Arnold Kling  

Culture and Prosperity, Again

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Pete Boettke chimes in,


However advantageous a culture may be, it cannot overcome bad institutions. And however disadvantageous a culture may be, it will improve when people get to live under institutions of political and economic freedom. Culture can act as a constraint, but it is also a malleable constraint. The important causal variable is the set of rules that govern the way we interact with one another and with the resources at our disposal. Those rules must enable our ability to realize the gains from specialization and exchange, and reap the benefits of innovation.

If you think that culture matters but institutions do not, look at North and South Korea. If you think that culture does not matter at all, look at differences among different ethnic groups within countries.

Boettke is responding to Lawrence E. Harrison, in an essay that Bryan and I both linked.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
John S Bolton writes:

Given the persistence of enormous differentials, despite the ease of adopting technology, particular political systems and whatever cultural features that can turn on a dime there may be,
N&S Korea may be interpreted as representing how far down a high-IQ population can be pushed by the extremes of socialism and tyranny, and the limits of cultural change's possibilities in the south.
In the world we do not see extremes like these much at all.
No place in Africa has experimented with such thorough totalitarian systems as NK. The poorest African countries have almost always been anything but systematic or thorough.
When Marxist regimes there change to a more capitalist-friendly policy, there is no suppressed intelligent population there, in numbers sufficient to make a SKorea, or even a shadow of it.

RogerM writes:

Boettke should read the later books of Douglass North. North focused on institutions in his early works and believed that institutions evolved in response to the demand to reduce transaction costs. But in his later works, he sees culture as a more powerful force. North seems to agree with Harrison and others that culture creates institutions while institutions have little effect on culture. Latin America is a good example. As De Soto has pointed out, the elites of most Lation American countries adopted the constitutions, government forms and other US institutions when they gained independence, but very similar institutions existing in very different cultures produced very different results, because the institutions didn't grow organically from the culture, they were foreign institutions grafted onto the culture.

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