Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
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"Economists agree about many things--contrary to popular opinion--but the majority agree about culture only in the sense that they no longer give it much thought." So begins the first chapter of Cultures Merging, in which Eric Jones--one of the world's leading economic historians--takes an eloquent, pointed, and personal look at the question of whether culture determines economics or is instead determined by it.
Bringing immense learning and originality to the issue of cultural change over the long-term course of global economic history, Jones questions cultural explanations of much social behavior in Europe, East Asia, the United States, Australia, and the Middle East. He also examines contemporary globalization, arguing that while centuries of economic competition have resulted in the merging of cultures into fewer and larger units, these changes have led to exciting new syntheses.
Culture matters to economic outcomes, Jones argues, but cultures in turn never stop responding to market forces, even if some elements of culture stubbornly persist beyond the time when they can be explained by current economic pressures. In the longer run, however, cultures show a fluidity that will astonish some cultural determinists. Jones concludes that culture's "ghostly transit through history" is much less powerful than noneconomists often claim, yet it has a greater influence than economists usually admit.
The product of a lifetime of reading and thinking on culture and economics, a work of history and an analysis of the contemporary world, Cultures Merging will be essential reading for anyone concerned about the interaction of cultures and markets around the world.
the root of their beliefs and founding texts. Other people think of such claims as foundation myths, wherein lies the nub of many a bitter conﬂict. Some old patterns really have persisted or (an important caveat) have remained distinct from one another, despite the political power, religious intolerance, or corrosive commercialism of the societies surrounding them—think of the way the Amish have resisted so many American fash40 CULTURES FLUID AND STICKY ions. The Amish exemplify the capricious
buggy, and reluctance to adopt the materialism of those around them, whom they please to call gentiles, they have not remained categorically faithful to the lifestyle their forebears brought from the eighteenth-century Rhineland. They differ among themselves in the extent to which they have adopted modern equipment, but their overall tendency has been to accept a good deal of what is on offer. The only difference is that they have done so much later than their “gentile” neighbors. They have found
generation. As recently as 1966 only 138 simultaneous conversations could take 27 Gang Deng, Development versus Stagnation (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993). 101 CHAPTER 4 place between Europe and North America; Citibank hired squads of youths to sit all day in New York, dialing in the hope of getting through.28 It was only the ﬁnal decades of the twentieth century that saw a truly massive increase in “teledensity.” The last jurisdiction without a telephone system was Tokelau, a New
MERGING duction in the price of communications.30 There has never been such informational richness, especially for countries in the early stages of economic growth. The long-term effects are unknowable. Authoritarian governments are worried at their loss of control; about the reaction if an unbridled rise in expectations cannot be met; and about the shock of the new as peasant labor is forced from the cocoon of the ages into situations to which ancient lore is no guide. The Chinese workers who
though at a hideous human price, and East Asia came to outclass the world in its pace of development. These achievements represented the resource accumulation phase of development. The real test is yet to take place, for it is still to be demonstrated that growth in the quasi-authoritarian form can be sustained, or even carried on at all, without continually borrowing ideas. The collapse and still uncertain rebuilding of the former Soviet economy shows that persistent growth is not a foregone