When a front page article in ‘The Irish Times’ reported that the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) is calling for entrepreneurship to be taught in schools my first reaction was a sort of harrumph – brainwashing kids. Then I thought that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
The content of the subject would have to be wide enough to cover the full range of knowledge and skills necessary to teach children how to make money. And let’s be clear, that’s what the objective of entrepreneurship is. Nobody starts a business to make less money than they currently are making and losing money is a quick way to not being an entrepreneur at all. So I think we are on safe ground saying that making money is pretty fundamental to the subject.
Secondly, it would be necessary to explain something obvious to adults but not to children. I read recently, I can’t remember where, that it is only by the age of twelve that children can reason logically and handle abstract concepts. This means that when it is explained to them that entrepreneurship means making money, this does not mean it is part of the art class and doesn’t actually mean getting pieces of paper from teacher and marking it.
Later in the course syllabus it will unfortunately be necessary to row back on this a little, if not actually quite a lot, by explaining that money can actually be made by pieces of paper, that is by other pieces of paper that are already money. This will be called investment and will be a difficult concept for the younger child to grasp.
It is of course sincerely to be hoped that sometime later these children come across an entirely different subject called Marxism, which will explain to them that in fact real wealth is a result of work and that (paper) money is only a symbol or token of this wealth. At this stage it will also be explained that investing is not actually hard work and that therefore the real wealth received from investments (such as stocks, shares, bonds etc) is not actually produced by simply buying and selling these pieces of paper. It is a result of someone else who doesn’t own these pieces of paper working hard to make the things that make up real wealth – like houses, cars, clothes and nice food, including sweets. This can be easily demonstrated by role play in which the children sell pieces of paper in class and note the additional wealth that has been created or not created at the end of the exercise.
It will also be explained that although they will have learned that the interest that is received from their investment is a reward for their abstaining from consumption, i.e. doing nothing, they do not actually have to abstain from consuming and that a lot of capitalists, sorry entrepreneurs, actually consume quite a lot more than the rest of us, sorry, I mean more than them.
Similarly they will have been taught that doing nothing is not what investors do but is what poor people do and on no account can those who live on their investment income be accused of doing nothing. Quite the contrary – they invest. Marxism will then teach them that this is bollocks, which will probably have to wait until mild sweary words are deemed to be an appropriate teaching aid.
If the subject goes beyond pure entrepreneurship and includes modules on applied entrepreneurship the children will have to learn how to apply the theory of creating money and a business to a real world situation. Earlier summary presentations about the marginal utility function of consumption will have to give way to appreciation that perfect information on the part of consumers may well be a necessary feature of perfectly competitive markets but that the last thing that real entrepreneurs want is a perfectly competitive market.
Teaching this to children will have its obvious difficulties and their heads will seriously spin when forced to accept that this is because, if there is a perfectly competitive market, there is actually no profit – so what’s the f*****g point they might ask? They will find that they have created a business that only makes money for investors who have lent them the money and do nothing, or whatever.
If the brightest pupils demonstrate that they are able to retain these conflicting ideas in their heads they should nevertheless be discouraged from retaining any memory of their earlier lesson on free markets, which is that it’s probably not worth their while starting a business with their wizard new idea in the first place because the efficient market hypothesis implies it’s probably already been done. And yes, that’s even if you think you’ve invented a time travel machine.
You can see how such abstract concepts might be difficult for the average child to grasp but it has been demonstrated that having been grasped it is incredibly difficult to shift these ideas, even among the brightest children who have advanced to be really good at maths. These children might go on to be economists although this is difficult to encourage, being similar to telling a child that they can’t be a footballer but can aspire to write for the back page of ‘The Independent’ or, god forbid, the ‘Daily Record’ in Scotland.
Applied entrepreneurship, however involves not just theory, as we have said, but the rough and tumble of the real world of business. Specifically for IBEC this means Irish business. Being a real entrepreneur therefore means hard choices. Do you want to be a small entrepreneur, in which case you might end up feeling that you are exploiting yourself? Or do you want to be a BIG entrepreneur and be famous.
In the latter case knowing a bank manager will be indispensible in getting access to funding so playing golf might be of great assistance here. Similarly, access to lucrative contracts and access to some newly created incentive scheme (you need these to incentivise making money because this doesn’t happen by itself) will be greatly assisted by knowing a politician. If you don’t know one the child should be encouraged to get a brown bag and practice giving it to their local councillor.
Newspapers love small people acting like adults without really be aware of what they’re doing. Very small children will no doubt forget the experience but this will be invaluable training and education for future life as forgetting what you’ve done and claiming not to know what it was you’ve just done are a feature of applied entrepreneurship in Ireland, especially in dealings with politicians and appearing at tribunals of inquiry.
Applied entrepreneurship also often requires not paying taxes but for goodness sake don’t let the child worry about how their teacher is going to get paid or the next generation of entrepreneurs educated.
So, having thoroughly reconsidered the idea of teaching entrepreneurship I think is has some very positive implications:
- The teaching of neo-classical economics would have to be discontinued in order for one of the subjects not fall into total disrepute.
- Teaching children that they should aspire to own the means of production and not just work for them might spur the quite logical question why workers shouldn’t own their own firms by creating workers’ cooperatives.
- In the spirit of social partnership the role of trade union representation should also be taught and in order to gain access to the syllabus as a subject in its own right will have to include identification of workers separate interests and the various means to represent and promote them (that is: simply agreeing with the employer would invalidate it as a separate subject of study)
The next related lesson will involve moving on to a post on A level economics and why that man Jeremy Corbyn could really do with having studied it.