An explanation offered by a progressive is not necessarily a progressive explanation

Matt Yglesias takes up the challenge I made in a recent post I did on the economic problems in southern Italy:

Everyone likes to visit Southern Europe with its good weather and tasty food, but policy wonks abhor the failure of Greece, Italy, Spain, etc. to achieve anything remotely resembling economic convergence with their chillier neighbors to the north. And while US liberals like to throw the Nordics in the face of small government boosters, Scott Sumner echoed by Tyler Cowen says “I’d have more confidence in progressive ideas if they even had an explanation for the failed welfare states of southern Europe.”

Everyone agrees about Southern Europe

What’s interesting here is that there actually doesn’t seem to be much disagreement about Southern Europe. Sumner references explanations “tied to cultural differences” as the main ones he’s heard — in other words, it’s nothing to do with welfare state design. But he dismisses that as an inadequate response for progressives to offer because those are “conservative explanations.” But Robert“Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy” Putnam isn’t a conservative. When I asked Cowen how he explains Southern Europe he pointed to Edward Banfield’s “Moral Basis of a Backward Society”. Francis Fukuyama has also treated the subject well in his recent books “The Origins of Political Order” and“Political Order and Political Decay”.

These authors all stake out somewhat different accounts but there is a broad family resemblance. Southern Europeans are stuck in a dynamic of low trust, excessive localism, and extreme reliance on family networks. There is a lack of impartiality in institutions and an ethic that “doing what’s right for my family” rather than “following the law” is the right thing to do. A country that gives you the mafia rather than a correctly functioning legal system and police services is also not going to give you highly effective schools or job training programs.

I think Yglesias is falling into the trap that often ensnares Paul Krugman, assuming that the accurate view must ipso facto be the liberal view, as liberalism is a reality-based ideology.  Yes, Putnam is not a “conservative”, but his explanation most certainly is a conservative explanation.  To see that more clearly, imagine if Putnam offered a similar explanation for the lower income levels among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americas.  He would be treated as a conservative.  He would be accused of “blaming the victim.”  He might be accused of being a racist.

I am aware that “culture” is the explanation that most thoughtful people on both the left and the right would offer for the economic travails of southern Europe.  But that doesn’t make it a progressive explanation.  Progressive explanations don’t seem to “blame the victim”.  I say, “seem to”, because my views here are at variance to both the left and the right.  Unlike the right I don’t blame people for their culture; to me it’s just something in the air, like weather.  And unlike the left I think culture explains a lot of economic inequities.

Here’s an analogy that might help.  Conservative Republican legislators in Nebraska recently abolished the death penalty in their state.  That doesn’t make opposition to the death penalty the “conservative view” on the death penalty.  Rather those legislators basically adopted the liberal view on the issue.  They basically said “we’ve been wrong for all these years.” If liberals want to say “we’ve been unfair over all these years in characterizing conservatives who point to culture as being racist as being racist if they use cultural explanations for poverty, and we are sorry” that’s fine with me.

PS.  Any commenter who mentions the phrase “No true Scotsman” is hereby required to reread my post 100 times, out loud.

HT:  TravisV



51 Responses to “An explanation offered by a progressive is not necessarily a progressive explanation”

  1. Gravatar of o. nate o. nate
    8. July 2015 at 08:37

    It seems there’s a big difference between using “culture” as an explanation for differences in economic outcomes between countries, and using it to explain differences in economic outcomes between groups within the same country that by and large share the same institutions and culture. Perhaps what liberals object to in the second case is not the concept of “culture” in general, but rather the attempt to stretch it to apply to a case that’s not as clear cut, when there might be other explanations, such as discrimination, that play a role.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 08:49

    O. Nate, Isn’t southern Italy in the same country as Northern Italy, with the same institutions?

    You said:

    “but rather the attempt to stretch it to apply to a case that’s not as clear cut”

    Sorry, but I don’t see why the cultural explanation is more clearcut for Italy than the US, indeed at first glance it seems the opposite. Aren’t the cultural differences between races in the US bigger than between north and south Italy? Is the culture on a South Dakota Indian reservation the same as a Vietnamese neighborhood in Orange County, or a black town in rural Mississippi, or the Hamptons on Long Island? I honestly fail to see how one case is “clearcut” and the other is not. It seems more likely to me that either both cases are clearcut, or (more likely) both cases are not clearcut.

  3. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    8. July 2015 at 09:03

    “differences in economic outcomes between groups within the same country that by and large share the same institutions and culture”

    O. Nate, I don’t know how much personal experience you have with this but minority groups in America very much have different cultures from white Americans. There are substantial regional cultural divides amongst white Americans, in fact. So long after the Civil War, the South is still like a whole other country from the North.

    But amongst African-Americans in particular, there is a strong connection between personal identity and group identity, and maintenance of that group identity requires seeing your group as different from, separate, from the dominant “white” culture.

    For the black friends I’ve had, regardless of class or social status, they identified with each other more than with members of similar non racial groups they could arguable “belong” to. And there is a strong stigma attach to “acting white” or otherwise failing to prove your bona fides “one of us.”

    Something similar happens from what I can tell with Hispanic culture, but that is perhaps more obvious since it’s obviously “foreign” culture.

    I noticed all this because of how odd it struck me as. If I see someone else who’s white, I don’t automatically think of them as being “like me.” I can’t imagine most white people being any different. If he’s low class, uncouth, or a criminal thug I sneer at him, I disapprove of him. If I was thinking of him as a “race brother” I wouldn’t do that. But group solidarity has always seemed kind of a foreign idea to me, I guess. Maybe I’m wrong and white people do that all the time.

    I suppose I wouldn’t say culture is the problem per se. It’s more about group identity. If you tie yourself to everyone who “looks like you,” they’re gonna hold you down.

  4. Gravatar of collin collin
    8. July 2015 at 09:49

    So Europe has their own version of Mississippi & Alabama which appears to much less fun to visit. And Mississippi is probably the most ‘conservative’ state in the union. And isn’t part of the problem of liberal/conservative blue/red stuff forgets that the Parties have switched voting blocks, demographics, policies, etc. 100+ years Republican hated free trade and Democrats were all for Jim Crow. Even in my lifetime, California was a deep Red state from 1948 – 1988 and provided two Republican Presidents which suddenly turned blue in the Clinton era. (And Prop 187 impact looms a lot larger in legend than in reality. The huge disappearance of the defense industry probably made more immediate impact.)

  5. Gravatar of Njnnja Njnnja
    8. July 2015 at 09:52

    One of my favorite expositions of the different cultures in America is the book American Nations. It seems like one could look at each of the cultures in a list like that and determine if each is more like Northern or Southern Europe, and develop a welfare state appropriate to each, most likely at the state level.

  6. Gravatar of Anthony McNease Anthony McNease
    8. July 2015 at 09:58

    Scott, I’m in total agreement. I think a mirror image example of this is the Kelo SCOTUS decision. Progressives loved the decision since it did away with property rights when state and local governments desired them to. But the hue and cry was that since SCOTUS relied on “states rights” reasoning then the only proper characterization of Kelo was that it was “conservative.” Ginsburg used a conservative means to reach a progressive end which makes that end no less progressive.

  7. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    8. July 2015 at 10:06

    Blaming the “culture” is racism.

  8. Gravatar of Walter Walter
    8. July 2015 at 10:08

    One thing this argument about culture is ignoring is the source of the differences between the cultures in the United States, and the cultures of Norther and Southern Italy.

    I cannot speak to the Italian context, but any discussion of African-American culture and its economic impacts needs to tackle the kinds of issues that Ta-Nehisi Coats blogs about. You have to explain away slavery, jim crow, redlining, lynching, police brutality, and many other topics before you can just throw off a statement like “culture explains a lot of economic inequities.” Or at least acknowledge that the “culture” that explains those inequities is white.

  9. Gravatar of Anthony McNease Anthony McNease
    8. July 2015 at 10:13

    “Blaming the “culture” is racism.”

    A progressive would argue that it depends on whose culture is being blamed and by whom.

  10. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    8. July 2015 at 10:40

    “Everyone likes to visit Southern Europe with its good weather and tasty food, but policy wonks abhor the failure of Greece, Italy, Spain, etc. to achieve anything remotely resembling economic convergence with their chillier neighbors to the north”
    -All three had rapid economic convergence in the 1950s and 1960s. And Italy actually converged by 1990 (and, by the mid-1990s, started falling behind).

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 11:12

    Collin, You couldn’t be more wrong. Southern Europe is one of the most “fun” places to visit in the entire world. Crete, Santorini, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Andalusia, are all places that I loved visiting.

    Anthony, Nice analogy.

    Doug, Surely you aren’t suggesting that progressives are racist?

  12. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. July 2015 at 11:14

    Matty exposes more here going on about Fast and Furious franchise:

    “In the first film, Brian O’Conner heroically abandons abstract obligation to law and order to discharge a debt to Toretto. In the second, O’Conner is motivated not by the chance to put a halt to law-breaking but by the chance to discharge an unrelated debt to a childhood friend. The less said about Tokyo Drift the better. In Fast and Furious O’Conner and Toretto revisit their mutual obligations, and O’Conner literally and metaphorically joins the family. In Fast 5, new character Luke Hobbs starts down the O’Conner path and ultimately ends up violating his obligations to law and order to discharge a personal debt to Toretto et al. And while I don’t want to reveal too much about the details of Fast & Furious 6, suffice it to say that Letty Ortiz shows an extreme form of loyalty turnabouts based on personal ties and eventually the entire NATO command structure is subverted for essentially personal reasons. At no point in the films is there any suggestion that one ought to put an abstract ideological or ethical commitment above a specific obligation to family.

    “Sociologically speaking, this is a classic moral outlook of a low-trust society well-captured by the allegedly Bedouin phrase “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers.”

    So to Matty, Fast and Furious is the province of the PIIGS, and that’s why they have terrible economies.

    What’s ODD, is that Fast Furious is a conservative movie. It is a modern American Western with fast driving replacing gun fighting. The state ITSELF is corrupt, and the state seeks to make outlaws of end agents living according to their own justice BECAUSE it weakens the power of the not to be trusted bureaucrats.

    Fast and Furious is not about Greeks, it is Texans.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 11:19

    Walter, Good point, but that’s only true if you are using culture in a “blame the victim” sense”, not in a positive explanatory/utilitarian sense.

    That’s why I said I don’t agree with the popular American conservative view of the culture issue.

    And BTW, have you ever thought about why there is so much organized crime in Sicily? Its history is quite different from northern Italy. The US is not the only place where history matters.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 11:21

    Morgan, Wouldn’t “conservative” action movies have great appeal in developing countries with illiberal cultures? I haven’t seen that series, but the earlier action films I saw when younger had a lot of appeal in 2nd and 3rd world countries.

  15. Gravatar of Nick Bradley Nick Bradley
    8. July 2015 at 11:28

    can you please address the fact that the ratio of Deep South GDP per capita to New England GDP per capita than Greece-Germany?

    If Southern Europe discredits social democracy, Southern America equally discredits thuggish right-to-work, low-investment neoliberalism.

  16. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    8. July 2015 at 11:46

    “If Southern Europe discredits social democracy, Southern America equally discredits thuggish right-to-work, low-investment neoliberalism.”
    -How? First, ye must adjust by race. Then, ye must look at growth. Also, KY and WV are not right-to-work states, and that doesn’t make them better.

  17. Gravatar of Alessandro Alessandro
    8. July 2015 at 12:11

    Half in jest: Southern Italy should secede, set up its own currency and central bank, and devalue. Slovakia did just that in 1993 and it has now effectively closed the gap with the Czech Republic which had been in place since the beginning of the 20th century.

    More seriously: as a Northern Italian, speaking about Southern Italy for me is not unlike a white American speaking about African-Americans. The field is fraught with racism, except it’s much more accepted in Italy: until the euro crisis made them discover Northern Italy is just Germany’s South, we had a major party (Northern League) which routinely decried Southern Italians as lazy, corrupt, crime prone, etc. If you are interested, the equivalent of the N-word for Southern Italians is “terroni”. And the original sin, rather than slavery, is the annexation of the South by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia during the unification of Italy. This was followed by a military campaign to suppress “banditism”, which nationalist Southern Italians see as a proper military occupation to destroy a nativist insurgency (that’s where the mafia came from, BTW).

    If you want to look for history repeating itself, Sicily was again virtually occupied by the Italian army in the early 1990s during the “War of the Mafia against the State”.

    This just to provide a flavour as to the depths of the divide. Italy is, essentially, two countries.GDP per capita is €32,000 in the North and €17,000 in the South.

    On convergence, I’d like to point out that Italy had essentially converged with North-Western Europe by 1990. Its GDP per capita at market exchange rates was higher than the UK, same as France, and slightly lower than Germany. However, Italy entered a prolonged period of productivity and growth stagnation in 1997, and is now 20% below “core Europe” GDP per capita.

    You might want to note that 1997 is the year the euro was introduced. Italy is a direct competitor of Germany in manufacturing, particularly high-value engineering manufacturing. Italy also has, for structural reasons, a higher inflation rate than Germany. Meaning joining the deutsche mark (which is what the euro is) meant that Italy had to go up against Germany without a flexible exchange rate to even out the difference. The drop in productivity growth can be attributed to weakened export performance due to an overvalued exchange rate (assuming Kaldor-Thirwall relations between export performance and manufacturing productiviy growth).

    Look at Italian productivity performance against the European core and you seen two notable periods of slowdown against trend – 1987-1992 and 1997-present. Those are the two instances in which Italy fixed its exchange rate to its Northern European competitors.

    On Southern Italian convergence, there was substantial convergence 1950-1975. This was a period characterised by massive public sector investment by the North in the South, specifically through the “Cassa del Mezzogiorno” bank. Southern Italy’s GDP increased from 50% to 61% of Northern Italy’s. It is back to 50% now as per above.

    As somebody pointed out, Southern Italy has exactly the same economic regulations as Northern Italy. So why don’t they produce an equal GDP? Corrupt politicians, organised crime, mass migration of qualified people. What else? And how do you fix it? Massive public spending seemed to work – but is that even affordable?

    What’s the conservative solution? What’s the progressive solution?

  18. Gravatar of Majromax Majromax
    8. July 2015 at 12:11

    I don’t think that a simple recognition of “culture” and its effects marks a viewpoint as conservative or liberal. What matters, I think, is endogeneity.

    “Conservatives,” I feel, view culture as largely exogenous. Culture can be largely immutable based on race or upbringing (in earlier times justifying social Darwinism), or it can be ephemeral and a matter of instantaneous, free choice (a view more commonly-associated with pseudo-Libertarianism). Either way, exogenous culture justifies a value judgement, as the effects of culture are either going to persist no matter what “help” one gives or a more or less-deserved response to choices.

    “Liberals,” I feel, view culture as endogenous. A family-centric rather than institution-centric focus, for example, doesn’t spring fully formed from the mind of Zeus: it arises because such a focus is actually an effective way to navigate society.

    The practical problem of an overly-endogenous view is that it places culture as all effect and no cause, which makes it very difficult to talk about what cultural features need to change in order to support a desired outcome. (That in turn means that “write a cheque and be done with it” aid might be far less effective than imagined.)

  19. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. July 2015 at 12:58

    Scott, yes I’m pretty sure you’d see BoxOffice Mojo skew foreign receipts for F&F franchise to Souther Europe > Northern Europe.

    The point is that Texas > Everybody else.

    So we are left with:

    Texas (other southern US states that have BENT to demand of godlike free marketers) > Other Northern liberal US states > Northern Europe > PIIGS

    Which MEANS:

    As long as you keep GOVERNMENT from being the way the winners are chosen, F&F cowboy culture is the Superior Moral Value.

  20. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. July 2015 at 13:02


    which leds us to the COUP DE GRAS:

    The countries that culturally LIKE F&F, MUST act like Texas / South Carolina – to SURVIVE!

    If they adopt the strong govt controls of Northern Europe, they will DIE, bc of their culture.

  21. Gravatar of Jose Romeu Robazzi Jose Romeu Robazzi
    8. July 2015 at 13:10

    The progressive explanation that blames excessive localism and family ties is so convenient, because in the end it leads to a certain form of extended individuality that works in a bad way. It would be nice, but it is utterly wrong in my view.

    A more straightforward explanation would be lenient punishment for wrongdoing and excessive government intervention. I don’t think that lavish pension for public workers and early retirement are the product of a “cultural” tendency to “protect the family”. That is absurd. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. If individuals can lean on the state, they have less incentive to have strong ties to family memnbers.

    Reduce the size of the welfare state, and I bet the “strong family ties” in southern europe will in fact make capitalism work better.

  22. Gravatar of Jared Jared
    8. July 2015 at 13:17

    There seem to be two types of cultural explanations going on here. If the explanation involves social institutions, then it avoids the racist undertones. “Blacks and Native Americans have lower incomes because they are stuck in a dynamic of low trust, excessive localism, and extreme reliance on family networks due to a history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining etc.” That’s not racist because it identifies institutions as the explanation for a social ill. If you skip over the insitutions, then the racism creeps in. “Greeks have high debt to GDP because the Greek people are adverse to hard work.” That blames the victim simply because of who they are. I think conservatives tend to make the latter type of cultural explanation because of a commitment to methodological individualism: an aversion to accepting explanations in terms of social institutions. But not all cultural explanations are conservative explanations. (I didn’t say “No true Scotsman”!)

  23. Gravatar of Kevin Dick Kevin Dick
    8. July 2015 at 13:36

    @Walter–yeah, if you Googled Italy, it’s unlikely you’d find a history of slavery, civil war, racial tensions, or outright discrimination laws. Oh, wait…

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 13:54

    Nick, I think you completely missed my point, which was that inequality has nothing to do with either welfare states or red-blooded capitalism. There’s lots of inequality in both the US and Europe. BTW, the worst inequality in Europe is with the Roma, not the southern Europeans.

    I was not trying to discredit welfare states, I have a very high opinion of economic models like Denmark.

    Alessando, In the post that Matt linked to I made some of the same points as you did, although we differ a bit on whether the fiscal transfers to the south did much good. I had thought they ended because they failed. You may have a more informed opinion.

    Majromax, Culture is both endogenous and exogenous, and I presume all thoughtful liberals and conservatives would share that view. They may differ a bit as to how easy it is to change.

    The main difference is that conservatives tend to look down on geographical different cultures, whereas liberals look down on temporally different cultures.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 14:01

    Jose, Good point, and you could cite places like Hong Kong as evidence.

    Jared, But you also want to avoid the opposite conclusion: Group A’s bad culture is excusable because of their history, while group B’s bad culture is not excusable because of their history. I see that from progressives. Look deep enough and EVERYTHING is endogenous. Both the left and right do far too much moralizing.

  26. Gravatar of pras pras
    8. July 2015 at 14:24

    I don’t believe progressives/liberals oppose ever using culture, race, gender and genes as an explanation for a statistic or phenomenon, but I do believe their gut reaction is to be careful of doing so (and thus suspicious of whenever others do–especially conservatives). It’s the same as their reaction to preemptive war (or military action of any kind). It’s not that war is never the answer, its just that it’s a very dangerous course of action, and should not be discussed too non-chalantly.

  27. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    8. July 2015 at 14:30

    Surely you aren’t suggesting that progressives are racist?

    Everyone is a little bit racist.

  28. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    8. July 2015 at 15:38

    I find Third Worlders in the Philippines like all kinds of movies and songs, modern (K. Perry sang here) and ones out of style, like old James Bond films (even and especially Roger Moore, who I also like) and classic rock songs. In fact aged rock stars come here (for example the “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” guy) and sell out stadiums.

    As for culture as an explanation, it’s the David Landis theory, and it is a fudge factor that explains everything and thus nothing, since you can always say: ‘the Japanese adopted Western style business culture, that’s why they succeeded’ (but in fact they did not) while the Filipinos did not (but in fact they did). Fudge factor, which is why the putatively racist (?) Sumner (LOL despite marrying a brown woman) seems to favor it?

  29. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    8. July 2015 at 15:52

    What a dishonest post. Based on an extensive reading of conservative publications, the conservative explanation is genetic differences resulting in divergent IQ. And we all know this because we all read and know these conservatards. And yet here you are claiming that up is down yada yada yada

  30. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. July 2015 at 16:05


    “Based on an extensive reading of the few conservative publications arguing genetic differences result in divergent IQ, the conservative explanation is genetic differences resulting in divergent IQ.”


  31. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    8. July 2015 at 16:48

    Benny Lava,

    The progressive explanation of nature more than nurture to explain divergent IQs is as equally “offensive”.

  32. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    8. July 2015 at 17:04

    @ Benny
    Steve Sailer, while he may be read by everyone in the know, is not Thomas Sowell, the Republican Party, or National Review.

  33. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. July 2015 at 18:08

    Doug, I was joking.

    Ray, I actually believe it’s not much of an explanation, it raises as many questions as it answers.

    Benny, Maybe I’m reading the wrong conservative publications. I was aware of The Bell Curve, but is that a widely held view? I don’t see it very often.

  34. Gravatar of Cliff Cliff
    8. July 2015 at 21:11

    It’s a common opinion among a tiny group of neo-reactionaries on the Internet. However, even they would not claim that for Italy. Sans Sicily anyway

  35. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    9. July 2015 at 00:33

    Scott, two papers related to this topic you might enjoy.

    In a 1993 paper, using city growth as a proxy for economic growth between 1000 and 1800, DeLong and Shleifer find:

    “[A]bsolutist monarchs stunted the growth of commerce and industry.”

    Which is a curious coincidence, because…

    Southern Europe endured longer periods of absolutist monarchs than Northern.

    And Southern Italy endured *much* longer (700 years!) absolutist monarchy than Northern Italy.

    Likewise, there’s a 2014 Karaja paper showing comparing towns at the edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with towns just across the border in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman-ruled towns endured far worse “predatory behavior, spread of abuse and rent extraction.”

    Today, the towns spending time under a better-institutions government have both higher GDP and less willingness to bribe officials. Despite being in the same modern country as their formerly Ottoman-ruled neighbors.

    So the answer may be “yes, these are cultural differences, and the cause was a long-term governmental policy difference.”

    These results also seem to imply the right governmental policy lastingly improves poor cultures! Except…

    (1) they don’t show you can do it quickly, and
    (2) they don’t strictly tell you which policy would be right.

    “Princes and Merchants: European City Growth before the Industrial Revolution”, J. Bradford De Long, Andrei Shleifer, 1993

    “The Rule of Karlowitz: Fiscal Change and Institutional Persistence”, Elira Karaja, 2014

  36. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. July 2015 at 04:07

    Daniel, Interesting. It’s also important to not consider southern Europe in a vacuum. The world doesn’t end in Sicily or Greece, and many of the same issues crop up in Turkey, North Africa, etc. Indeed even more so. Southern Europe is part of a global pattern of cultural differences. We still don’t know how important they are for economic development, but it’s certainly possible that they might be somewhat important.

  37. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    9. July 2015 at 04:23

    Scott, you read Marginal Revolution. Every conservative there agrees on IQ. Even your own major troll confesses. Every conservative agrees on IQ. Do I have to google it for you?

  38. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    9. July 2015 at 08:14

    Benny, incorrect.

    Sailer is a racist.

    The opposite of racist is capitalist. PERIOD. THE END.

    A capitalist does’ task how smart a group of people is, he doesn’t CARE if their are IQ differences, he simply needs the ability to make ROI off their labor skills and consumption wants.

    ANYONE who isn’t a rabid capitalist, anyone who doesn’t put “what makes a buck” first – well he’ls more likely to succumb to racism – liberal or conservative,.

    No offense Benny, but when I look at you:, I see a maybe 120 IQ.

    And that will make me discount your ideas.

    But, as a capitalist, when I measure your WORTH, I’d measure it based on YOUR WORTH TO ME.

    I can take Benny, and since his labor will be fairly priced by the market, I can EASILY take Benny, tel him what to do, how to do it, and I can make PROFIT 9for me) off Benny.

    Benny, that’s what real conservatism is.

    I’m your boss, you are my labor – any RACISM at all runs counter to me BEING A CAPITALIST, bc I don’t care about you benny, I care about capital.

    So when you attack Steve Sailer (note I’m banned from Econlog bc I went apeshit calling sailer a racist over and over) do not call him a racist.

    Say he’s not a free market capitalist, that will sting.

  39. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    9. July 2015 at 11:23

    Her is an interesting story on the culture of southern Italy :

  40. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    9. July 2015 at 11:46

    I think the classical liberal point is: It does not matter how it got the way it is, but if in Southern Italy people steal from and abuse the welfare system you have to stop. If on top of that they have stronger better families and the weather is great, they need the welfare state less.

  41. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    9. July 2015 at 13:06

    Yglesias also wrote this, which I thought was interesting:

    “In a healthy society, a business leader might invest time and resources in rent-seeking but he wouldn’t brag about doing so and certainly he might choose to take the honorable path and not do it. But the current paradigm in the implicit US political philosophy is that he has a moral obligation to divert resources away from R&D and toward lobbying if the ROI on lobbying is higher. It says he has a moral obligation to find ways to trick customers into overpaying if he can find them. It says he has a moral obligation to violate regulations if the Net Present Value of paying the fines when you are caught exceeds the cost of compliance.

    In other words, it replicates Banfield’s amoral familism but with shareholders replacing the nuclear family as the local of ethical thinking……”

  42. Gravatar of Engineer Engineer
    9. July 2015 at 15:56

    I have never met a liberal who did not think that they had a higher IQ than all conservatives and that the world would be a much better place if government was run only of like minded people of equally high IQs. In the real world IQ is only one skill that is brought to the table,which is probably why such people dislike the real world and yearn for change it and experiment with it. In the real world it is easy to look beyond IQ and look at things like character and creativity. Capitalism is not the ideal system on micro a scale it can be difficult. I’ve been downsized and sent packing before, but I would not trade it for any left wing utopian dream.

  43. Gravatar of Cliff Cliff
    9. July 2015 at 17:19


    Ah, so when you said “an extensive reading of conservative publications” you meant “trolling the comments at” Got it.

  44. Gravatar of Niklas Blanchard Niklas Blanchard
    9. July 2015 at 19:06

    I think this is the best couple paragraphs out of Eric Beinhocker’s, The Origin of Wealth (to this day one of my favorite books) on the subject:

    “While there is no immutable link between race and culture, there is a link between culture and history. We saw this in Putnam’s study of northern versus southern Italy, and even in the simplified world of cooperating versus noncooperating agents in simulations. One can say that while over racism has declind (but not been fully eliminated) as a barrier to economic mobility in America, the legacy of 250 years of slavery followed by a further 100 years of racial isolation has left its mark on the culture of many African American communities. The practical questions then are, what antisocial and antieconomic norms has that history created in the culture, and how can they be changed? This view reconciles the two often competing camps among African American political and religious leaders, between those on the Left who “blame society,” versus those on the Right who advocate “personal responsibility.” One can simultaneously acknowledge the wrongs of the past, while looking ahead to changes in norms and individual behaviors as the keys to escaping the cultural poverty trap.

    The positive message of this view is that cultures can and do change, even in the course of a few generations. Furthermore, cultures can change in ways that encourage economic progress without sacrificing other positive norms that give a culture its unique identity. For example, both Spain and Ireland have experienced substantial cultural change as well as record-breaking economic growth since the 1970’s. Yet both countries have retained their respective Spanish-ness and Irish-ness. Eliminating the culture of poverty requires the changing of cultural norms, but it does not require a complete homogenization of the tapestry of American culture.”

  45. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    9. July 2015 at 21:25

    While there is no immutable link between race and culture, there is a link between culture and history

    The worst, most obscene racist ranting I have ever heard, by far, has come from NYC recent immigrant Caribbean blacks against NYC “native USA” African Americans. The former come from extremely hard working, strong-family-structure communities that have taken control of industries such as local groceries across large stretches of NYC (much as immigrant Asians did a generation ago). Census puts the former at the top of the household income ladder in areas such as Queens, and the latter at the bottom of the income ladder. Same race, very different cultures, histories and economic results.

  46. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    10. July 2015 at 06:01

    @Niklas Blanchard
    100 years of racial isolation has left its mark on the culture of many African American communities. The practical questions then are, what antisocial and antieconomic norms has that history created in the culture, and how can they be changed?

    No matter how it came about you still have to ask is it right to try and change the culture. So African Americans seem to able to do great (actually dominate) the most desired jobs in the USA. They do real well in income compared to most of the world. So if blacks believed that one should enjoy his youth and spend so much time studying in order to get a boring but high paying job as an accountant, would that look much different than what you see today? If that was what blacks believed, would it be moral to use Government to try and change that attitude? I think not.

  47. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    10. July 2015 at 07:23

    @Jim Glass your comment reminds me of the more recent Italian immigrants when I was kid. They would talk to us born in the USA folks saying things like “Why are you not millionaires yet?”. Why are not getting all A’s you already know the language. I did not like it at the time.

  48. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. July 2015 at 08:47

    Benny, I don’t get it, what do Alex and Tyler agree on?

    Floccina, Thanks for the link.

    Niklas, Good point about how cultures can change. My only caveat is that I’m skeptical of government attempts to engineer specific changes. Rather do sound public policy, and hope that leads to better culture.

  49. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. July 2015 at 08:48

    Benny, Cliff says you are referring to a comment section. Is that right?

  50. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    10. July 2015 at 09:27

    @Jim Glass

    That’s very interesting. I’ll take your word for the success of Caribbean immigrants; but, the big question is: What is it about their history that created a culture of “extremely hard-working, strong family-culture-communities” that differentiate them from “native USA African Americans”?

    As far as I know, both populations originated from Africa and were enslaved. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Caribbean slavery lasted longer than slavery in the USA (Cuba was one of the last to abolish it). Or, is this selection bias that is common to all voluntary immigrant populations?

  51. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    10. July 2015 at 11:30

    Some people say that test scores and reaction time decline as one moves from Tuscany to Palermo. I’m sure that has nothing to do with why Southern Italy is poor and backward though.

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