Bryan Caplan  

The Not-So-Curious Absence of American Emulationists in the Third World?

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Lots of interesting responses to yesterday's puzzle.  The least convincing point to factors (such as European ethnicity) that apply equally well to the Soviet Union.  The best fall into three main categories:

1. Anti-market bias.  Despite the far greater success of the American model, relying on markets and competition to modernize your society is much less emotionally appealing than socialist central planning.

2. Power-hunger.  The American model restricts opportunities for political leaders to wield power, and political leaders generally love wielding power.  So if you're not going to be pro-Soviet, you want to be a socialistic nationalist instead.

3. The soft sell.  The Soviet bloc funded a massive multi-decade international propaganda campaign on the glories of their system.  The U.S., not so much.

Several people suggested that the Soviet model was more popular because it looked like a faster route to development.  Whatever the actual facts, the Soviet Union claimed to have dragged itself from total backwardness to modernity in two decades.  I can see how this argument would have some broad appeal, but it's hard to see how it could explain the near-absence of American emulationism.  After all, the Soviet Union still looked blatantly worse than the U.S. during post-war years.  For every person calling the Soviet model a quicker route, there should have been another person scoffing, "Promises, promises.  The U.S. approach demonstrably works."

The best counter-example to my initial claim comes from Savva Shanaev:
I believe Singapore counts as a pretty clear example of Western emulationsim, British emulationism rather than American emulationism, but still. I suppose one of the reasons why copying Western institutions post-WW2 would be harder and less appealing even for well-meaning Third world elites is that Western-educated intellectuals promoting Western institutions were much rarer at the time than Soviet-educated intellectuals promoting Soviet institutions. Most of the Soviet-type experiments were at least partly consulted and supervised by Soviet-educated specialists. Singapore had its elites educated in the UK, fascinated by and firmly believing in the "old", more classical-liberal Western institutions. Undoubtedly, that helped to carry out a rather successful transition of Singapore. Western intellectuals, in turn, were in their majority fascinated by social engineering ideas and often argued for at least some Soviet emulationism themselves, especially right after the WW2. Therefore, it would arguably be rather hard to find a Western so-called "free-market economist" post-WW2 to assist the elites in any kind of "Western emulationism" project.
Even for Singapore, though, the emulation seems pretty covert.  "Let's be like the British" is not an important theme in Lee Kuan Yew's massive autobiography.  In fact, I don't remember it being a theme at all, though he did take the time to explain why he didn't emulate Hong Kong.

COMMENTS (13 to date)
E. Harding writes:

One big reason the "American model" was never popular is because America was not a model; it was always a rich country for its time, and was never a nation of peasants. There was no way to analogize America's 18th (much less 20th!) century situation to that of the third world in the 1950s to 1970s. Japan could be presented as a realistic model for the third world, as it was once actually poor. Not the USA.

Of the three main explanations Caplan mentions, the second one makes the most sense. The main argument for allying with America at the time was that doing so would conserve local traditions and culture in an independent fashion. The main argument for allying with the USSR at the time was that doing so would take a country from a nation of peasants to an urban, militarily powerful country with the elimination of class exploitation, in which all would have an equal share of the economic pie, social security would be guaranteed, and labor given a just share of its production. Turning class exploitation to the advantage of the third world in an American-style capitalistic fashion was never thought to be a realistic possibility for third world countries, since at no point was America third world, and the gaps between the third world and first were thought too great at the time to make such a thing possible.

The third main explanation makes no sense; the U.S. had an ambitious popaganda program for American-style democracy promotion ever since the 1940s.

E. Harding writes:

Also, as an aside, in the 19th century, Germany partially emulated the UK and, later, Japan emulated Germany. Korea in the second half of the 20th century did some emulation of Japan. There very much was a pro-West-emulation movement in China between the first Sino-Japanese war and the Taiping crisis. Before the Sino-Japanese war, despite numerous defeats by the West, it was not thought emulation of the West was either a feasible or desirable option for China. The outcome of the Sino-Japanese war destroyed both of these assumptions.

E. Harding writes:

*sorry; Boxer crisis, not Taiping.

Fazal Majid writes:

Many countries emulated 1850-1900 nationalist-protectionist-mercantilist America, which was not that different from the U.K. when it wrested financial leadership from the Netherlands, or Germany when it rose in the 19th Century.

Libéral laissez-faire policies are a luxury you can only afford once you are already on top of the heap as the US was last century.

Taeyoung writes:
So if you're not going to be pro-Soviet, you want to be a socialistic nationalist instead.

That seems like a somewhat coy way of skirting around the way that national liberation movements in the 20th century have mostly followed the logic of ethno-states and ethnic cleansing preached by the Nazi party. That or the model of Imperial Japan. That seems to be true frankly, even of a lot of nominally "Commmunist" liberation movements.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"Also, as an aside, in the 19th century, Germany partially emulated the UK"

It did? My impression is that the "german ideology" of the 19th century (the mix of Romanticism, pan-Germanism, "chair socialism", Historical School, militarism, economical nationalism and "prussianism") was extremely anti-British, even inventing an economical school (the "Historical") to be an alternative to the british Classical School.

Shane L writes:

A few thoughts:

- For all that cultural conservatives often have aligned with fiscal conservatives, it may have been clear that open economies would incur more cultural change and turmoil. Hence nationalists, having recently booted out the European imperialists, may have favoured a more closed economy that might have less risk of children growing up with American tv and cinema and rock 'n roll.

- I believe Dutch economist Albert Winsemius was important in guiding Singaporean economic policy. Interestingly he recommended that the government not remove a statue of a British imperialist Stamford Raffles, on the grounds that keeping it would calm the nerves of investors fearful that Singapore may become communist. If not exactly American, Singapore's willingness to seriously explore the ideas of a European economist, conferring various honours on him, suggest an economic orientation to the liberal West, not communist East.

- Not quite the same thing, but around the start of this century Irish policy makers sometimes remarked that Ireland's open, lowish tax economy was "closer to Boston than Berlin". This simply meant that it was closer to a perceived free market USA than a perceived social democratic Germany. This was remarked both by the right and the left, though it seems to have vanished from the narrative in recent years.

T Boyle writes:

How about Chile? I understood Pinochet's economic policies were strongly influenced by the Chicago school.

Uruguay since 1984?

New Zealand since 1984?

Manfred writes:

I disagree that the best counterexample was Singapore, to the question posed by the previous post. I thought that the parameters of the question was "US institutions" (which include a freely elected Congress, a free press, an independent judiciary that enforces contracts, etc). Then last sentence of the post was:
"Again, I'm looking for Third World movements that explicitly advocated the emulation of the United States, not groups that were merely "pro-Western." "

Singapore was ruled (and still is) by what some might call a "benevolent" dictatorship (or at least something close to it). There is no emulation of the United States whatsoever. It is not clear that the judiciary is independent, and it is not clear that the press is free.
So no, I do not think that Singapore is a counterexample, sorry... :-) At least what the specific question posed was.

Manfred writes:

T Boyle:

Chile is an example that came to me as well - but not the Chile under Pinochet, but the Chile after him. It is true that Pinochet introduced many "market oriented" reforms, privatized a lot of things (including, I think the first ever experiment, of private Social Security, which many took as an example). But Chile under Pinochet does not fit the question Bryan Caplan posed.
The Chile *after* Pinochet, I think, fits.
It returned to democratic institutions, it had free elections, a (somewhat) independent judiciary, and *most important*: the successive governments of Chile after Pinochet did not substantially change Pinochet's economic policy. All the hallmarks of Pinochet's reforms remained in place. For all these reasons, I think that Chile fits as an answer, much better than Singapore.

New Zealand does not fit the question, because it is not (and was not in 1984) a Third World Country.

Uruguay fits better - but unlike Chile, Uruguay has a "state sector" or "government sector" which is very, very heavy, with a huge presence in the economy.

Seth writes:

I find it remarkable how few people in the U.S. think the U.S. is worth emulating.

Thomas Sewell writes:


Sadly, you have to look past most (not all) of academia and the U.S. media to find the people who think the U.S. is worth emulating.

Otherwise, you're apparently a naive racist who thinks America is somehow exceptional if you were to mention that view.

We have a difficult enough time convincing many Americans that the U.S. has actually done better than most of the rest of the world economically and that there is a root cause for that.

Alejandro Durán writes:

Mix economy/socialist leaning post-war U.S. was far off from communist Russia but not really that distant from then prevalent third-world socialism, to begin with. Socialism was the leading intellectual trend in advanced western countries since the late XIX century and more so after the Great Depression. Third-world intelligentsia has never detached from European dominant ideological trends. In fact, more-advanced European countries sped-up pre-war socialist political and economic policies since 1945.

Communist Russia was also much better than the U.S. in propaganda endeavors –including actual funding and support of worldwide socialist, ecologist, pacifist, and Marxist groups- which built upon classic Liberalism’s longer-term discredit. U.S. and Canadian circumstances that lead to their initial XIX century push up were exceptional. Most other world countries´ backward political organization and vertical social structures resemble that of Continental Europe as recently as in the Belle Epoque (people tend to forget how disastrous French politics used to be or how autocratic Germany was).

All of these partly explain socialist dominance in political and economical approaches at underdeveloped countries.

Besides, socialism gave a perfect ideological alibi for third-world political leadership to both consolidate social control and generate huge crony rents all over third-world economies.

Let me finally posit that advanced Western countries might have just been lucky. Have these filthy socialist degradation called Political Correctness had appeared a few decades before, we would all be singing The Internationale by now.

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