My civilization bet with Garett Jones fizzled out.  Now it’s time to review all my other offers.

Richard writes:

The hardest, fairest measures I can think of are low
birth rates plus increasing wealth. Might want to use polity scores too.
Then again, Japan has all these things, and many don’t see it as

All reasonable, even though I see low birth rates as a bad thing.  Per-capita GDP will keep rising.  The Total Fertility Rate will decline in the Third World and remain below replacement in the First World.  Polity Scores will rise.  I’ll bet on any or all of these for the next fifty years.

Maxim writes:

Because “western civilization” is so broad, I wonder if
the least bad way to do this would be to track Pew’s polls of people in
other countries and “do you have a favorable view of… [The US, France,
etc.]” That certainly seems to be the most literal way to do it, though
I suppose the drawback is when western civilization acts contrary to
the *ideal* of western civilization, such as but launching a war or
something. Which are we trying to measure here, western civ as it
actually exists or as our ideal vision of it?

If the ideal vision, you may want to measure with some basket of
values (like Western movie sales + sales of The Wealth of Nations +
non-religiosity in surveys, or something like that…

As written, these are too vague to bet.  But suitably refined versions seem reasonable.
ChacoKevy writes:

How about tracking the S&P vs Hang Seng in ability to generate revenue in neutral global markets?

I see China’s entry into the capitalist world as a great triumph of Western civ.  So comparing S&P vs. Hang Seng seems off-point.

Dangerman writes:

I don’t think defining “reasonable” is the hard part of
this bet… I think defining “Western” civilization is the difficult

What about metrics that used to commonly be associated with “Western
Civilization” like: (1) percentage of the population that identifies as
Christian; (2) the pervasiveness of monogamy as the fundamental social
structure underlying family formation; or (3) stable to
above-replacement fertility rates.

I predict that over any given moderate timeline (2-10 years) at least
two out of three of the above metric will decline, and so “Western
Civilization” is NOT in fact winning.

Will pre-pay $100.

“Western” is indeed the rub.  I see religiosity, monogamy, and high fertility as three ways that the pre-20th-century West resembled other pre-modern societies.  Not only are these traits not distinctively Western; they’re now distinctively non-Western. 

Andrew S writes:

I’d go for measures that emphasize individual liberty to
quantify western civilization (especially versus places like Beijing or
Tehran). Measures I would use:

1) Percentage of articles published in a country’s major newspapers (or online news sites) critical of its government.

2) Number of officially banned books

3) Percent of country in jail for victimless crimes (drugs, politics, speech, etc.)

4) Correlation between probability of being in jail and personal wealth prior to being charged

5) Number of an enumerated list of individual rights that are not
prohibited or restricted by law (practice religion x, travel within
country, dance in street, …)

(1), (2), (3), and (5) all seem good as long as we’ve got solid measures.  (4) could, for all I know, be higher in Western countries, so I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

mico writes:

Observant Islamic population of the globe will grow faster than the non-islamic population of western countries.

Most western countries will have both immigrant chauvinist and native
nationalist parties polling over 20% of the vote consistently within 30
years, except Asian countries whose populations will collapse.

The current western culture set doesn’t even manage population
replacement so in the absence of genocidal treatment of others (again
not western in the sense you mean) the question is when not if it dies.

Since the non-Islamic population of Western countries is shrinking, I’d lose the first bet unless there’s a high threshold for “observant.”  The chauvinist/nationalist party bet is interesting, but too vague to bet.  Is the U.S. Republican Party already “native nationalist”?

Aside: A culture that makes converts doesn’t need biological population replacement to survive.

Eric Rall writes:

1. Percentage of population proficient in English as a
first or second language. Proxy for Anglo-American cultural influence
and for the value placed on business, educational, and cultural contact
with the West. Might also be worthwhile to include French and German
proficiency, if you don’t want to just use Americanization as a proxy
for Westernization.

2. McDonald’s franchises relative to the population. McDonald’s is
widely seen as a symbol of Westernization in general and Americanization
in particular, so franchises flourishing signals both cultural
acceptance of Westernization and institutional access to western

3. International revenue for Hollywood movies. Same logic as #2, with emphasis on cultural acceptance.

4. Percentage of Western-educated people in powerful or influential
roles (political office-holders, CEOs, college professors, etc).
Potentially problematic, since a decline could indicate an improvement
in the perceived quality of domestic educational institutions rather
than a decline in value placed on a Western education.

I’ll bet on more specific versions of (1), (3), and (4) .  (2) is too narrow, since McDonald’s is an inferior good.  Multinational franchising in general though is bet-worthy. 

Grant Gould writes:

These are suggestions, not offers to bet, as I doubt our views diverge enough to find odds between them.

* Fraction of earth’s population who are legally permitted to blaspheme every god, prophet, avatar, and messiah
* Number of countries in which a double-digit fraction of the
population has seen one of the highest-grossing American films of the
past ten years (note: Measure must include estimate of people watching
via piracy!)
* Fraction of the world population that believes that fraud and
embezzlement are more serious crimes than divorce or homosexuality
* Fraction of the world population where the expected (severity times
likelihood) punishment for tax evasion exceeds the expected punishment
for complaining about tax rates

The “legally permitted to blaspheme every…” requirement is so stringent, and population growth in the First World so low, that I wouldn’t want to bet at even odds.  I would bet that a continuous global ranking of de facto religious freedom will rise.  (2) and (3) seem good, as does (4), assuming low expected punishment for complaining is what counts as “Western.”

Peter H writes:

So we want a measure that’s concrete, tied to participation in the global community, and hard to game.

How about change in % of GDP that constitutes foreign trade? It’s
imperfect as a measure of westernization, but not terrible as it tells
us about engagement with the world at some level. First derivative of
the foreign trade percentage gives us the answer to “getting more or
less western” and has a nice zero point, as well as controlling for
current patterns – we’re just looking for direction of the trend.

So what say you Bryan?

I’ll bet on this over the medium-term (10 or more years), even though there are signs of a cyclical reversal right now.

phil writes:

I think total share of world economy held by western
countries (US, Canada, EU, Australia) is likely (maybe almost certain)
to fall

you could probably find a lot of takers at a certain ratio of that question

I suspect you largely attribute that to a ‘Westernization of the
rest’ effect and wouldn’t find that a particularly attractive bet


Daniel Fountain writes:

I would classify “Westernization” as “expanding
individualism”. That is to say a respect for the choices of the
individual. Modern Western Civilization is, at its heart, a society of
live and let live. Obviously there are grotesque exceptions but this is
the creed by which the west has taken over in the last 200 years or so.

For legal institutions there is one clear metric by which to gauge:
Percent of individuals in jail or fined for a non-externality inducing
actions. Also along these lines is the percent of laws dedicated to
banning non-externality inducing actions.

Since virtually everything creates externalities, this isn’t a good bet.  Betting on fraction of the population in jail for canonically “victimless crimes” is okay, though.

For social institutions the biggest innovation western civ has to
offer is the education of all groups. So a country could be said to be
westernizing if the mean education level of women is closer to the mean
education level of men over time.

If you rephrase to “average female education minus average male education is rising,” I’ll sign.

Similarly the lack of racial crimes is
a core tenant of modern western civ, so the less racially based crime
there is the more the country is westernizing.

Interesting, but too vague to bet.

Brad writes:

How about the number of visa applications from
China,Russia,and other non-western Nations. Measure where the world’s
people are moving.

If they move to Western countries, does this show Westernization or the opposite?

Bottom line: If I said a metric is good, I’m ready to bet on it at even odds once the metrics and stakes have been clearly specified.  For the rest, I’m open to revisions.