When I hear the word culture I reach for my textbook on institutional theory

by Henry on April 10, 2007

Via Ezra Klein, I see that Jonah Goldberg has lapsed into what Ezra describes as a “weird revery over how the rugged individualism of Americans makes them totally unsuitable for social welfare programs.” In Goldberg’s own words:

I find interesting about the liberal defense of European welfare states (They really work! No Really!) is how they leave culture out of the equation almost entirely. … liberals are uncomfortable discussing the reality and constraints of culture for a host of reasons, from multiculturalism to vestigial hangups about seeing the world through prisms of class. … Maybe, just maybe, France and Denmark can handle the systems they have because they have long traditions of sucking-up to the state and throne? Marty Lipset wrote stacks of books on how Canadians and Americans have different forms of government because the Royalist, throne-kissing, swine left America for Canada during the Revolutionary War and that’s why they don’t mind big government, switched to the metric system when ordered and will wait on line like good little subjects…. If government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one, then how come it’s so damn hard bringing third world countries into the first world?

Now it’s a bit rich for a National Review hack to be talking smack about “long traditions of sucking-up to to the state and throne.” But even if we were to pretend for a moment that Goldberg’s argument is serious, it’s terrible. First of all, it gets Lipset’s thesis badly wrong. While Lipset was keen on enduring American values, he didn’t pretend for a moment that they were the only force shaping US politics. Indeed, he explicitly documented how American values became more ‘European’ as a result of the institutional innovations of the New Deal (funnily enough, Goldberg seems to have missed that bit in his doubtless extensive reading on the topic). But more generally, sweeping claims about the all-determining-power of fixed national cultures have a godawful reputation in the social sciences these days. Values change, and sometimes change dramatically. Individuals are more than the passive bearers of cultural traits; they, like, make choices, and sometimes change their minds about things. The institutions that surround them change, and when these institutions change, so too, very often, do political beliefs, values etc.

There are respectable and serious scholars out there, who make more limited and specific contentions about how culture matters to politics (I tend not to agree with many of their arguments, but I obviously don’t have a monopoly on the truth). However, sweeping, half-assed claims that Culture is Destiny simply don’t feature in serious argument any more. Instead, they enjoy a sort of zombie-like half-life in some corners of the rightwing punditocracy, where their explanatory deficiencies are outweighed by their political usefulness in providing a higher justification for selfishness. Which is what seems to me to be happening here.

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Crooked Timber » » When I hear the word culture … aw, hell with it
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1

Matt 04.10.07 at 8:59 pm

Goldberg is obviously a moron not worth considering, but from now on I will try to refer to Candians as Royalist, throne-kissing, metric using, line-waiting swine.

2

fjm 04.10.07 at 9:03 pm

How on earth does killing one king and deposing a couple of others qualify as “sucking up to the state and throne”? And as far as state authority is concerned, France is the European expert in riot as a weapon of resistance…. mostly used whenever the state tries to withdraw from public provision.

3

otto 04.10.07 at 9:16 pm

Alesina et al. on Why doesn’t the US have a European-Style welfare state?

http://post.economics.harvard.edu/hier/2001papers/HIER1933.pdf

Worth a read. Not completely hostile to culture as in ‘values’, though considers many other aspects.

4

tom hurka 04.10.07 at 9:22 pm

And the then Canadian government (not Conservative but Liberal) was against the New Deal while FDR was introducing it south of the border — thought it smacked of socialism. That medicare was eventually introduced in Canada rather than the US was a fluke — people (including FDR and Truman) had been pushing for it much longer in the US. The reason, according to Antonia Maioni in her book, is just that the Canadian political system, parliamentary with health care a provincial responsibility, was favourable to the reform while the US system, with powerful congressional committees, was against it. National culture, except as expressed in political institutions, had nothing to do with it.

5

derek 04.10.07 at 9:25 pm

If national cultures are fixed, why aren’t you all still living in tepees?

(or more seriously, why did they quit farming and start living in tepees?)

6

Daniel Nexon 04.10.07 at 9:33 pm

We should think of “political culture,” in this context, as creating reference points through which individuals and groups justify policies. American political culture clearly changes the terms of justification for welfare state policies; it probably makes it more difficult to propose, pass, and implement certain policies and easier to oppose them. But there’s a lot of flexibility within American small-l liberalism, let alone the various religious strains in American culture, through which one can advocate–even successfully–redistributive and welfare policies. If Goldberg were right, we’d have a hard time understanding just how expansive the contemporary American state is across a whole range of policy arenas.

Bottom-line: political culture explains a lot, but not in a deterministic or simplistic way. It certainly doesn’t function as a quasi-deterministic variable.

And I suspect American federalism–along with a whole host of other institutional factors–explains a lot about why we don’t have a more robust national welfare state. But this isn’t my area.

7

Timothy Scriven 04.10.07 at 9:34 pm

The idea that the rightwing is indvidualist and the leftwing is collectivist is a fallacy that unfortunately has been propogated by both sides. In truth some aspects of indvidualism and some aspects of collectivism go into both.

8

C. L. Ball 04.10.07 at 9:50 pm

Goldberg also conflates ‘culture’ in the anthropological sense with ‘political culture’ in Lipset’s sense. Much of Goldberg’s piece seems to be a bad cribbing of Fukuyama’s obituary.

9

C. L. Ball 04.10.07 at 9:50 pm

Err, Fukuyama’s obituary of Lipset.

10

dearieme 04.10.07 at 10:03 pm

France works because the Parisian bourgeoisie believe that it is run ruthlessly in their interest. The politicians they vote for do allow other groups a few symbolic victories – peasants, railwaymen, and so forth. So a friend argues; myself, I suspect that it’s all a huge book-keeping fraud.

11

Martin Grüner Larsen 04.10.07 at 10:06 pm

Sucking up to the state and throne? Is he serious? First off, we – The Danes and Norwegians and Swedes – killed our leaders just as much as the next guy (oh, and there’s this other thing called the French Revolution which the French did. And, say, the 1968 riots in Paris were possibly the defining moment of anti-state popular movements in post-war Europe, but whatever), but that’s not the point. The point is that we have a long and sustained tradition for deliberative democracy and social consciousness which we’ve encouraged through welfare state models.

I think the welfare state works primarily because it’s there, and has been there for a while. The sooner idiots like Goldberg get off their pessimistic bums and help implement a society which helps its weaker members, the sooner the US will rejoin civil society, rugged individualism or not.

12

Luis Alegria 04.10.07 at 10:07 pm

Mr. Henry,

And here I was thinking that culture was back as an explantion, seeing as there don’t seem to be any other models still standing for third-world development – for instance.

And then there are all sorts of other areas where people seem to have gone straight back to culture – see Ogbu on education.

What do you think of Amy Chua ?

13

Andrew 04.10.07 at 10:10 pm

“Values change, and sometimes change dramatically”.

Mr Goldberg wrote a long piece on how the culture of Japan changed after WWII and how that could be repeated in Iraq.

14

Steve LaBonne 04.10.07 at 10:50 pm

While I always benefit from reading Henry’s posts, I have to say that even one neuron devoted to the semi-literate ravings of Mr. Goldberg is a neuron wasted.

15

X. Trapnel 04.10.07 at 11:11 pm

I can’t resist, to follow up on FJM and Larsen’s comments, this quote from Ken Macleod:

“Hey, this is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in
wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes. When we have built up tyrants, we have brought them down. And we have nuclear fucking weapons.”

16

Shelby 04.10.07 at 11:28 pm

There’s plenty to disagree with in what Goldberg wrote, but Henry’s rather drastically distorted it to create a strawman. “Culture is Destiny”? Just because he says governemnt is not destiny, doesn’t mean he says that culture is. He just says it matters a lot — and he’s right.

17

Pithlord 04.10.07 at 11:58 pm

Actually, Bennett’s Tories did try to implement a “New Deal” in Canada, but it was struck down by the Privy Council No switch in time to save nine was necessary when the final court was in another country.(Mind you, appeals to the Privy Council were abolished a decade later partly as a result).

Goldberg is a moron. Americans are notoriously badly educated about the rest of the world, but you would hope the custodian of National Review would have heard of the French Revolution (and know he is supposed to be on the side of Louis XVI).

18

Daniel Nexon 04.11.07 at 12:18 am

I’m curious what, Shelby, you think Henry distorted. I freely admit that “Maybe, just maybe” is a weasel phrase, designed to allow Goldberg to disown the rest of the argument when it suits his purpose.

I found the notion that liberals refused to make cultural arguments because of (1) some lingering attachment to Marxist class analysis fascinating and (2) multiculturalism. Either might be the case, I suppose, but it also might be the case that most liberals don’t like naive culturalist arguments because, well, they’re bad arguments. Or it could have something to do with faith in universal reason. I doubt it has much to do with multiculturalism, which, after all, is premised on precisely the opposite line of reasoning: that culture is everything.

19

Thomas 04.11.07 at 12:41 am

I tend not to agree with many of their arguments, but I obviously don’t have a monopoly on the truth.

Wow, America would run so much more smoothly and rationally if more people would internalize that statement.

20

Henry 04.11.07 at 12:52 am

shelby, I had understood Goldberg to be claiming that European democracies could handle welfare states “because they have long traditions of sucking-up to the state and throne,” whereas Canada has a political culture descended from “Royalist, throne-kissing, swine,” which is “why they don’t mind big government, switched to the metric system when ordered and will wait on line like good little subjects.” I obviously missed the subtleties; silly me.

Luis – I do believe that beliefs and values are incredibly important to politics, and furthermore that many of their features can’t be well captured using the kinds of rational choice models that I personally find most congenial. But this still doesn’t mean that crude culturalist explanations work in explaining economic disparities in the developing world. They seem to me to serve more often as an excuse for doing nothing than as useful means of explanation. I think recent work on the importance of ideas is far more persuasive, even if it’s hard to translate this work into easy policy prescriptions. As Dan says, culture doesn’t work even quasi deterministically (and I think that talking about culture as a totality is a bad place to start from; far better to look at specific beliefs, ideas etc and their consequences; here I’m riffing on Jim Johnson, not for the first time). I haven’t read Chua’s book – does it make a cultural determinist argument???

21

rm 04.11.07 at 12:57 am

fwiw, that quotation from Ken MacLeod was in response to a hypothetical “what would a future European jingoism sound like?” It wasn’t a statement of his real feelings.

22

Ben Alpers 04.11.07 at 1:06 am

Err, Fukuyama’s obituary of Lipset.

And there I was clicking on your link, thinking that Fukuyama had gone on to the universal homogeneous state in the sky.

23

Lord Acton 04.11.07 at 1:08 am

Thms sggstd:

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rgmnts, bt bvsly dn’t hv
mnply n th trth.

Ww, mrc wld rn s mch mr smthly
nd rtnlly f mr ppl wld ntrnlz
tht sttmnt.”

Dd y wnt s mrcns t blv ths bfr
r ftr w bt th Ksr, th Nzs nd th
Cmmnsts fr y lbstrbck lsrs?

Bt yr pthtc brwn-nsng f rn dd gt
yr glrs nvl hrs bck. t mst b
grt fn t lv n 3rd rt wrld pwr
tht cn’t vn HNDL TH TRTH!

24

Richard 04.11.07 at 1:53 am

Wow. This has been a startlingly civilised comments thread, quite out of keeping with its source material, until lord acton weighed in, presumably ironically.

Americans are Europeans. Plus some third world folks. What do arguments based on unchanging national cultures do with that (not that either of the latter two categories are national)? Do they assume that a national consciousness, with its own unique ideas and intolerances, sprang into existence out of some potential-filled abyss one morning in 1776?

25

SG 04.11.07 at 2:32 am

Lord Acton you idiot, communist Russia beat the Nazis. The US cheered them on, and dropped into the action late in the piece. You`re proud of that?

26

Thomas 04.11.07 at 2:32 am

1. Why is it “a bit rich for a National Review hack to be talking smack about “long traditions of sucking-up to to the state and throne”? I find this comment completely puzzling, and I say that as someone who is familiar with NR. Henry has doubtlessly done extensive reading of NR, so perhaps he could clarify.

2. Henry says that Goldberg gets Lipset’s theory “badly wrong.” “While Lipset was keen on enduring American values, he didn’t pretend for a moment that they were the only force shaping US politics.” But Goldberg doesn’t claim that, and only a peculiar sort of intentional misreading would lead someone to claim that he does. Shelby above in 16 has it exactly right, and Henry’s response is 20 is, as expected, a restatement of his misreading, and no more persuasive the second time around. Goldberg’s post is clearly meant to respond to those who believe that “government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one.” Somehow that is converted in Henry’s misreading into a claim that only culture matters, which is not at all the point.

3. I am doubtless less familiar with the works of Marty Lipset than Henry is, but I thought Lipset claimed that it was the experience of the Great Depression which led to a “europeanization” of American culture, and that this was largely reversed in the post-war period (despite the continuing institutions of course).

4. I am confused how Goldberg’s post could be fairly understood as a “higher justification for selfishness.” Is it the implicit criticism of the American invasion of Iraq that Henry interprets as selfish? Or something else?

27

Timothy Scriven 04.11.07 at 2:47 am

“Lord Acton you idiot, communist Russia beat the Nazis. The US cheered them on, and dropped into the action late in the piece. You`re proud of that?”

Do not feed the trolls. Ever.

28

Timothy Scriven 04.11.07 at 2:51 am

A clarification of what I meant by that because it kind of looked like I was calling sg a troll. “Lord Acton” ( I’m trying to think of a pun on power corrupts here but I can’t) is a troll. One of the most useful principles web based discussion of Intelligent Design creationism has taught us is that it is counterproductive to “feed the trolls”. That is respond to them in anyway. If everyone on weblogs internalized this principle things would be much better.

29

Henry 04.11.07 at 3:02 am

thomas – if we want to get into the question of intentional misreadings, I’ll endeavour to remain polite and merely point out that I didn’t “restate my misreading” in my reply to shelby. Instead, I quoted the relevant sections verbatim from Goldberg’s original post. The words seem straightforward enough. Your apologetics on the other hand …

30

Lee A. Arnold 04.11.07 at 3:12 am

Henry, you nailed it. Goldberg is not an honest thinker. He is an ideologue of conservative power, of selfishness, searching as they all are right now, for a way to grab it back.

The conservative heyday is over in three different ways, and they don’t even understand it. The Reaganic formulary no longer produces the old abracadabra. The liberal Democrats are politically ascendant, mostly through sheer dumb luck. And the U.S. is cartwheeling into a future of externalities and internalities that the market system, on its own, cannot make right.

Goldberg is the worst of them and the best of them. All the conservatives are now writing this dreck. They are not searching for knowledge, they are looking for a winning ideology. They are looking for a way to regain control. And if “culture” rings the bell, they will go for it.

31

Thomas 04.11.07 at 3:14 am

Oh Henry, there’s no reason to remain polite. And there’s no reason for anyone to think that the bits you quoted were anything like the point of Golderg’s post. I refuse to believe that you’re as humorless and dense as you insist you are.

32

Daniel Nexon 04.11.07 at 3:23 am

Goldberg’s post is clearly meant to respond to those who believe that “government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one.”

I’m going to put aside for a second whether Goldberg’s post constitutes an even semi-serious response to Ezra, and do a little bit of reconstruction of Goldberg’s argument.

You’re right that Goldberg is responding to those who would claim that “government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one…” But you’re wrong to argue that Henry caricatures Goldberg’s post, because the rest of the post suggests we look (“maybe, just maybe”) to “national culture” as the more powerful explanatory variable that governing institutions: “Sweden’s government succeeds as much as it does because it governs Sweden,” etc. etc.

Indeed, the rest of the sentence you quote is a lead in to a rather bizarre argument that African and Latin American governing institutions are somehow isomorphic with those in western Europe[*]. Hence, presumably, we need to look at national culture. Goldberg doesn’t draw that last connection explicitly, but I’m not sure what else he could be suggesting given the rest of the argument.

Anyway, I’d be thrilled to have a long conversation with a young undergraduate batting around these ideas, but that’s basically the level of Goldberg’s post and I’m not sure its worth this kind of energy on CT.

*”On paper” — a phrase that signals, even to the extent that it is right, why Goldberg needs to learn a thing or two about comparative-institutional analysis and political economy.

33

Henry 04.11.07 at 3:33 am

there’s no reason for anyone to think that the bits you quoted were anything like the point of Golderg’s post.

None whatsoever. Except that they manifestly were.

I refuse to believe that you’re as humorless and dense as you insist you are.

To return the somewhat dubious compliment, I would find it difficult to believe that someone apparently so entirely devoid of the ability to read and understand sentences written in plain English could hold down a job as a lawyer (but then again, perhaps this ability, when selectively invoked, is precisely what justifies your paycheck ;))

34

P O'Neill 04.11.07 at 3:38 am

As bad as anyone can think that “Liberal Fascism” is going to be, it’s going to be worse.

35

MQ 04.11.07 at 3:40 am

“sweeping claims about the all-determining-power of fixed national cultures have a godawful reputation in the social sciences these days.”

Sweeping claims about all-determining powers of fixed anything always have a terrible reputation in anything that purports to be a science, because they negate any need for scientific explanation (just ascribe everything to the all-determining fixed cause). But if contemporary social scientists really believe that culture is A) unimportant, and B) easy to change over the short run (and the short run in this case is easily measured in decades, if not longer), then there is a mountain of both social scientific and historical evidence to prove them wrong. Culture is incredibly important. But it is also materially determined. For example, I do believe the culture of Northern European countries makes it easier to run corporatist states there. But that culture has something to do with small countries, which help to create homogeneous elites who all know each other and cooperate together to work around non-functional rules. Sweden has the population of New York City or Los Angeles county.

36

Michael Bérubé 04.11.07 at 3:41 am

As bad as anyone can think that “Liberal Fascism” is going to be, it’s going to be worse.

I hear it’s going to have origami pop-ups.

37

Thomas 04.11.07 at 3:52 am

Daniel, I don’t see any reason to think that Goldberg is arguing for the stronger view (that culture is dominant). What he says is perfectly consistent with the view that there is an interplay between the culture and the institutions of government, and that a focus solely on institutions misses that. I don’t see why, based solely on what he says here, one would think he means more.

38

Thomas 04.11.07 at 4:09 am

Henry, I realize that humor is of course a matter of taste and that Goldberg’s brand isn’t everyone’s and all that, but I think (and thought) it obvious that the particular bits you cited as the point were instead a bit of caricature. Re-reading his post, yours, and your comments, I now concede your humorlessness.

39

Daniel Nexon 04.11.07 at 4:27 am

“What he says is perfectly consistent with the view that there is an interplay between the culture and the institutions of government, and that a focus solely on institutions misses that.”

Goldberg’s arguments may or may not be “perfectly consistent” with the utterly banal view that governing institutions interact with political culture. But the only affirmative argument he makes in this “riff” (to put it charitably) on Ezra’s post is that Europeans have more developed welfare states than the United States because they are state-sucking authoritarian personality-types.

Game, set, and match against all those un-named liberals who want to import the Swedish government whole cloth…. Which is too bad, because I’ve always thought it would be cool to make King Carl XVI Gustaf hereditary monarchy of the United States. Damn you Goldberg!

40

Functional 04.11.07 at 4:33 am

Anyone got a good answer for Goldberg’s question:

If government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one, then how come it’s so damn hard bringing third world countries into the first world? . . . What a happier place the world would be if fixing Iraq merely meant installing the most fashionable system from Europe these days, whatever that is.

Also this from Henry is plainly a misreading:

While Lipset was keen on enduring American values, he didn’t pretend for a moment that they were the only force shaping US politics.

Nor did Goldberg say anything that would lead a fair reader to that interpretation.

41

mijnheer 04.11.07 at 5:09 am

I find it hard to accept Tom Hurka’s claim: “That medicare was eventually introduced in Canada rather than the US was a fluke”. Canada does have a conservative heritage (“peace, order, and good government”) that contrasts with the liberal “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of the USA. This communitarian orientation helps explain why Canada has been more open to socialist ideas like universal state-financed health care than its neighbour. In other words, Canada has been more socialist because it’s been more conservative — for example, the Conservative Party gave us the CBC.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the throne-kissing. As Michael Adams points out in Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values, the rampant individualism of their nation’s history has encouraged many Americans to turn to religion (including, one might add, the worship of the state) in their search for a sense of community. Canadian culture, grounded in an emphasis on collective responsibility, paradoxically has allowed for the development of individuals who are, in Adams’ opinion, “less outer-directed and less conformist”.

The old saw about Canadians being more submissive to authority than Americans is frankly ridiculous. Here’s one essay that lays it out:
http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=14858

42

a 04.11.07 at 5:22 am

Well *something* should explain why the U.S. doesn’t have a more advanced welfare state, compared to most other developed nations. If it’s not culture, then what is it? I guess it could be luck or happenstance.

43

Lee A. Arnold 04.11.07 at 6:33 am

Functional #40, the answer is: Ask Kevin Hassett. He is the ONLY one who posited anything remotely like the phrase “government systems are the only variable,” when he wrote that “the U.S.’s big advantage is its relatively small government” (on his way to misrepresenting the Democratic Congress’s new budget.) Then Klein objected that there must be other factors, whereupon Goldberg jumped, objecting that Klein must have omitted “culture” for ideological reasons. And then went on, into the usual stew of straw men, false premises, illogic, self-contradiction, and fatuity.

For example, it should be pointed-out that it was precisely “Bush’s freedom agenda” (Goldberg’s phrase) which was going to “fix Iraq merely by installing,” NOT “the most fashionable system from Europe these days,” but a capitalist constitutional democracy, starting under the Bremer proconsulate. (I’m guessing Goldberg thought that one would work!)

44

agm 04.11.07 at 9:00 am

As bad as anyone can think that “Liberal Fascism” is going to be, it’s going to be worse.

I hear it’s going to have origami pop-ups.

But will it be podcast?

45

Ginger Yellow 04.11.07 at 9:53 am

“Goldberg’s post is clearly meant to respond to those who believe that “government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one.” “

And he’s posting it in response to Ezra and Cohn, who believee no such thing and were refuting the reductionist argument that big government necessarily means low growth. Goldberg’s response isn’t a response at all – it’s a non sequitur.

“Contrary to popular opinion, big government does not lead inexorably to low growth. Witness these big government, high growth countries.”

“But culture is important too. Europeans are sycophantic scum who love the yoke of the state.”

“Huh? Don’t you have a book to write?”

46

yabonn 04.11.07 at 11:25 am

J. Goldberg likes the idea of the plucky independant US citizen. As a consequence, he takes pleasure into thinking of non-americans as non-plucky and non-independant – some people are like that.

Then Mr Goldberg tries, to the best of his possibilities, to intellectualize his cartoonish ideas, and (that’s the real wonder) gets paid for his idiot article.

I suppose I should try to judge it on its merits, and forget a little the making of the article. But that thing is scraming “rah rah” so loud, I can’t concentrate on anything else.

So I’ll just point and giggle. I’d even argue pointing and giggling is one of the appropriate responses to that kind of -ah- productions.

47

Luis Alegria 04.11.07 at 3:13 pm

Mr. Henry,

I am most interested in the question of why third world country A’s GDP starts to grow at 10% annually and does so for twenty-thirty years and third world country B, whose physical and social condition, history and institutional structures are not obviously worse grows at perhaps 4% during the same period. More specifically maybe, why did Taiwan and South Korea get rich and the Philippines didn’t ? Its not corruption, geography, government policy or the actions of the US.

This kind of question seems like the most practical, pressing and important one there is in any field of social science, given the enormous stakes. But its now obvious that there is no worthwhile explanatory model left standing. We have a problem with huge policy consequences and no theory to guide policy. However rigorous any formal theory is, to date they are just not useful. They cannot predict anything.

Which leaves “culture”. Fuzzy as it is, it explains a great deal. Amy Chua does not get into models, she just points out the consistent performance of culturally similar minorities in dissimilar places – i.e., the overseas Chinese get rich and proceed to dominate economies anywhere they live. This is not limited to the Chinese of course, there are other such model minorities. An obvious point to anyone from East Asia, but not something that seems to interest most academics in this area. That lack of curiosity it itself puzzling. As I see it, any development model needs to explain the Chinese, and similar phenomenons, or one might as well just throw in the towel.

The rest of the book is a bit of fear-mongering about success, but thats beside the point.

48

Daniel Nexon 04.11.07 at 4:09 pm

Luis – I think most historians and political economists would dispute the premise of your puzzle: that Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines began the post-1945 period with similar conditions, pursued similar development strategies, and so forth. Taiwan and the ROK, for example, approached export-led growth differently from one another, let alone from the Philippines.

As aside: as some other commentators have noted, there might be an issue here about how we conceptualize “culture.” Many social scientists distinguish between social and cultural factors, e.g., Simmel’s famous distinction between “form” and “content.” There may be a whole host of non-governmental social relations that vary across cases and matter a great deal for, for example, economic development, but they might have similar effects regardless of the specific meanings attached to them.

49

Luis Alegria 04.11.07 at 4:50 pm

Mr. Nexon,

I used to believe precisely that. My first job out of school (three decades ago) was with a consulting firm that specialized in getting export-oriented foreign investment through the nationalist/protectionist bureaucratic walls erected by the Philippine government. These seemed like the critical obstacles to economic takeoff that one would expect.

Subsequently though I have changed my thinking. Philippine economic policy changed to a much more export-oriented model, with little effect.

Whatever was wrong with Philippine economic policy seemed to pale in significance to other factors. Among the things that changed my mind was the continuing change in the condition of the Philippine Chinese. Thirty years ago they were the same entrepreneurial lot, but there were still poor Chinese. Now they dominate – in education, the economy, you name it. It has become plainly obvious. AIM, the country’s leading business school, requires Chinese. The social elite teach their children Chinese. My Engineering graduating class was maybe 60% Chinese. I understand the present ones are nearly pure Chinese.

In the US I have seen the dissimilar performance of immigrant Chinese and Filipino populations. This is a fine lab experiment in comparative sociology I think.

Both do well in the US, but the Filipinos cannot match the Chinese in objective measures such as educational test scores or admittance to elite universities. By observation, one also sees a huge difference in economic behavior. Filipinos do not take risks, they are not entrepreneurs even in a foreign land, they are instead employees. There are rather few Filipino-owned businesses even where there are large concentrations of Filipinos, not even close to the way the Chinese are. It appears that the Chinese get richer faster.

If you have lived in Asia you will get the same idea. Amy Chua has a very useful rundown on how the same situation prevails everywhere.

There is a profound difference between the populations. I cannot believe that this effect, large and visible even in the US, does not explain much, or most, of the differences between nations.

There has been very little study of this sort of thing, why population A does better than population B. Education seems to be a good place to start, as there are objective measures. But even here very little that is useful has been done.

50

Daniel Nexon 04.11.07 at 5:07 pm

“Subsequently though I have changed my thinking. Philippine economic policy changed to a much more export-oriented model, with little effect.”

Yes, it did change. But rather late in the game. This probably matters a great deal, particularly in the context of variation in other conditions.

There is an enormous amount of research into differential educational achievement by immigrant populations in the US. Perhaps one of the sociologists here could better address your question, and how or if it provides evidence of inherent cultural differences that somehow explain Philippines economic performance vis-a-vis the ROK, Taiwan, and contemporary China? I do know that the demographics of Korean immigrants are *very* different from that of Filipino immigrants. I suspect there’s enormous variation in the Chinese population in the US, however, and I do know that scholars have pointed to a variety of social factors to explain the particular place of ethnic Chinese communities in Southeast Asian economies.

A useful set of comparisons might be with the Jewish population in the United States, which over-performed–and continues to over-perform–other Caucasians. Many point to supposedly inherent aspects of Jewish culture to explain this (and some to genetics), yet this pattern does not hold across time and space in a way that suggests some form of cultural determinism.

51

Mike 04.11.07 at 5:47 pm

Luis and daniel:
Perhaps you did not read the thread that immediately preceded Luis’ 3:13 post? If not, please take a look at yabonn’s 11:25 post. This thread is NOT an effort to talk sensibly about the role of culture in economic development!!! It is about pummelling the guts out of a strawman Jonah Goldberg, and then dancing around triumphantly shouting “I’m da man; I’m da MAN!” Maybe kiss a bicep, and wonder why it is that you are so smart and the world is so full of IDIOTS!!

Get with the program, you two.

52

MQ 04.11.07 at 6:22 pm

“I am most interested in the question of why third world country A’s GDP starts to grow at 10% annually and does so for twenty-thirty years and third world country B, whose physical and social condition, history and institutional structures are not obviously worse grows at perhaps 4% during the same period.”

Luis’s point is exactly on — this is precisely why more and more prominent economists are trying to investigate cultural explanations, and put more theoretical depth into what we mean by “culture”, instead of using it as a catch-all. Last I heard, economists were social scientists, so Henry’s statement that cultural explanations have a “god-awful” reputation among social scientists seems off. One can add to this the whole “social capital” literature, much of which I think *should* have a god-awful reputation but clearly does not among many social scientists. It is not hard to find schools of social science who have been turning more, not less, toward cultural explanations.

There are of course a ton of potential problems with such explanations, but let’s not just scoff at them or write them off. It’s not like non-cultural social science explantions (perhaps those favored by Henry?) have proved themselves to have a lot of explanatory power.

Scoffing at Jonah Goldberg is of course a different matter.

53

Catron 04.11.07 at 7:00 pm

The merits of Goldberg’s assertions about culture notwithstanding, Klein’s rebuttal contains a number of internal contradictions. The most obvious of these involves his private care satisfaction statistics. One source relating to the VA says 73% of patients are satisfied while another source quoted in the reference to Medicare gives the figure at 34%.

Moreover, he misses the significance of his own stats. The real shocker here is that two-fifths of Medicare patients and three-fifths of Medicaid patients aren’t satisfied despite receiving medical treatment on someone else’s dime. How good can these programs be if so many patients are unhappy even when their treatment is free?

54

Catron 04.11.07 at 7:07 pm

OOPS. I forgot to provide a link to the post in which Klein uses the above-referenced stats. Here it is:

http://ezraklein.typepad.com/blog/2007/04/thronekissers.html

55

yabonn 04.11.07 at 7:14 pm

Mike,

Despise all my wishes, and because of Luis and Daniel (jeez, thanks a lot, you too), this thread has indeed degenerated into an effort to talk sensibly about the role of culture in economic development.

Under these circumstances, there’s always a risk to imply that Mr Goldberg ever had a point about culture etc.

But he had not. His article is nationalistic stupidity dressed with cool sounding words, one of them being “culture”. You can see that because it is tailored to make an american bigot feel warm and fuzzy inside (not! sucking-up! to! anything!) and because the examples are ridiculous.

So there are intelligent people out there, willing to pick up the silly thing, play along and make something interesting out of it : grats, and thanks. But giving jingoism the derision it deserves is healthy too, in my opinion. Did I mention Goldberg is a nationalistic idiot?

I admit I may be reacting – as you say – to the article of a strawman Goldberg. Please let me know when the real one begins to write.

56

Luis Alegria 04.11.07 at 8:14 pm

Mr. Nexon,

Thank you for the reply. It is a pleasure to discuss substantial matters.

I have heard talk about the Philippines missing the window of opportunity and getting priced out of the manufacturing for export niche by China. I don’t think this is a very useful explanation. Other countries also came late into the game and are doing better.

I do follow the education literature, and I have not noticed anything that gets into the guts of that question. As far as I can tell the mechanics of the effect of culture on educational performance is still a mystery. The best attempt I have seen was Ogbu’s, but he was dealing with black people and his reasearch was not quantitative.

Since this economic effect runs in parallel with the measurable economic outcomes, I thought there must be some connection, or at least there was some light to be shed from one field to another.

I don’t know of any studies on the differences in the demographics of different Asian immigrant groups, if you have such a reference it would be very interesting. From observation of our local populations here in San Francisco, I cannot detect much of a difference. If anything the social background of the local Chinese is if anything lower than what is typical of the local Filipinos.

The Chinese in the Philippines are predominantly the descendants of poor peasants imported as coolie labor. When I was a kid you would still see Chinese pulling rickshaws in Manilas Chinatown, and it was common to find Chinese servants in wealthy households. No more.

57

C. L. Ball 04.11.07 at 10:14 pm

I’m not sure what Goldberg was arguing beyond castigating the left and right for not dealing with culture — an argument that I find wrong-headed.

I disagree that G. claims “Culture is Destiny” but his “Maybe, just maybe” paragraph seems to treat culture as the determining factor v. governmental or economic institutions. His 1st v. 3rd world comparison in the last ‘graph is profoundly stupid — economic, social, and political institutions in the developing world are far different from the 1st world, let alone cultural or governmental variables.

Re the mention of ethnic Chinese in southeast Asia and Jews in the US, the problem with the “their culture makes them perform better” argument is that it usually rests on selection or availability biases: the observer looks at Chinese or Jews who succeed and never looks at those who don’t. Or the sample is drawn from a biased population. Also, deciding who is part of group X v. Y is difficult,

58

Luis Alegria 04.11.07 at 10:56 pm

Mr. Ball,

I do not see how there can be selection and availability biases in the case of overseas Chinese or Jews.

Chinese are Chinese; they do not and cannot hide as something else. How is a Chinese going to pretend he is a Malay in Malaysia ? Even in the Philippines it doesn’t happen, in spite of considerable intermarriage.

And as for US test scores, the same thing. We do have test data broken down by Chinese and Filipino in California, and these apply to the entire population of students, that is the entire population who are required to take the public school tests. We have SAT data for the entire population of test takers also.

I think the burden is on you to show some plausible evidence of selection bias.

59

Rod Hay 04.12.07 at 3:50 am

A biased sample perhaps because the failures returned to China.

60

Doddle 04.12.07 at 3:03 pm

Hmmm…seems like the issue here isn’t really the bleatings of Jonah Goldberg but another bit of flatulence about the relative virtue of ratcho over cultural explanations. I think that this kind of backhand dismissal of culture as explanation can just as readily apply to the pretentious claptrap of ratcho. Ratcho is like so 80s, lots of moussed hair on preppies primed and primped for the synth beats on the dance floor.

61

Daniel Nexon 04.12.07 at 3:31 pm

Doddle – not true. I think anyone familiar with the work of the academics weighing in would know that we’re far more catholic than that :-).

62

Luis Alegria 04.12.07 at 3:48 pm

Mr. Hay,

That would be an explanation, but that assumes that the population is constantly leaking its failures back to China.

– The path back to China has been blocked for decades at a time.

– The present-day overseas Chinese are mostly third generation or more, and have nothing to go back to.

– The old trope was that one would return to China with a fortune, and be the big man in the village. The failures had more prospects abroad, not in village China.

– Even poor Chinese show signs of high performance. We in San Francisco have such populations that can easily be identified; we have schools with high Chinese enrollment, high ELL (English Language Learners) and high free lunch qualification. Poor Chinese kids, it turns out, are only marginally less able in school than the average Chinese, and of course miles ahead of the general average.

63

C. L. Ball 04.12.07 at 10:17 pm

Re 59,

Err, SATs test-takers are a biased sample — they are by definition kids who selected to take the SATs since the SATs are not mandatory (ETS would piss itself with joy if they were).

California STAR scores measure those who declare that ethnicity who reside in California. By definition it is a biased sample if Chinese v. Filipino culture writ large is at issue, unless the probability of a Chinese person and Filipino person attending California schools is identical. And STAR can’t tell recent immigrants from long-time nationals.

Inter-marriage totally fouls-up cultural explanations — which parent’s culture dominates the upbringing or is it an amalgam? Never mind that ethnicity may not be synonymous with cultural practice — a person born to lapsed Catholic parents is not really raised in a “Catholic” culture.

64

Luis Alegria 04.13.07 at 12:03 am

Mr. Ball,

SAT’s are a biased sample indeed, as there can be a difference in the slice of the population that takes the SAT – i.e., if Filipinos are more likely to take the SAT than Chinese the Filipino test-taking pool may be of lower quality.

But that does not seem to be the case, as there is no reason to think that Chinese-Americans take the SAT at a lower rate.

As for the California tests, the vast majority do declare their identity, only 2-3% I believe do not.

One would also have to assume that the Filipino and Chinese populations resident in California are not representative, or differentially representative. Taken in isolation this would be a reasonable objection. But we do have IQ data for various Chinese populations, including Chinese-Americans, and these are very similar. On that scale there is no reason to think that Chinese-Americans are unrepresentative of the Chinese.

Sadly, we do not have IQ scores for Filipino-Americans. But the fact that Chinese outperform them both here and in the old country tends to support the notion that the Fil-American sample is not that far off from the original population.

65

sara 04.13.07 at 12:21 am

It’s my impression that most of these “democratic socialist” Euro states are parliamentary, which means many more small political parties, and less pressure to toe one or the other mega-party (Democratic or Republican) as in the U.S. In this respect, they are not more authoritarian. Their political culture is more diverse.

But debating any Jonah Goldberg statement is a waste of time.

He doesn’t say what any red-blooded libertarian would say: he doesn’t want to live in Europe because he would have to pay higher taxes and have less money to spend on himself. Much of “American culture” is in fact consumerism. Acquiring European high culture (and French high culture is indeed rather doctrinaire) would be too much work, albeit many Europeans have more free time in which to do it.

66

Ben 04.15.07 at 12:18 am

…explanatory deficiencies are outweighed by their political usefulness in providing a higher justification for selfishness.

“Selfishness.” Interesting word choice, that. In Europe (and to some degree in America), the geezers and grievance lobbies watch as the social welfare system sinks under the weight of its ponzi scheme ridiculousness and, with little more than a shrug, demand healthy COLAs and added benefits. Sure, the whole state is going bankrupt, but who gives a damn – I’ll be dead by then.

If you think about it, socialism is actually about the most selfish system there is.

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