Economics textbooks criticized

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Economics textbooks criticized

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“Generally, the planned economy is more superior than the market economy in terms of economic stabilization.”

That sentence appears in an economics textbook for high school students published by Chunjae Education and is one example of the highly judgmental and controversial statements made in school books about economics.

The Education Ministry, the Finance Ministry and educators have decided to conduct a review of social studies and economics textbooks used in middle schools and high schools to purge them of such subjective statements.

“The Education Ministry and Korea Economic Education Association are working on the project, and the Finance Ministry will be responsible for final reviews,” said one Finance Ministry official who declined to be named.

The association is a nonprofit organization supported by economy-related government agencies and groups representing economists and business leaders to promote education about the economy.

Korean economics textbooks have often provoked debate among policy makers, economists and business leaders who accused them of promoting biased views on economic development, whether it reflects anti-market sentiment or neoliberal capitalism.

The consensus among most economists is that many local textbooks overrate the government’s role in the economy, while downplaying the importance of free market mechanisms.

The bias appears to reflect the state-guided economic model that was adopted by Park Chung Hee, the Korean president in the 1960s and ’70s, and has remained influential ever since.

“Economics textbooks are full of judgmental statements and subjective expressions,” said Lee Seung-hoon, an economics professor at Seoul National University who reviewed the textbooks at the request of the government.

Lee said many textbooks say that in times of inflation, companies are “obligated” to improve productivity and consumers are also “obligated not to overspend.”

“But companies are bound to improve productivity when doing so will help make a profit and consumers are bound to buy whatever they think is necessary at a reasonable price. These are natural behaviors, not an obligation to be imposed by anyone,” he said.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry also reviewed economy-related sections in local textbooks and said some of the statements found in the review lacked objectivity.

It cited such statements as “South Korean companies have started doing business in North Korea and spread decadent lifestyles,” or “PC bang [Internet cafes] are the biggest symbol of economic globalization.”

“Unlike U.S. economics textbooks that only show objective data and factual statements, many portions of our books have highly judgmental statements,” said Park Dong-min, an official at the KCCI.

The new economics textbooks also will include sections on borrowing and personal asset management for the first time to help students learn more about personal finance issues.


By Kwon Ho [hawon@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

‘경제 이래야 된다’에서 ‘경제 이렇다’로 기술


“일반적으로 경제안정 면에서 계획경제가 시장경제보다 우위에 있다.”일부의 주장이나 이념이 아니다. 천재교육에서 출간한 고등학교 경제교과서 47쪽에 나오는 내용이다.

1991년 소련의 붕괴로 시장경제의 우위가 입증된 지 올해로 20년째다. 계획경제, 즉 공산주의는 기본적인 식생활 문제도 해결하지 못하는 사실이 드러났다. 안정성을 따질 수 없다는 얘기다. 이처럼 논란을 일으키거나 문제의 소지가 있는 부분을 바로잡겠다는 게 경제교과서 개편의 기본 방향이다.


◆도덕 같은 경제교과서=경제교과서를 둘러싼 논쟁은 오래 됐다. “반기업 정서를 조장한다” “신자유주의 일색이다”라며 팽팽히 맞섰다.

경제학계에선 “시장의 기능은 제 몫보다 작게, 정부의 역할은 제 몫보다 크게 다뤄져 왔다”는 의견이 다수다. 한국개발연구원(KDI)의 경제교과서 분석 작업에 참여했던 서울대 이승훈(경제학) 교수는 “경제교과서가 도덕교과서처럼 당위로 가득 차 있다”고 꼬집었다.

“인플레이션 발생 시 기업은 생산성을 높일 책임이 있고, 소비자는 과소비를 하지 말아야 한다는 언급이 공통적으로 나옵니다. 이익이 된다면 기업은 생산성을 높이고, 소비자들은 필요하면 사서 쓰는 게 이치입니다. 이런 걸 의무로 몰고가는 게 현행 경제교과서의 현실입니다.”
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