View Full Version : Culture and Economic Viability
09-08-04, 07:18 PM
Are many nations doomed because their cultures are at odds with economic viability? I was thinking of Africa in particular where their leaders seem particularly corrupt and uninterested in the welfare of the people. I'm really pretty ignorant on the topic. It was just a passing question which I thought I'd pose to the knowledgable folks here at sci. I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter.
A decent substitute question might be: What the hell is wrong with Africa? Why can't they pull themselves out of the horrible economic conditions they endure? Seems like it would be a mecca of opportunity for an aspiring business person, but then again I'm not so sure if it's stable enough to risk establishing business there in general.
09-08-04, 07:43 PM
The general question is, I think, an interesting one.
For starters, one would think that general education level would be a major influence. I don't think it's Africa's cultural *preference* to be dirt poor and to have an average life expectancy that makes "Logan's Run" look like utopia. But is there something about their culture that holds them back? I think the real question is what is it about Africa that people want? What do they have to offer the global economy, such that it can repay Africans with a higher standard of living?
Is the corruption endemic to African culture? Maybe, but I think it's more of a human characteristic in general, since we've seen the same thing in pretty much every world culture.
Until recent years I might have said that Chinese culture is incapable of joining the global economy. I think a lot of people still wonder how it's possible that that country has exploded while maintaining a communist government with... questionable human rights policies. The traditional western (or at least American) notion has been that only a free society can be economically successful (even though in many ways we are not free).
Now we're learning otherwise. Politics is politics (culture is culture?), and economics is economics.
09-09-04, 03:51 PM
Is economic viability more reliant on environment/resources than cultural/political influences? Both are obviously big factors. But, a large portion of Africa is desert. Unlike Saudia Arabia, there aren't giant oil reserves under the sahara that I know of. So maybe it has less to do with the cultures than a simple lack of resources.
09-09-04, 07:08 PM
What the hell is wrong with Africa?
The biggest problem in Africa is simply bad governance. Africa itself culturally is not that different then most places, the problem in Africa stems from the lack of indigenous political, and economic development. If you were to look at the major economic states in the world today, USA, China, EU, these countries to a large extent developed on their own. China voluntarily adopted capitalism; China’s borders are largely natural (although that is up to debate). But the best show of economic growth through westernization of choice is Japan. If China, Japan, etc were colonized, and exploited, and economic development based on a mercantilist economy like that of Africa, we would be asking ourselves…what’s wrong with Japan? Africa’s economic, political, and cultural traditions have been altered radically from her natural growth. The Africans did not convert to western capitalism like that of Asia. Their economies were based on one thing to feed western development not their own. Things have not changed; instead of direct rule from London, or Lisbon we have TNC’s calling the shots. Especially oil companies, you should note in nations with large oil reserves in Africa much of the wealth is concentrated in the upper echelons of the country.
Why can't they pull themselves out of the horrible economic conditions they endure?
Because they cannot get rid of the vestiges of imperialism, look at their borders, look at the ethnic composition of these countries. These are fake nations, South Africa flourished because the whites were the unquestioned rulers, and they weren’t African it wasn’t their land (not unlike the situation in Israel). Palestinians like Black South Africans were not given the opportunity to advance even though they are the original inhabitants…alas neo-imperialism and colonialism.
09-14-04, 03:38 PM
"Are many nations doomed because their cultures are at odds with economic viability?"
Not necessarily. France has managed Ok for a long time. What can certainly be said is taht such nations will always be 2nd or 3rd in the race for economic supremacy. But probably feel a lot happier about themselves no matter which position they come in at. The question is also a little limited, in that many different kinds of nation state are economically viable at different technoligical and cultural levels. Its just that everyone assumes the western laissez-faire model is "the best", and it is if you want to have the problems that we have now. And some of the good things as well, but its all more complicated than that.
"A decent substitute question might be: What the hell is wrong with Africa? Why can't they pull themselves out of the horrible economic conditions they endure?"
I would suggest reading up on the Industrial revolution. What it also takes is having capital resources that can eb developed in your country, which is often not possible due to open borders. I had a pointless argument in our national newspaper (the scotsman, via the letters page with a randroid, who could only quote rand, heyek and friedman I think,) about development of 3rd world countries. He contested that all that was required was a "free" market. Now, apart form my history of economics degree subject educated friend saying theres no such thing as a "free" market, there are also no countries that have developed themselves without some form of unfree market. essentially, if you permit free trade with an undeveloped country, when its in essentially a somewhat feudal state of development, you end up with the rich staying richer, and the poor being just as badly off. This is all a little muddled, cos I'm tired, but what i am trying to say is that when you have local, not very inefficient businesses starting up, they then get swamped by more efficient imports. A case in point, although its central american, that I read about, was a town in the countryside where someone helped set up a chicken farm 5 years ago. They then went back last year to see how it was getting on, only to find it had gone bankrupt, because it was cheaper for everyone to buy their chicken legs from a frozen trailerfull dumped cheaply by US companies.
Perhaps it would help to imagine you are poor, on the breadline, and have only enough money to buy food, clothes and rent. You cannot therefore put any money into investing in improvements in your life, and you always go for the4 cheaper option, because that is all you can afford. Its kind of hard to explain, but suffice ot say, in my opinion, the poverty of Africa is due to a concatenation of bad gvt, tricky countryside, imperialism, and modern laissez faire economics.
"Seems like it would be a mecca of opportunity for an aspiring business person, but then again I'm not so sure if it's stable enough to risk establishing business there in general."
Precisely. The risk factors are too high, and why do you need to overexpose yourself anyway, when all you need to do is extrac tits oil and minerals. that doesnt expose your company too much, in fact it can be easier to haev things in a mess because then nobody has any ability to say "how about some health and safety reviews, and what about that pollution you just dumped?"
09-14-04, 05:57 PM
Because they cannot get rid of the vestiges of imperialism, look at their borders, look at the ethnic composition of these countries. These are fake nations, South Africa flourished because the whites were the unquestioned rulers, and they weren’t African, it wasn’t their land (not unlike the situation in Israel). Palestinians like Black South Africans were not given the opportunity to advance even though they are the original inhabitants…alas neo-imperialism and colonialism.I think this is an even bigger problem than this, because it has been going on far longer than the modern era of European dominance.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been treated as a source of slaves, exotic animals, raw materials, and quaint native trinkets by every civilization that had the wherewithal to send people there to exploit it, since the dawn of civilization. Black African slaves have been a staple of wealthy citizens of the dominant nations, going as far back as we have reliable records. Persia, Greece, Rome, Turkey, England, the USA, and those are just the ones I'm sure of. Probably also Phoenicia and the ancient civilizations going all the way back to Sumeria. Even their own neighbors, the Cushitic Egyptians, exploited them.
Sub-Saharan Africa has never been given a chance to prosper, to find its own way in the world -- any more than the slightly more advanced Aztecs and Incas were once the Europeans found their little paradise. Foreigners have been mixing up their local affairs for millennia in order to keep them off balance. Pitting one tribe against another, hiring the least virtuous of them to capture the others and sell them into slavery. Ultimately, just sending armies in and occupying their land, treating them as "colonies," as if there weren't already people living there in their own homes. Redrawing artificial national boundaries, the "fake nations" you're talking about, was merely the last step in a long process, a parting shot as civilization began to make colonialism unpopular, to ensure that black Africa would not soon emerge from the chaos imposed on it.
This is an important phenomenon to understand, because the colonial powers did the very same thing to the Middle East. The Greeks and the Romans started it, supplanting native languages and cultures with their own. The native peoples barely managed to recover from that when the Ottomans came along, stirring the ethnic pots and leaving Arab, Persian, Turkic, Phoenician, Assyrian, Kurdish, Indic, and any other ethnic groups I've forgotten, scattered together in hostile little shreds of tribes that couldn't quite dominate any one land -- and on the occasions when they did, they'd just take turns kicking each other out. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ossetia, Pakistan, these aren't "nations" in the true sense of the word. They're lines drawn on a map, exactly like Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.
The people of the Middle East have just barely gotten a handle on this. They've pulled ahead of the Africans because of a widespread (although not universal) common religion and, perhaps more importantly, petroleum. And look at what their new found power, in combination with ethnic rivalries that go back into ancient history, is doing to the rest of the world, We're all being punished for the sins of our ancestors.
I can hardly wait for the Africans to achieve the same status and start throwing their weight around!
09-14-04, 06:25 PM
Then the question should really be…is capitalism unto itself compatible with these cultures or not? Is there an African alternative to development? I doubt that development is a universal truth, and western development cannot benefit everyone. There has to be some losers in the great game. Also it is in our best interests to keep Africa down, we can incest, exploit, and pollute with virtual impunity and as long as the government is paid its “unfair share” then everything is ok. Look at Sudan which the most obvious form of exploitation from both sides, western and Asian companies are drilling oil in Sudan and gives money to the extremist government in Khartoum, and that money is spent on guess what…so as you can see as long as the oil flows, or diamonds in Sierra Leone everything is ok. The fact that our companies are investing billions in countries that we know are committing genocides says a lot about the situation.
09-14-04, 09:36 PM
Then the question should really be…is capitalism unto itself compatible with these cultures or not? Also it is in our best interests to keep Africa down, we can incest, exploit, and pollute with virtual impunity and as long as the government is paid its “unfair share” then everything is ok. Look at Sudan which the most obvious form of exploitation from both sides, western and Asian companies are drilling oil in Sudan and gives money to the extremist government in Khartoum, and that money is spent on guess what…so as you can see as long as the oil flows, or diamonds in Sierra Leone everything is ok. The fact that our companies are investing billions in countries that we know are committing genocides says a lot about the situation.Even when most people didn't see the Paradigm Shift coming and nobody really could foretell what it would bring in much detail, the futurists like Alvin Toffler were already predicting that the Post-Industrial Era was going to bring about the salvation of the "Third World."
To a large extent it looks like their predictions might turn out to be accurate. We're still in the painful transitional stage, but much of what they talked about is coming true. Entire nations are getting telephones in a blinding hurry. They don't need to spend twenty years chopping down trees, hauling them all over the place, turning them into telephone poles, and stringing thousands of miles of cable. Pop up some cellular towers and bingo, everybody's connected. The internet makes that connection a thousand times more powerfuld. And that connection is one of they keys to the salvation that was predicted. Information has been decentralized, it's very difficult even for a country ruled by senile, sadistic despots like China to keep its people ignorant.
Next to China, the world's largest and poorest countries, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia, are -- what, doubling their GDP every two or three years? The offshore outsourcing that we (and yes, even I, right here on SciForums) have been complaining about has been a boon to the people in those countries. Wealth is being decentralized. Not completely, but it's much less concentrated than it was fifty years ago and it's still going.
The status of women is slowly improving. It's still worse than despicable in a lot of places, but there is an entire infrared spectrum of squalor and despair, and they are moving up into the higher frequencies of that spectrum. In Latin America, women are banding together and forming their own cooperatives, dealing directly with wholesalers in New York instead of selling their woven goods through five levels of middleMEN. The Internet and FedEx are empowering them, as well as allowing them to make much more money from their enterprises. The Central Asia Project, to which Mrs. Fraggle and I send every cent of our meager charity money, is building schools throughout the Middle East, all of which welcome girls and some of which are girls-only. The education and enlightenment of women is the key to peace. Some of these schools offer the only alternative many parents have for their BOYS, which are the Saudi-funded terrorist training camps in their countries.
And from the standpoint of these nations, the best news probably is that the power of the First World is waning. China is poised to become the world's leading economic power. Latin America is becoming more democratic and as the influence of the lunatic, religious-right dominated U.S. fades, the stupid war on drugs that is tearing up the region will end in a truce.
The biggest problem for the nations you care about -- good for you, by the way :) -- is us. The First World. We've spent centuries keeping them down. Whether our countries sputter and fail and we become the next Ottoman Empire What's That?, or we simply come down a couple of pegs so that we're not driving around in $60,000 farm trucks disguised as station wagons for Klingons while they dream of being able to afford a motor scooter, our loss will be their gain.
There's nothing wrong with capitalism per se. It's the inevitable evolution of the combination of a civilization (which implies a community of strangers and a nice surplus of production) and a free economy (which implies individuals choosing what to do with their own share of the surplus). The problem with the world's economy from this perspective is that many of the world's residents simply have not achieved the level of surplus required to support a capitalistic economy.
If the Post-Industrial Era continues to level the disparities of production and consumption among various nations and demographic groups -- before ethnic and religious rivalries left over from the Stone Age blow the whole place up -- the people in the Third World will be enjoying the fruits of civilization and a free market soon enough, on a cosmic scale.
One of the casualties of the decentralization of wealth and production that the Post-Industrial Era will bring about will be the corporation. They won't play as big a part in the coming decades because they won't be needed. Huge pots of money won't be needed to launch new ventures on a sub-industrial scale. Nobody will need to buy or sell stock certificates and create a gigantic pool of phantom money whose machinations can destroy the lives of working people or even entire countries.
I should have inserted that comment earlier. But the problems you see with captialism are really caused by the existence of the corporation, not capitalism itself. The corporation is the creation of government, something they created to replace the aristocracy that was disappearing. Corporations do government's dirty work. Disempowering people, keeping them off guard and fighting among themselves, siphoning off all their purchasing power and confusing them about their futures. They can't be punished for their transgressions -- you can't imprison one or execute it and if you fine them they just pass the costs on to us -- and they're totally unaccountable. But they deflect our criticism away from government -- which we could conceivably control if we all voted the same way -- and toward themselves, making it totally impotent. We can rationally dream of a time when no gigantic organizations will be left with enough money to affect the course of politics in other countries.
As for petroleum, we won't need to rape every country for its supply once we all start working out of our homes instead of driving to work. If you're tired of the oil companies' control over your planet, give a cheer for telecommuting, the standard lifestyle of the Information Age.
09-21-04, 12:57 PM
I think both Fraggle and Undecided make very good points. This is not a simple issue and yet very little intellectual resources are spent on analyzing the issue. It is simplistic to reduce the issue to specific units or spheres, for from my understanding of the issue, they all feed upon each other. Thus, the current dictator is corrupt or bias because he stems from a society whereby corruptness is a way of survival. In order words, he gifts his family and friends positions of influence and wealth because from his conditioning, the whole had little to do with his position and his responsibility to the whole therefore is nil.
Corruption in African governments is not a problem with bribery as it is a problem with tribal alliances. The notion of the group as pertains to the state being of more importance than those of the tribe or extended family is pretty much nonexistent. Tribal strife even exists in the current day. The artificial boundaries that do divide the nations have not existed in the consciousness of the peoples long enough to warrant any meaning beyond the fact that this is the country they are from. It holds no other value. For the diaspora, the state and even the continent begins to hold more meaning as he attemps to reach back to his past or looks for his identity, but for the current inhabitant faced with the dire of everyday life, the notion or idea of the state is pretty much meaningless. His wants, affiliations and therefore responsibilities take onmore mundane meaning. I don't think Africa was ready or is ready to embrace nationalism as was and helped develop Europe into what it is today.
In response to your initial Wes, I don't think any culture is doomed to economic failure by virtue of said culture.
For the African, his whole econcomy is pretty much based on the exportation of his natural resources; his government does not taking responsibility for developing his land; there is no investment in intellectual development; the best trained and brightest are leaving the continent for safer and greener pasatures in Europe and north American and thus, increasing the divide as is. One problem feeds the other. It is not cyclical, nor is it linear.
I think the larger issue is whether external factors allow for the economic models existing within said culture to grow. I"ll explain: the current economic model that exists in modern Africa with respect to involvement in the global marketplace is at odds with that which exists within the states/countries themselves. Thus, you have countries that started producing cash crops for the benefit of their European rulers during colonization. The farmer, who partnered with his extended family to grow the crops first meant to feed himself and said family has instead been producing a cash crop like cocoa which has no immediate benefit unless the outsider-- the European-- needs it, and at prices that fluctuate with the market of the outsider. And therefore, whole industries are at the control of outsiders because these countries lack the refineries, etc to take these raw material and produce the products thmeselves. And for the few who do have the capacity of developing their own materials, they face the problem of the outsider refusing to buy their products or even their very own peoples refusing to buy their products. Factor in the the incapility of competing with a world market able to produce some of these goods are cheaper prices and also of richer governmnets able to subsidize whole industries and you have a big issue.
What you therefore have is a system whereby the country imports more than it exports. And worse, it imports the current necessities of food, medicine, metals, etc from European and Asian countries who imported the raw materials needed to make these products. So, on the global market, the African nation serves the same purpose he did during colonialism. He produces materials needed to create the products he then buys. Unfortunately for the African, refusal to obey these rules esssentially means an economic meltdown as he is not self substainable-- having not the ability to create that which he has to import. And in the midst of all this, throw in poverty and an underdeveloped infrastructure, disease, undereducation, a continuing mental drain and it should be no surprise that Africa is in its current state. How do you solve this mess? That is the question that still eats at me.