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The innocence of culture. An argument against global stereotype on culture for economic development

Updated on February 12, 2014

As an observer, I have always been keen to point out some of the misconceptions surrounding our existence as specie using patterns, trends and the eyes of my teachers to explore and communicate ideas for a better understanding of events and times. It is on this basis that I reasoned the concept of culture and some of its roles in economic development.

The innocence of culture

An argument against global stereotype on culture for economic development

By

Prince Edike C.

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Around the world today, as it has always been even in the time of early civilization, the way people live in a given period of time as been seen as their culture and of course, looked upon by some scholars and commentators as a key factor for economic development. However truth or controversial this theory may seems, the mere fact that the negative cultural behaviors evident in most developing countries, could undermine economic development, serves as a tunnel vision on this subject and were magnified to stereotype them and at the same time to justify this theory.

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Most of the people I came across in my journey along life and on papers, would argue on this very issue that- Developing countries are corrupt and lazy, live only for the now, love complacency, untrustworthy and uncooperative. These are few but some of the names poor countries around the world are being called by the rich countries.

In his well-researched book and probably one of the world’s most effective critic of globalization; Bad Samaritans, Ha-Joon Chang pointed out that; “All cultures have multiple characteristics, some positive and others negative for economic development. Given all this, it is not possible, nor useful to ‘explain’ a country’s economic success or failure in terms of its culture”…”economic development to a large extent creates a culture that it needs”. He now went further to assert that; “change in economic structures, change the way people live and interact with one another, which, in turn, change the way they understand the world and behave”. Examples of countries that were once poor but now rich and develop were given in his work. For instance, Japan, Sweden, Germany, and South Korea, were all stereotyped in the past but now possess some cultural traits that are supposedly to explain economic development (e.g.; hard-working, and time-conscious, e.t.c) are actually the results, rather than the causes of development. Therefore, the slow developmental rate of countries like Nigeria, Haiti or Philippines; whose capabilities to grow economically are unquestionable shouldn’t be blamed totally on the way the people live but on the existing- poor institutions and policies that undermine growth and development which ultimately affects their values and behaviors that drives their certain actions and thinking.

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Do you think the culture of any nation could hinder its economic development?

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Let’s take the Philippine islands for example, a beautiful but developing south-east Asia Archipelagos of its kind. Surrounded by rapidly growing economies across its bordering seas yet more populated; this island is rich in diverse culture and people. Within the islands, one could see many other cultures and people, all living in harmony and hope for a better future.

The fun loving, lazy, untrustworthy and dirty Filipinos, could hinder economic development, are some of the statement you hear when you meet foreigners leaving the island after enjoying its beauty and people. However, to counter this statement, one needs not only to look at the impressive records of the overseas Pinoy workers but also the activities of the local ones at the malls, schools, hospitals, farms and restaurants, e.t.c. The formal, work even more than the host country’s employees, sending all they earn back home to sustain their family and at the same time helping the local economy. While the later work so hard, earning far too less yet happy and could even share with their extended family members.

“All cultures have multiple characteristics, some positive and others negative for economic development. Given all this, it is not possible, nor useful to ‘explain’ a country’s economic success or failure in terms of its culture”…”economic development to a large extent creates a culture that it needs” - Ha-Joon Chang.

Laziness, un-productivity, complacency and not being time conscious are economic conditions and one of the causes of laziness is unemployment and even when one is employed, if he or she is undervalued and/or underpaid; enthusiasm towards work will be lacking. Moreover, developing countries offer few devices with which their citizens can plan for their future making them live only for the now. Others negative traits like lack of creativity and intellectual abilities stem from substandard institutions and policies and programs designed to train and absorbed those cosigned at the margin of the society.

So, in order to promote enlightened behavioral traits, first, there is need to pursue sustainable economic development by the governments of developing countries. Hypothetical examples of this theory is witness when little development project aimed at the locals by the government in many poor countries recently. A sign post indicating a “waste bin”, “maintain right at side-walks” or “do not liter or spit on the road” in the streets of the Philippines for example, abruptly changed the way the people often use these public facilities for better. It is on this ground that I suggest that for them not to be called names and labeled as such, the government responsibility has been further narrowed to fully embrace a rapid socio-environmental and economic development in order to foster a positive change in the ongoing rebranding crusade of third world countries. The only negative culture that many of the developing nations need to unlearn is their attitude towards foreign goods and services and I believe that in as much as they remain consumer-drive economies, the thirst for very high quality and cheap purchases need to be sacrificed for the local ones in order to raise and protect the infant industries and become self-sufficient while growing their manufacturing and production bases, and expanding developmental capabilities through direct foreign investment and strengthening the local institution to be global relevant.

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To motivate this trend, vital policies aimed at building the nation, as wells those aimed at improving its foreign relations, should be able to gear local productions and social development; even if it prioritizes capability-building programs and less on the monetary gains. That way, the short-term sacrifice of low lifestyle and consumption would pay off at long last as the country built its manufacturing base down which will also draw along the people to value time, be productive, work smart and not just hard and to live for the now as well as planning for the future.

Without doubt, culture has a high potential of generating economic development and also help sustain it. This is the reason why developing nations need to recognize the instruments within the cultures that would propel economic development and build their model from them while remaining globally sensitive.

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The journey that brought most of the developed countries in the world today to where they are was made on this very narrow and sacrificial route. Before they started to compete, they were all stereotyped also but they grew in their own terms, learning to take advantage of what they have undermining the attractive alternatives.

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