and was secretly delighted to have it safely fenced off behind the Iron Curtain.

***

West Germany (1949-90) – Germany shorn of Prussia – was, then, no historical fluke, and nor was the supra­national way it acted. This was the real Germany. But the hasty reunification of 1990 (there was no referendum or election on the issue) changed things. Why should the inhabitants of the former GDR, rather than Poles and Czechs, get immediate access to the wealth and benefits of the West? Because they were Germans. With that, the chancellor Helmut Kohl embraced the notion that being German overrode all considerations of social, economic or historical difference. He also subliminally revived the idea, common to the Second Empire and the Third Reich, that East Elbia was special and needed subsidising by the rich west of Germany. The director of the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, resigned in 1991 over this abandoning of economic sanity for political nationalism.

Since 1990, the former East Germany has received more than €2trn from the old West Germany, for a fast-ageing, shrinking and disproportionately male population of only 16 million, including Berlin. That’s the equivalent of a Greek bailout every year since 1990, and as a straight gift, not a loan. This represents a huge shift in financial priorities, overshadowing Germany’s annual net EU budget contribution (currently €15.5bn). In 1990, Kohl promised that western German aid would soon turn the new states into “blooming” areas, but they have become, instead, proof that age-old differences resist even the most gigantic subsidies.

Between 30 and 40 per cent of voters in East Elbia have declared over the past two years that at the general election, they intend to support either Alternative für Deutschland (Germany’s Ukip), Die Linke (heirs to the old East German Communist Party) or the all but openly neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (the NPD, currently represented in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state parliament). Though theoretical enemies, these three parties are united by cultural affinities: all despise economic liberalism, oppose Nato and the EU and want closer relations with Russia.

East Elbia no longer has the population to swing the entire German electorate of more than 61 million but many liberal western Germans are nervous. They recoil at the sight of anti-asylum-seeker attacks, which are proportionally far more common in East Elbia than in the west, or when they see Merkel heckled by right-wingers. They call East Elbia Dunkeldeutschland (“Dark Germany”) and joke bitterly that if Britain can have a Brexit, why can’t the old East Germans, whom they lump together under the name of Saxons, have a “Säxit”? But it’s no laughing matter. They know there are those only too aware of any anti-western drift in Germany and eager to give succour to it.

Alexander Saldostanov, the rabid leader of Russia’s “Night Wolves” bikers and a public friend of Vladimir Putin, recently told Germany’s bestselling daily, Bild, that he dreams of a grand union between Germany and Russia: “We have so much in common. You simply have to free yourself at last from America, that scourge of humanity. Together, we can, should and must take power.”

There’s no danger of that, but there is a sense in which eastern Europe is, to Germans, no longer “the other”. It’s the place whence natural gas flows from Russia, where labour is cheap but skilled and where the people are keen to work with Germany on setting up new sites of joint national memory. From Kaliningrad to Prague, museums and projects are springing up in which the horrors of the past are neither denied nor used as ammunition in today’s negotiations. In eastern Europe, perhaps because Russia is so close, the Germans are rarely made to feel guilty for their grandfathers’ sins. Meanwhile in the west, from Greece to Britain, people can’t resist mentioning the war whenever the Germans don’t act as desired.

***

Germany’s resources are not infinite. Nor is the patience of the 40 per cent of Germans who “have net worths of essentially zero”, as Die Welt reported last year – largely because German home ownership rates are the lowest in the EU. They are disproportionately concentrated in the old east, the region that never had supranational, western European connections. From them come ever-louder voices saying that Germany’s EU contribution is too high. And with Britain out, the maths will look even worse to such voters. If south-western Germany’s taxes have to keep bailing out the country’s east, while also helping out the old and new EU lands, what is left for, say, the post-industrial Ruhr, which has financial and social problems of its own? There are tough choices ahead, and it’s not hard to imagine a day when Germany decides to aim its subsidies and investments where they seem most welcome. The old idea of Mitteleuropa – a multi-ethnic, German-centred Middle Europe, neither of the West nor of the East – no longer seems so antiquarian. Nothing would gladden Putin’s heart more.

So, yes, Merkel will win the election and will have a chance to revive the EU’s Franco-­German core. Yet the relative strengths of France and Germany are different now. As for their leaders, while Adenauer was a devoted Catholic Rhinelander, Merkel is a Lutheran vicar’s daughter from the east. Bonn was physically close to Paris, Brussels, The Hague, even London; Berlin is closer to Prague and Warsaw.

With Donald Trump’s wavering on Nato and his noisy anti-German protectionism, along with Brexit, the West may no longer seem vital to Germany’s future. During Merkel’s election debate with her main challenger, Martin Schulz, on 3 September, Brexit was not even mentioned. The old EU core will have to work to keep Germany anchored, resisting any new call from the east. Macron and German liberals know that; that’s why there will be no Franco-German split over Brexit just to sell us a few more Audis. The sooner David Davis and Liam Fox realise that the Germans have far bigger issues to deal with, the better.

James Hawes is the author of “The Shortest History of Germany” (Old Street Publishing)

This article first appeared in the 13 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Rowan Williams guest edit