The Lazy, Free-Thinking, Leisure Loving Japanese
July 3, 2013 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How development leads to cultural change, and not the other way around. Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang shatters stereotypes, showing how common descriptions of the Germans, Koreans and Japanese right before their nations' intensive economic development mirrors current slurs against workers from African and Latin American countries today.
posted by blankdawn (9 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Common descriptions of nations right before their culture died and they became slaves to some sort of capitalist dream. Come on board everybody!
posted by Napierzaza at 7:45 AM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is my surprised face. Next thing you'll be telling me that stereotypes frequently lack a basis in reality.

Even as a little kid absorbing the news through osmosis, I could never reconcile the "lazy Mexican" stereotype with the "thurr gerna terk er jerbs" noise surrounding NAFTA.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:45 AM on July 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

are we not discussing this here?
posted by cendawanita at 7:53 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

"But these stereotypes — good and bad — are hardly ever true, as proven by this excerpt from Cambridge development economist Ha-Joon Chang’s eye-opening book Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism."

A quibble perhaps, but the word should be "argued" rather than "proven." It's a subject far from mathematics.

Another quibble perhaps, "[T]he point is that people’s behavior is not determined by culture."

Really? Isn't this a broad stroke? It might work for an argument in economics, but what about the characteristic Western individualism versus Japanese collectivism? The author is restricting the subject to economics, but that statement caught my eye and the author should have been more careful. The way the sentence is constructed and presented is a bit misleading without counterbalance. No, I won't read the book... I read enough just there.
posted by Ralph at 1:05 PM on July 3, 2013


I'm sorry your dislike of the excerpter's semantics will cause you to avoid a truly insightful, original work. (Bad Samaritans)

The point is those cultures we consider especially industrious and regimented today were perceived to be quite the opposite before they got wealthy. In fact their cultures were routinely described with the same slurs as are directed against poor third world peoples today.

This is a deeply important and virtually unknown insight.

For anyone with a bit more patience for an imperfect turn of phrase at least.
posted by blankdawn at 1:14 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

what about the characteristic Western individualism versus Japanese collectivism?

What about it? It's an old trope, but how much truth is there to it?
posted by sour cream at 2:20 PM on July 3, 2013

I wonder if societies with highly imbalanced distributions of wealth are heading for decline. According to the table in the article "List of countries by distribution of wealth" in Wikipedia, the USA in the year 2000, before the Bush tax cuts, was ranked as #5 most imbalanced wealth distribution with a wealth distribution about as imbalanced as the wealth distribution between nations. It reminds me of seeing once a comment that, in the late 1600s, the life of a serf in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was comparable to that of a slave in the West Indies and then thinking of the imbalance in that society between magnates who might own towns and villages and the common worker and how only 100 years later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth disappeared from the map due to the Three Partitions of Poland. Interesting that, according to the Wikipedia article, Japan, China, and South Korea have the least unbalanced distributions of wealth.
posted by millardsarpy at 7:25 AM on July 4, 2013

Interesting that, according to the Wikipedia article, Japan, China, and South Korea have the least unbalanced distributions of wealth.

According to that chart, the countries with the lowest Gini coefficients are Japan, China, Spain, South Korea, Macau, Ireland, Italy, Yemen, Finland, Australia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Belarus. That's quite a mix of countries.

Weirdly, Denmark is at #3 for highest Gini coefficient. I'm not sure how that happened.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:04 AM on July 4, 2013

I would not have thought a European country would have a very high wealth GINI such as Denmark and Switzerland had in 2000. I'm also surprised that Americans tend to be less wealthy compared to other nations in terms of median wealth.
posted by millardsarpy at 10:36 PM on July 4, 2013

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