The Economy and I – Economic education as a prerequisite for our participation in a democratic society

Debates are held daily in the Bundestag on the right type of taxation, the protection of employees, subsidies to promote the economy and many other economic topics. Especially in the period before the next election, the media presence is high and promises for the future by politicians are numerous. But soon it is only all about growth rates, tax rates and other key figures. To understand these figures and to be able to put the economic arguments in the right perspective, knowledge of economic interrelationships and institutional structures is a necessary prerequisite. Only if you can place yourself correctly in these conflicting situations can you make the right decision as a voter. To do this, one should be able to answer questions such as the following correctly: Is my income or that of my parents relatively high or low compared to the rest of the German population? Do I find the distribution of the tax burden in Germany fair? How many people do not have a job, and what instruments are available to secure their livelihood?

Researchers have found that economic knowledge, in particular, is in short supply among Germans. In a large-scale survey by Altmann et al. (2018), only a third of those questioned were able to achieve a satisfactory result. Also, systematic differences in economic education exist between women and men, young and old, rich and poor. This has repercussions on the political process and the design of institutions that affect each individual. The question of a fair tax system is difficult to answer without knowing the distribution and one’s own position in it. Economic ignorance and misjudgement of the economic situation can even lead to distrust of the existing political system as a whole. A study by Diermeier and Niehues (2019), for example, finds the connection between overestimating unemployment and rejecting democracy and supranational organizations. Also, those who particularly overestimate unemployment tend towards right-wing populist voting behaviour.

What facts and connections should every citizen in Germany know? How can this knowledge be spread? So how can economic education be made attractive?

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Theresa Markefke has been a research assistant at the Institute for Economic Policy since autumn 2018.

After her bachelor in politics and economics (B.A.) at the Westfälische Wilhelms-University Münster and the Corvinus University Budapest, she completed the master studies in economics (M.Sc.) at the University of Cologne. The focus of the Master’s program was on “Growth, Labour Markets and Inequality in the Global Economy”, “Public Finance” and “Social Policy”. During her studies, she gained practical experience as an intern at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the ZEW – Leibniz-Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung as well as a student assistant at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.

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Felix Mindl has been a research assistant at the Institute for Economic Policy since spring 2019.

After his bachelor in economics at the University of Cologne and the Universidad ESAN in Lima, Peru, he also completed his Master of Economics in Cologne. His focus was on “Markets & Institution”, “Entrepreneurship” and “Digital Economy”. Besides his studies, he gained practical experience as a student assistant at the university start-up network cologne (hgnc) and as a research assistant at the chair for “Industrial Economics and Applied Microeconometrics”.


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