The Not-So-Curious Absence of American Emulationists in the Third World?
By Bryan Caplan
Lots of interesting responses to yesterday’s puzzle. The least convincing point to factors (such as European ethnicity) that apply equally well to the Soviet Union. The best fall into three main categories:
1. Anti-market bias. Despite the far greater success of the American model, relying on markets and competition to modernize your society is much less emotionally appealing than socialist central planning.
2. Power-hunger. The American model restricts opportunities for political leaders to wield power, and political leaders generally love wielding power. So if you’re not going to be pro-Soviet, you want to be a socialistic nationalist instead.
3. The soft sell. The Soviet bloc funded a massive multi-decade international propaganda campaign on the glories of their system. The U.S., not so much.
Several people suggested that the Soviet model was more popular because it looked like a faster route to development. Whatever the actual facts, the Soviet Union claimed to have dragged itself from total backwardness to modernity in two decades. I can see how this argument would have some broad appeal, but it’s hard to see how it could explain the near-absence of American emulationism. After all, the Soviet Union still looked blatantly worse than the U.S. during post-war years. For every person calling the Soviet model a quicker route, there should have been another person scoffing, “Promises, promises. The U.S. approach demonstrably works.”
The best counter-example to my initial claim comes from Savva Shanaev:
I believe Singapore counts as a pretty clear example of Western
emulationism, British emulationism rather than American emulationism,
but still. I suppose one of the reasons why copying Western institutions
post-WW2 would be harder and less appealing even for well-meaning Third
world elites is that Western-educated intellectuals promoting Western
institutions were much rarer at the time than Soviet-educated
intellectuals promoting Soviet institutions. Most of the Soviet-type
experiments were at least partly consulted and supervised by
Soviet-educated specialists. Singapore had its elites educated in the
UK, fascinated by and firmly believing in the “old”, more
classical-liberal Western institutions. Undoubtedly, that helped to
carry out a rather successful transition of Singapore. Western
intellectuals, in turn, were in their majority fascinated by social
engineering ideas and often argued for at least some Soviet emulationism
themselves, especially right after the WW2. Therefore, it would
arguably be rather hard to find a Western so-called “free-market
economist” post-WW2 to assist the elites in any kind of “Western
Even for Singapore, though, the emulation seems pretty covert. “Let’s be like the British” is not an important theme in Lee Kuan Yew’s massive autobiography. In fact, I don’t remember it being a theme at all, though he did take the time to explain why he didn’t emulate Hong Kong.