Monday, February 08, 2021

Are some cultures or values superior to others?


I would normally not have read Values at the Core by Grandjean and Tan has it not garnered a passive-aggressive review on the Business Times. There is a class of books that wind up really triggering Western Liberal woke types when empirical research is used to compare cultures against each other. The big must-read in this category is The Triple Package by Tiger Mum Amy Chua and her assortatively mated consort Jed Rubenfeld. Both books are well-researched, which is why authors expect to roundly condemned by the Woke.

Values at the Core's central thesis is that even the most effective economic policies will be limited in effectiveness if the population do not subscribe to the right values. These values being Hard Work, Thrift, Social Trust and propensity for Risk-Taking. The most offensive section of the book proposes that cultures with Confucian values and Protestant work-ethic benefit the most from effective economic policy, cultures with a history of slavery don't. Other cultures still benefit from great policy-making, but subjective factors like a population's laziness, mistrust, lack of thrift, and risk-aversion can condemn the economy in the middle-income trap.

As for the kind of policies are considered good, economic liberty, education, anti-corruption, fiscal and monetary policies are universally good for any population.

The book has some utility for the long-term investor. If we just ignore the lack of political correctness in the book's central idea, North Korea has all the right values but the lack of good economic policies, the prediction is that any amount of reform can lead to dramatic growth. For those who can't wait, it's profitable to take a good look at Vietnam. It also provides an additional framework to supplement an investor's mental model to squeeze out more geopolitical alpha - a communist but Confucian society can experience explosive growth if only it can take incremental steps in allowing more economic freedom and clamp down harder on corruption.  

Sadly, the book reads like a Singaporean National Education textbook. Is it merely coincidental that  Singapore scores highly on all the measures of society with great values, possibly with only social trust being slightly lower than the rest? 

Let's not be naive about living in a Confucianist society. 

Our enemy is Involution. We're ritually torturing ourselves to survive the academic grind. 

Every Confucianist society is struggling with a low fertility rate because no sane parent will give birth to a child just to "lose" to another child born from an assortatively-mated power couple. The outcome is that many Chinese in Singapore will migrate to places like Australia where they can engage in "Confucian-arbitrage" - basically beat up "lazy white people" in STEM academia and rule the professional castes in a society that do not slavishly conform to Confucianist values. Maybe if they climb high enough in Australian professional circles, they can return triumphantly with a nice Aussie accent to kick our asses during the next CNY.

If they don't come back, they may be replaced by immigrants who do not adopt these values in the first place. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this work. The idea that some woke academic like Teo You Yenn from NTU will read this one day and get massively triggered gives me pleasurable convulsions just thinking about that possibility. 

You can also read a classic I wrote on the Triple Package here.


  1. Chinese culture is best at making money and raising property prices.

    Unfortunately, not so good for having children.

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