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Cultures Merging

Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Cultures Merging
    Book Description:

    "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 ofCultures 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 Mergingwill be essential reading for anyone concerned about the interaction of cultures and markets around the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2711-4
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    • Chapter 1 The Revival of Cultural Explanation
      (pp. 3-30)

      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. The hope that a strong relationship would be found between economic and cultural change mostly faded during the 1960s and 1970s. Those who still believe that culture is formative, whether they are “real people” or the culturally inclined minority of economists, take culture as primary and the economy as secondary, seldom considering that it could be culture which is secondary. On the other hand, the majority of economists, who are trained to expect...

    • Chapter 2 Cultures Fluid and Sticky
      (pp. 31-51)

      Culture beckons our attention for at least two reasons. Firstly, although few economists now make much of it, the topic looms uninvestigated in the background of a surprising number of scholarly discussions. Secondly, in both developed and less-developed countries assertions about it are used to justify restricting individual freedom. Right-thinking people are expected to agree about how to live, how to worship, with whom to associate, what to watch and what to read, as if the powers that be and the cultural pundits are merely reminding us of our inheritance and duty. Both uses of culture deserve to be recognized...

    • Chapter 3 Culture as Mediocrity
      (pp. 52-84)

      The anthropological record contains astonishing sets of customs, many likely to strike outsiders as bizarre. It is as if there is nothing that has not been practiced somewhere by some group. Yet however strange other people’s customs may appear, they are usually interpreted as purposeful. They are assumed to meet real needs or at least to have done so in the past. The question is whispered, “who are we to set ourselves above our ancestors, tribal peoples, and so forth?”—which presupposes that people in other places and at other times were no sillier or more whimsical than we are,...

    • Chapter 4 The Means of Merging
      (pp. 85-107)

      Throughout prehistory and history the growing trend has been for societies, belief systems, and languages to come into contact, borrow from one another, and at times merge. The average size of cultures—groups who share beliefs and practices—has increased continually, though not continuously. When the degree of interaction rises, information becomes cheaper and available to more people. Because its price falls, more is consumed. Mark Casson remarks in an unpublished article that “in some cases the most important ‘stylised facts’ of history can be explained in terms of a simple hypothesis of falling information costs.” Over time, information costs...

    • Chapter 5 Institutions as Cryptogams
      (pp. 108-132)

      Cryptogamsmake up a class of flowerless plants named by the eighteenth-century Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, in anticipation that their hidden means of reproduction would eventually be discovered. We can borrow the term to describe the cryptic potential of a number of early institutions in Europe and need not pursue the botany. In the 1730s Linnaeus became the first president of the Swedish Academy of Science, which had as part of its remit “Economics, Trade, Useful Arts, and Manufactures.”¹ Had his concerns lain there, in social rather than natural science, he might have spotted the prospects of the institutions of...


    • Chapter 6 Cultures of Immigration
      (pp. 135-160)

      One way of testing how far cultures are fixed and the extent to which they are amalgams is to ask how immigrant societies develop. The question is, What travels? The “Great Experiment” of migration from Britain and Europe to Colonial America and the United States is especially illuminating. The flow of settlers was vast and lasted for centuries. At first glance, the process seems to have been a matter of transferring British society holus-bolus. Yet how much of the “invisible baggage” with which British colonists set out really did survive the trip? Did Britishness persist in some original or even...

    • Chapter 7 East Asia’s Experience
      (pp. 161-193)

      Much the greatest economic experiment of the past two generations has been the rise of East Asia. First came the British industrial revolution, second, the industrialization of Europe, third, the industrialization of the United States, and now, fourth, the “East Asian Miracle.” The transformation of East Asia can be seen as technological catch-up but is remarkable in its own right because of the grand scale, extreme rapidity, unexpectedness, and range of countries involved.¹

      In the aftermath of the Second World War, other parts of the world had been thought far more likely to achieve growth. East Asia was seen as...

    • Chapter 8 Economic Changes, Cultural Responses
      (pp. 194-222)

      In 1946 George Orwell sat in English pubs projecting the austerity that then gripped Britain into the totalitarian horror of1984. Most of his compatriots found his predictions all too plausible. Certainly, few imagined the prosperity of the late twentieth century, much less the freer lifestyles that accompanied it. Postwar wintriness took time to thaw, yet thaw it did. Americans call people who came to maturity in the 1950s “the generation that never showed up,” but even among their anxieties and pieties a more hedonistic existence was starting to seem possible, in much the way that rigid late Victorian and...

    • Chapter 9 Cultural Protection
      (pp. 223-252)

      “All classes of society are trades unionists at heart, and differ chiefly in the boldness, ability and secrecy with which they push their respective interests,” wrote Stanley Jevons as long ago as the 1880s.¹ We still live in a world of multiple distortions, where groups of producers engage in rent seeking and attempts to block trade and competition. As Mancur Olson observed about such coalitions, special interests brook no limitation on what they seek to take out of society’s common pot.² Apart from the dead hands of the farmers, those who come top for relentlessly trying to socialize risk while...


    • Chapter 10 Culture as Reciprocity
      (pp. 255-272)

      Within a generation or so after the Second World War mainstream economists had abandoned serious attempts at cultural explanation. This was partly because culture was hard to isolate and partly because other variables seemed more tractable and more significant. A surprising number did continue to allude to the value systems underlying economic growth and stagnation, but only in passing. Yet a matter assumed, however informally, to be fundamental should have been easier to elucidate. The fact that culture went on receiving casual mention in technical analysis may have testified to unease about the simplifications of formal modeling, together with memories...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-290)
  8. Index
    (pp. 291-297)