Some time ago the folks at MR were discussing the book A Farewell to Alms. I haven’t read it yet but as far as I could tell, the author proposes that some societies have an inherited ability to deal with capitalism while others not.
It appears that this conclusion is mostly based on empirical evidence and there isn’t really a well defined framework to prove it. Most critics at MR pointed exactly at that.
I have to say that, even though it is also just my personal opinion, I think this guy is into something.
For instance: São Paulo has banned all outdoor advertising. Officials say this is a step towards a “cleaner” and “prettier” city.
But when you start looking into it, you can find declarations like this: “The law is a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash,” Roberto Pompeu de Toledo, a columnist and author of a history of São Paulo, wrote in the weekly newsmagazine Veja. “For once in life, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”
I just came back from Tokyo. My first impression when I got there was “Wow, this is a São Paulo that actually worked out”.
This made me think back to the banned billboards and the theory that some cultures simply get it while others don’t. Think about it: Tokyo was completely destroyed. Thousands and thousands dead, including many of the brightest members of its society. Still, they regrouped, rebuilt and prospered.
Think about China! Decades under one of the most brutal communist regime ever. Millions dead. Generations of children completely brainwashed. Still, give then one bit of good ol’ capitalism and they drink it by the bottle.
Gregory Clark was at NPR the other day talking about his book, and the host (clearly liberal) seemed very distressed over his theory that some cultures are better than others. She asked “So you have a very pessimistic vision of the world! If there is nothing we can do to help these people, not loaning money, not even giving them money, how can we change the world?”
Clark said “The one thing I can tell you that works is immigration. You get people that were struggling in third world countries and they do very well in the US, a lot better than many natives.”
The host was not happy at all.
Again, all I can tell you all is my personal experience. I have always been pretty much the same guy and still, when I was in Brazil I was not only struggling: I think I would be dead by now. After I moved to the US, I got a new life. No handouts, just opportunity and challenges. I felt like I was finally in my environment.
There’s got to be some kind of social interaction, some form of cultural dynamic that determines this kind of difference between countries.
I do see one problem with immigration though. I think people who leave third world countries are the few who have this “capitalism gene” and therefore the drain is not just about brains – it is about genes.
But maybe I am wrong. Maybe all cultures are “just different” and now that public interest has won in São Paulo, the city will be nice and clean and everyone will live happily ever after.