Culture and Institutions

Bryan Caplan writes,

Simple economics implies that government enterprises should be far worse than they really are.

I am reading (admittedly a bit late to the party) Peter T. Leeson’s collection of essays on anarchy. In at least one of the essays, he takes the view that the cultural margin is more important than the institutional margin. That is, he seems to be saying that there are no societies in which anarchy will work well but government would work poorly, or vice-versa. Instead, on the one hand there are well-developed cultures, which could have good government or good anarchy, while on the other hand there are poorly-developed cultures, which could have only bad government or bad anarchy.

I have referred often to the debate about the relative primacy of culture and institutions. I tend to side with the culturalists. The classic institutionalist counter-example is Korea. I think that it is reasonable to suggest that North Korea would be much improved under anarchy. But in general, I think that Leeson’s view, which I take to be one of cultural primacy, holds.

This entry was posted in books and book reviews, Libertarian Thought. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Culture and Institutions

  1. Matt H says:

    This makes sense in a game played once, but there is a feedback loop, having either government or anarchy puts pressure on the culture to change. Anarchy will always move the culture into clannish directions, government changes the culture too, and the form of government can portend very different changes.

  2. Handle says:

    Off topic; I apologize.

    In your three-languages model of politics, it is usually the conservatives using the barbarism-civilization axis, and the progressives using the oppression-oppressed axis.

    But given the recent murder of Sotloff by Islamic State terrorists, the vocabulary being used highly progressive sources to describe the event are very conservative sounding. Just today I heard President Obama, Secretary Kerry, reporters and commentators on NPR and C-SPAN have all talked about the event specifically using the words, “uncivilized”, “barbaric”, “savages”, “fiends”, “monstrous”, “beastly”, and so on.

    It seems that they are being quite genuine in using these words as their honest appraisals and not paying lip service to the concepts.

    So, what do you make of all that?

    • djf says:

      Yes, the Obama administration and its little friends in the media are willing to describe the actions of IS as “barbaric” and so, but, sooner or later, they get around to asserting that IS is an outlier among Muslims, opposed by mainstream Islam as represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and even Al Qaeda (which, years ago, used to be set off from the rest of Islam in the same way). Thus are “Muslims” preserved as a virtuous-by-definition “oppressed” group. Hamas is really just as savage as IS (I prefer not to think about how the three kidnapped Israeli kids died), but it does not get called out as barbaric by the great and good of the West.

      • Handle says:

        There’s something to this. Maybe the genuine shared axis is simply tribal ‘ingroup-outgroup’, and that both conservatives use the same civilization-barbarism language, but have different sets of ingroup-allies and outgroup-enemies.

        Remember when progressives mocked Bush for his use of the religiously and morally-loaded word ‘evil’ in “Axis of Evil”? But progressives are equally comfortable using the term reflexively when it suits their purposes.

        Progressives seem to me to not see conservative countrymen or coethnics as really part of their in-group, and instead leapfrog their loyalties to exotic others. But if those others cross certain lines, then the xenophilia hits its limits, and the “enemies of my foreign friends are my enemies too”.

        But the willingness of areligious American officials to make declarative assertions on the ‘real’ nature of Islam (and other religions) is somewhat stunning, especially in contrast to the usual rule of American jurisprudence which is to admit complete incompetency to address such matters and refuse to engage with the matter entirely.

        Here is the transcript from Secretary Kerry’s speech on 3-Sept:

        Let me be really clear as a starting point for today’s conversation: The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murderers, when we saw Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who left home in Florida in order to tell the story of brave people in the Middle East – we saw him brutally taken from us in an act of medieval savagery by a coward hiding behind a mask.

        Now barbarity, sadly, is not new to our world. Neither is evil. And I can’t think of a more graphic description of evil than what we witnessed yesterday and before that with James Foley and what we see in the unbelievably brutal mass executions of people because of their sectarian or religious affiliation. We have taken the fight to this kind of savagery and evil before, and believe me, we will take it again. We’re doing it today, and when terrorists anywhere around the world have murdered our citizens, the United States held them accountable, no matter how long it took. And those who have murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria need to know that the United States will hold them accountable too, no matter how long it takes.

        I want to emphasize – (applause) – but here today, what is really important – and I want to take advantage of this podium and of this moment to underscore as powerfully as I know how that the face of Islam is not the butchers who killed Steven Sotloff. That’s ISIL. (Applause.) The face of Islam is not the nihilists who know only how to destroy, not to build. It’s not masked cowards whose actions are an ugly insult to the peaceful religion that they violate every single day with their barbarity and whose fundamental principles they insult with their actions.

        The real face of Islam is a peaceful religion based on the dignity of all human beings. It’s one where Muslim communities are leading the fight against poverty. It’s one where Muslim communities are providing basic healthcare and emergency assistance on the front lines of some of our most devastating humanitarian crises. And it is one where Muslim communities are advocating for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the most basic freedom to practice one’s faith openly and freely. America’s faith communities, including American Muslims, are sources of strength for all of us. They’re an essential part of our national fabric, and we are committed to deepening our partnerships with them.

Comments are closed.