Culture, Capitalism, and Freedom
By Arnold Kling
One of Tyler Cowen’s readers asks for recommendations of books that examine the cultural requirements for liberty, and Tyler has a number of good suggestions.
My instinct is to start with an evolutionary perspective. How did we get out of the habit of seeing people outside of our immediate tribe or clan as enemies, so that we could trade with them? (Even now, of course, the tribal mindset affects attitudes toward international trade. See Dobbs, Lou.) I remember Paul Seabright’s The Company of Strangers being about that, but I remember not feeling very satisfied after I read it. There is also Non-zero by Robert Wright, which I have not read.
Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues has something to say about a lot of topics, including this one. Douglass North has thought a lot about the issue. See what I call the NWW paper.
My mental model of economic and political life, institutions, and culture is a pyramid, with culture the base on which rest institutions, on which rests economic and political performance. That is the framework implicit in my essay on the What Causes Prosperity?.
I think that North would view institutions as having some degree of exogeneity, albeit limited. That is, when a culture is not too averse to open trade, changes in political structure can push the polity in the direction of what he calls an “open-access order,” in which competition for political power and economic well-being is relatively fair and open. But if a culture is too tied up in clan loyalties, I doubt that North would see a transition to an open-access order as feasible.
UPDATE: Read the comments on this post. They are interesting.