Gente que Cuenta

Adam Pérez, by Alfredo Behrens

William Conor Atril press
William Conor,
School queue, c.1930-1934

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Discipline or creativity? That seems to be the question to decide in school teaching. My school tended towards discipline. It had been founded to educate the children of English railway officials. Teaching how to walk within the rails was in the DNA of that school. So much so that some retired Englishmen, caught in the backwater of their careers, taught at my school.

At that time, during the mid-morning breaks, a man with a moustache would appear with a basket of expensive sandwiches made of somewhat dry bread and filled with little. We were robbed on the price,  the product and on the life it took us to wait in line. It turns out that one of our primary school teachers saw an opportunity to supplement her salary and started bringing trays of sandwiches with good bread, better filling and cheaper. The line that used to form in front of the moustached one was changed for the teacher’s. The size of the line might even have been bigger;  but the reward was greater, at a lower price too. The moustached seller even had to return with his basket full, to the derisive expressions of the pupils, his former customers.

This, which in more creative schools might even have been used to teach the advantage of competitive markets, ended without explanation. The teacher stopped selling her sandwiches and we had to stand in line again in front of the one with the moustache. We never knew what happened. Conspiracy theories spread, such as the intervention of an “invisible hand” but a railwayman one, and that was the end of it. Adam Smith would have turned in his grave if anyone had invoked him.

So we were educated without imagination, to tolerate in despair a world of interventionist governments and protected markets for uncompetitive products whose supply would demand few ideas and pay low wages.

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Alfredo Behrens has a PhD from Cambridge University, teaches strategy and intercultural issues at FIA Business School in São Paulo and at Harvard Business Education.
Some of his books can be purchased on Amazon.

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