When I have to teach about comparative advantage, one of the conclusions we draw is that if your leaders decide your workers should do "what rich workers do," you're going to have a bad time. Last year I said, "If your comparative advantage is in agriculture, deciding to make steel isn't going to work out very well for you." One student sort of laughed, and then she stopped. (That student is now my informal personal assistant.)
This year I didn't get anywhere near as explicit. I just ended the discussion by noting that you should focus on your relative strengths. One of my students said, "Like in the Cultural Revolution when they made farmers make steel."
Uh, we can sort of talk around that, but we can't really talk about that. I awkwardly said, "Uh, I don't think I can really talk about that."
Immediately, one student put her head down and tried her best to not hear anything else, while another student wouldn't let the subject drop. "What?" asked the curious student. "They told you not to talk about that?"
"No, no one told me not to talk about anything. It just seems like a good idea for my long-term employment if we talk about other things."
The curious student was on a roll, though. "They took our books away and pasted a big sticker over some of the pages. Do they do that kind of thing in other countries? They don't do that in America, do they?"
"Those are two different questions. Yes, they do that in other countries. No, America isn't really one of them."
"It made me want to pull the sticker off and see what was underneath."
"Uh, I wouldn't encourage you to do that."
"It was about Tibet."
"Let's talk about something else now."
"They covered the text but they didn't cover the footnotes, so I could tell."