Noah Smith joins Garett and I over on the dark side

A few months back I made some innocuous (and admittedly sloppy) remarks about how Chinese culture might have contributed to their economic success.  And Noah Smith responded by ripping me apart:

But I have to say, of the two, I dislike “culture” a LOT more than I dislike “technology”. The reason is that it takes about 5 seconds for “culture”-based arguments to turn into racism in the mind of the average reader. The Chinese will end up like the Japanese and Koreans because…why? Because of Old Man 孔子? No, John Q. Public, admit it: I’ll bet you yuan to won that you were thinking it’s because they all have similar hair, eyes, and noses.

This is sloppiness. Sheer and utter sloppiness.

I’m so sorry that I mentioned the term ‘culture,’ I never realized it was so offensive.  Later Garett Jones had his head chewed off by Noah, for roughly similar reasons.  Thus I was intrigued to see the headline of Noah’s newest article in The Atlantic:

The Secret to U.S. Growth in the 21st Century: More Asians

Wow!  Can Noah really be making a cultural argument for Asians?  Noah Smith?  Surely he would not engage in that sort of sheer and utter sloppiness?  (And admit it, there is no worse form of sloppiness than the sheer and utter variety.)  Probably the headline is misleading. Maybe he favors more Asian immigration because of some reason other than culture.  So then I looked at the first two sentences of the article:

What makes a country prosperous and strong in the long run? Four things: land, people, institutions, and culture.

The C-word?  But that can’t be right because that’s what I believe, and I’m a horrible racist.

. . . many Japanese workers feel oppressed by their stifling corporate culture.

So culture can stifle innovation?  Who would have guessed?  Is Japanese corporate culture as conformist as a bee hive?

Now let’s get to the main argument:

Where are we going to get our new Americans? Asia and Africa. Asia is especially important, and encouraging large-scale immigration from Asia will have benefits far beyond the simple economics of immigration.

Asia has the most people and Africa has most of the population growth. Noah would prefer that we take more Asian immigrants.  He’s got nothing against Africans, but notices that Asians are underrepresented in America.  (I guess you are allowed to make the argument for Asians over Africans—if you are a liberal.)  Indeed he sees great benefits to more Asian immigration:

Adding diversity to our melting pot will speed up America’s inevitable and necessary transition from a “nation of all European races” to a “nation of all races.” The sooner that happens — the sooner people realize that America’s multi-racialization is a done deal — the quicker our political debate can shed its current ethnic overtones and go back to being about the issues.

I have no problem with immigration, indeed I’d like to see much more immigration from Asia and Africa.  However I have a hard time imagining that an America that is (let’s imagine) roughly 25% European, 25% Hispanic, 25% African-American and 25% Asian will have completely shed “ethnic overtones” from its political debate.  My hunch is that immigration might eventually achieve what Noah wants, but only because they’d be lots of intermarriage, which will start to make us mono-cultural again, or perhaps bi-cultural (a poor and an affluent class of people.)

Well at least we agree on the need for more immigration—and that ‘culture’ is no longer a dirty word (at least when used by progressives.)

PS.  I’m sure Noah will claim he used “culture” in a different way than I did.  But of course I never used it the way he claimed; the stuff about facial appearance was sheer and utter invention by Noah, as I clearly indicated that I was talking about culture, not race.  Indeed I pointed out that SE Asia has a different culture.


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40 Responses to “Noah Smith joins Garett and I over on the dark side”

  1. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    1. November 2012 at 05:56

    Only Smith can talk about culture.

    Only Sumner can talk about bubbles.

    Only Keynesians (Romer) can talk about confidence fairies.

  2. Gravatar of PrometheeFeu PrometheeFeu
    1. November 2012 at 06:13

    I hate the way culture and race are discussed in the United States. You make an empirical statement and you get accused of racism. And it’s not what you said. It’s the deep unfalsifiable psycho-sociology that would make you ask the question. Oh I really dislike critical theory.

    And come on. You have Europeans, Asians, Hispanics (aren’t they European too) but African-Americans. Are they more Americans than the rest? Or perhaps they are less American than the rest and therefore require the “American” hyphenated prefix. (Obviously I’m criticizing the absurd way race and culture are talked about in US society, not accusing you of racism or “reverse racism” or whatever)

  3. Gravatar of marcus nunes marcus nunes
    1. November 2012 at 06:35

    Noah is a member of the PC generation. They can be so boring…

  4. Gravatar of Wonks Anonymous Wonks Anonymous
    1. November 2012 at 07:31

    My recollection is that Noah argued Asia’s birth rates are low, so if we wait too long there won’t be many asians to import. There is no such urgency for Africa.

  5. Gravatar of Paul Paul
    1. November 2012 at 07:55

    Go back to his second sentence. Obviously your readers are of the average sort. His readers are of a more sophisticated sort, not susceptible to base racist thinking. Culture for he, but not for thee.

  6. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    1. November 2012 at 07:58

    ‘I guess you are allowed to make the argument for Asians over Africans””if you are a liberal.’

    Ann Coulter is making that point (in her usual barbed fashion) in her latest book, ‘Mugged: Racial Demagoguery From the Seventies to Obama’. As she puts it, civil rights for liberals simply mean ‘things we like’.

  7. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    1. November 2012 at 08:19

    PrometheeFeu,
    Hispanics tend to have more Native American in them than Spanish. At least in Mexico, there’s apparently some racial tension between the Native-American/Spanish folks and the pure Spaniards that tend to be more well-to-do.

  8. Gravatar of sam sam
    1. November 2012 at 08:24

    The problem wasn’t that you were racist. Your thinking was just lazy and not very interesting. John Hughes put more thought into the culture of a single high school than you did a civilization of billions.

  9. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    1. November 2012 at 08:37

    “Noah joins Garrett and I on the Dark Side…”? Surely, you are kidding I.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. November 2012 at 09:35

    Sam, That’s right, and it’s also true that Hughes put more thought into his films than Noah does into his discussion of culture.

    Vivian, I’m not too good at grammar.

  11. Gravatar of Arthur Arthur
    1. November 2012 at 09:46

    I think you are being a bit unfair with Noah Smith. He didn’t said you were racist. Nor he did said Garret Jones was racist.

    He said that people would read your text in a racist manner, and he said Garret Jones was using a racist trope and using information that came from a racist methodology.

    Although he wasn’t very nice to you also.

  12. Gravatar of q q
    1. November 2012 at 10:06

    As someone of Chinese descent, I find it funny when white people get way too sensitive about totally innocuous remarks about the Chinese.

  13. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    1. November 2012 at 10:15

    The case Noah makes for more asian immigration over African isn’t a racial or cultural one. Asia (or at least East Asia) is rapidly catching up to the west, so now is our last chance to allow for mass immigration from Asia before they become rich and it dries up.

    However given how rich Chinese flock to the U.S. to escape the CCP that might not be a problem, lol.

  14. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    1. November 2012 at 10:42

    Let’s just say Noah isn’t yet a big thinker.

    But he’s also young, so he may be in future.

  15. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    1. November 2012 at 12:39

    Observing the care and thoughtfulness with which my various points and arguments have been evaluated in this space, I am starting to question the wisdom of NGDP targeting…

  16. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    1. November 2012 at 12:40

    Oh, and it’s “joins Garett and ME”…direct object, y’know…

  17. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    1. November 2012 at 12:48

    Hi Noah!

  18. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    1. November 2012 at 13:10

    Don’t worry Noah, Austrians feel the same way about the points you make about them.

  19. Gravatar of Al Al
    1. November 2012 at 14:24

    “Asia has the most people and Africa has most of the population growth. Noah would prefer that we take more Asian immigrants. He’s got nothing against Africans, but notices that Asians are underrepresented in America. (I guess you are allowed to make the argument for Asians over Africans””if you are a liberal.)”

    Lol, the implied preference argument is your contribution. Noah Smith’s “more important” phrase is sloppy, but ambiguous at worst. Is there a graduate economics course in mutually snippy accusations?

  20. Gravatar of Al Al
    1. November 2012 at 14:38

    @ChargerCarl, what are you doing? You are interfering with an opportunity to define “liberals” in a self-serving manner! Noah Smith used Africa and Asians in the same sentence, so Ann Coulter quote, and therefore libtard hypocrisy.

  21. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    1. November 2012 at 14:45

    Al:

    Noah Smith’s “more important” phrase is sloppy, but ambiguous at worst.

    You have a funny way of denying instances of progressives/liberals chastising others for making culture based arguments, and then doing the same thing themselves.

    It’s clear that Smith straw manned Sumner, so in return, Sumner snipped at Smith, expecting that informed readers would see what’s really going on.

  22. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    1. November 2012 at 15:02

    Left-liberals get so much self-righteous enjoyment out of accusing others of “racism,” it would be a shame to take that away from them.

  23. Gravatar of Tony Hansen Tony Hansen
    1. November 2012 at 15:05

    We can tend to be too sensitive about throwing the racist card out there. There is no question racism exists in every society, but I do find it overused to dismiss arguments counter to the view of the accuser. I’d (unscientifically) suggest fewer than half of all racism accusations have any basis in fact.
    The same accusatory thing occurred in the feminist revolution, I agree women should be able to do any job they choose, and that if the output of their role is the same as a male, the pay should be the same. But you’ll never convince me that the median female will make anywhere near as good a bricklayer/concreter as the median male. Men at the median level have physical attributes better suited to more physically demanding work. You’ll also never convince me that the median woman is not a better nurse than the median man, my Mother is a nurse, a wonderfully nurturing person, my Father would make a woeful addition to any caring profession, but he’d kick her ass in a push-up contest. I would think they approximately represent their medians…
    One would be unlikely to be accused of racism if one were to state that at the majority of athletic pursuits, persons of African descent are one average superior. I can again be unscientific, I understand that about 10 or 12% of Americans are descended of Africans, but watch the NFL every week and I’d say more than half of players are of predominantly African descent, it’s not empirically tested but the 5:1 ratio doesn’t seem to require proper analysis. If one said likewise that swimmers of European descent are better than the rest of the swimming cohort, an eyebrow would scarce raise anywhere.
    When you start to talk about cultures of thrift and hard-work, the likelihood of hearing ‘culture as racism’ rises dramatically. Yet despite relatively homogeneous ‘races’ through say the early 19th century, few would have disagreed Americans possessed a harder-working ‘culture’ than say Britain or Ireland.
    While you will often find acceptance that Chinese and Japanese IQ’s are at the mean higher than European IQ’s, mention that both are higher than African IQ’s and you’ll encounter opprobrium. As education improves globally though, IQ’s are rising and converging (that is to say lower IQ races are gaining faster than high IQ races), and it may be that ‘natural’ median levels are much closer, but studies holding constant for socio-cultural/economic factors usually find there is some measurable difference. I can’t see why racial differences are so horrific, I’m an Australian descended of a Dane and an Englishwoman, I’d like to have been as fast as the Aboriginal kid who always won our 100m sprint at high-school, I am impressed with the intellect a very smart friend of Chinese descent, who in turn is convinced Israelis are the smartest people on Earth. But I’m resigned to the fact that I have what I was born with & will try to make the best fist of whatever my strengths are.
    We are supposed to be the highest thinking animals on the planet and yet we can face empirical evidence and deny it because it suits us.
    My grammar is often quite appalling Scott…

  24. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    1. November 2012 at 16:50

    Dear Professor Sumner,

    What is your position on Inheritance Taxes?

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. November 2012 at 17:26

    Arthur, You said;

    “I think you are being a bit unfair with Noah Smith. He didn’t said you were racist. Nor he did said Garret Jones was racist.”

    When did I say he accused me of being a racist? I don’t recall saying that.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. November 2012 at 17:51

    Noah, Lighten up, I was just teasing you. I always assume that any blogger (excluding DeLong/Krugman) that enjoys obviously over-the-top criticism of others can take it in return. I presume you are aware of your own blogging style. Surely that paragraph I quoted at the top was written in an intentionally exaggerated style for humorous effect.
    And thanks for the grammatical tip, but I already knew you were smarter than me.

  27. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    1. November 2012 at 20:25

    I always assume that any blogger (excluding DeLong/Krugman) that enjoys obviously over-the-top criticism of others can take it in return.

    Hahaha, ain’t that the truth.

  28. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. November 2012 at 21:08

    “Is Japanese corporate culture as conformist as a bee hive?”

    It was at that point that I cracked up.

    I remember Noah saying in an earlier comment section on this blog that his comments about immigration were in a different vein. I had expected him to come and defend that perspective here. Instead we just got some bitter sniping about how he is so misunderstood…

    So I’ll do it for him. He is making a different sort of “cultural argument” than you. He talks about not Japanese having better culture, but about fleeing poorly organized work environments – less vague and broad than “Japanese culture”

    He then explains the benefits of adding more “Asians” to the US population mix in terms of impacts on political-behavior. More concrete than “US culture”.

    But yes, I do think there is some hypocrisy going around here.

    TravisV, prepare to be shocked: https://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=7091

    Tony – God gave us line breaks for a reason, y’know…

  29. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    1. November 2012 at 21:35

    Sheesh, I will say it: Asian cultures are often very good for business. Ditto Germany and Northern European cultures.

    Is it race? Not quite. But certain people survived in northern climes, and that gene pool required discipline and the ability to tolerate delayed gratification to survive winters. Business requires all of that, too.

    On the other hand, the record of northern cultures in horrific pogroms and genocides is terrifying.

    All that said, I like everybody, and everybody is an individual and deserves to be treated as such, and any sort of race- or ethnicity-based hate is couter-productive and small-minded.

    Live and let live, and the Golden Rule.

  30. Gravatar of DKS DKS
    1. November 2012 at 21:52

    Scott,

    Just in case you were actually confused —

    In your post, you talked about culture as a thing you got from your family background. In your post, “culture” was something attached to each of us personally: if you were Chinese by your childhood training, then you were stuck with the good and bad traits of Chinese culture wherever you went.

    Noah talked about culture as something that people could leave behind by emigrating. Japan had a certain corporate culture, but people from Japan could come to America and enjoy American corporate culture instead. What’s more, Noah talked about culture as something that varied from one piece of life to another even inside a country, so that “Japanese private life” had a very individualistic culture even as “Japanese corporate life” was very controlled.

    Noah’s idea of “culture” is less susceptible to being an excuse for racism than yours.

    I agree Noah’s post reads like it’s appealing to an undercurrent of “hey, let’s import some of them successful Asians”. So maybe its implied sentiments are quite close to your own post.

  31. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. November 2012 at 22:04

    Morgan Stanley: http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2012/10/monetary-policy-0

    and Charles Goodhart: http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2012/11/monetary-policy

    on monetary policy.

  32. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    1. November 2012 at 22:05

    The Economist just endorsed Obama: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21565623-america-could-do-better-barack-obama-sadly-mitt-romney-does-not-fit-bill-which-one?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/which_one_

    Where’s your endorsement post, Scott? (Come on, it’s not like you actually have to use your brain to write about politics…)

  33. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    2. November 2012 at 00:41

    Mark Thoma’s YouTube Channel sure has a lot of videos on monetary policy… And he just uploaded 3 more.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/markthoma?feature=watch

  34. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    2. November 2012 at 06:23

    Hey Scott – Quick copy-edit: you might want to change “Garrett & I” to “Garrett & me.”
    I’m sorry to be correcting grammar (!) but given your large readership & the font size of headlines, I think it’s worth making the change—–

    There’s a super-simple test for the ‘Garrett & I’ mix-up: eliminate “Garrett” & see how the headline sounds:
    “Noah Smith joins I”
    You wouldn’t say that, & adding Garrett to the phrase doesn’t change things.
    “Noah Smith joins me”
    “Noah Smith joins Garrett and me”

    In case you’re interested, the reason to use “me” is that the phrase “Garrett and me” is a direct object in your headline, & ‘me’ is the object pronoun.

    If you’d said “Garrett & I join Noah Smith,” “I” would be correct because “I” is a subject pronoun, & the phrase “Garrett & I” is the subject of the sentence.

    Btw, you once said something about having shaky grammar (something like that). That’s not true. The only mistake you make somewhat frequently is the comma splice. Well, good news on that front (good news for my students, I hope): just last week I learned what may be a surefire test for comma splices. I’ll try to get it posted soon.

    (We’re out of power & freezing — our power survived Hurricane Sandy & then Con Ed sent a crew out to turn it off while they removed a tree. Then they didn’t turn it back on & there’s no telling when they will….so: we’re in slow motion around here.)

    http://english109mercy.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/langan-on-pronouns-part-1/
    http://english109mercy.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/langan-on-pronouns-part-2/
    http://english109mercy.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/quiz/

  35. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    2. November 2012 at 06:27

    I see I’ve misspelled “Garett” repeatedly,

    Sigh.

    My college freshman son is marooned here (NYU dorm w/o power). Says I’m being a ‘grammar Nazi.’

    A grammar Nazi who can’t spell….

    Even worse.

  36. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. November 2012 at 06:55

    Saturos, You said;

    “So I’ll do it for him. He is making a different sort of “cultural argument” than you. He talks about not Japanese having better culture . . . ”

    Saturos, I beg you not to become like MF. I just did a big post a few weeks back pointing out that the whole idea of one culture being better than another is “absurd.” So don’t attribute that view to me. I agree with Noah, and I’m quite sure that Noah agrees with me. Culture plays a role in economics. So does policy, as the two Koreas demonstrate.

    Noah was right to criticize the specific cultural argument in the post he linked to, there’s no doubt about that. But this post was about his claim that ANY discussion of culture and economics is just encouraging the racists. He’s clearly backed off from that claim.

    He’s a very smart guy, much smarter than me, but he often becomes overconfident and shoots from the hip. (Like certain other famous bloggers whom I need not name–or is it who I need not name?)

    BTW, When I said the Chinese culture was pragmatic, I should have said (as Coase recently argued) that the backlash against ideology after the Cultural Revolution made the Chinese governance culture very pragmatic in recent years. So I was sloppy—but “utterly” sloppy? I don’t think so.

    DKS, Your last line confuses me. Are we to judge people on what they say, or what they imply? Noah clearly indicated that we should be judged on what we imply–even used the term “dog whistle” in trashing Garett Jones. So why isn’t what’s good for the goose . . .

    I would add that I don’t buy your overall argument. He talked about the few Japanese who don’t share the dominant culture being freed by coming to America. I’d say the same thing about the few Chinese who don’t share the dominant culture. So I reject the notion that one person was generalizing more than the other.

    The first two lines of his post say culture is one of the 4 determinants of economic success. Let’s please take him at his word.

    Noah talks about the advantages of diversity, and I agree. But if the Japanese who come here have an American mentality, then how are you adding to diversity? Liberals want to have it both ways “Celebrate the differences, and how dare you call them different.”

    Catherine, Don’t worry, I originally misspelled it too. Or perhaps Garett’s been misspelling his own name for his entire life.

    Travis, A zero percent rate, as in Sweden.

    Saturos, My endorsement is coming Monday night–timed for maximum impact in key swing states like Ohio.

  37. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    2. November 2012 at 07:19

    ssumner:

    Saturos, I beg you not to become like MF. I just did a big post a few weeks back pointing out that the whole idea of one culture being better than another is “absurd.” So don’t attribute that view to me.

    That was exactly what I said too. That’s why I said Smith straw manned you, and that your response was a snippy comeback.

    I don’t understand why are you saying you beg Saturos not to become like me. I understood what happened.

  38. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    2. November 2012 at 09:55

    Here’s a “blast from the past” where in the book “My Country and My People” written by Lin Yutang in 1935, he ends the chapter about Chinese character with these thoughts on conservatism:

    “Meanwhile, the large majority of the people will keep in their old ruts, not by any conscious conviction but by a kind of racial instinct. I feel the racial tradition is so strong that its fundamental pattern of life will always remain. Even if a cataclysmic upheaval like a communistic regime should come, the old tradition of individuality, toleration, moderation and common sense will break Communism and change it beyond recognition, rather than Communism with its socialistic, impersonal and rigoristic outlook break the old tradition. It must be so.”

  39. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    2. November 2012 at 12:53

    Sorry! Just saw Noah Smith’s comment re: ‘Garrett & I’ —— !

    (I’m guessing the subject/objet distinction for compounds is probably on the way to disappearing, though…)

  40. Gravatar of Our Chinese Future | Brown Pundits Our Chinese Future | Brown Pundits
    2. October 2013 at 02:01

    […] here. Noah’s opinion of Chinese culture here and here. Scott responds here, here and here. This too. Here is Noah on the success of […]

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