Saturday, June 02, 2007

Trust, Democracy, Religion, and Asian Values

Trust is the basis for civilization. The promise of rewards from investment must hold true if a society is to become prosperous. If your neighbor or your government stands to steal from you, why invest your money, labor and efforts? Key to Judeo-Christian values is the 10th Commandment. Did this have an effect in the material wealth of the west as opposed to the east? The east seems to be developing materially to the levels of the west. Japan certainly has, what about China?

The Japan Times has an interesting article on this topic.

Religion: prop or antidote to capitalism?


PRINCETON, New Jersey — A provocative book written by a Japanese mathematician has reignited the debate about whether there are specifically "Asian" values....

......In particular, it argues that liberal democracy is a Western invention that does not fit well with the Japanese or Asian character.....

The reasoning is peculiar, and seems to revive a 19th-century critique, usually associated with Nietzsche, that Christianity (and Islam) produces an acquiescent or even subservient mentality, in contrast to the heroic virtues of classical antiquity or of warrior societies, such as the world of the Japanese samurai......

........Some thinkers, most notably Max Weber, floated the idea that capitalism must be sustained by a value system that could not initially be created from within. Almost every modern analyst, however, has come to the conclusion that Weber's attempt to link that capitalist spirit historically to a form of Christianity, namely Protestantism, is fatally flawed.

To begin with, the founders of Protestantism, Martin Luther and John Calvin, were, as Weber recognized, more hostile to the dynamic capitalistic world of the Renaissance than was the Catholic Church. Indeed, pious Catholic Italian city-states were the cradle of early modern capitalism.

But there are two crucial aspects of the debate on religious values that should not be overlooked:

First, the core of Weber's argument was that religious values that emphasize restraint and a sense of duty may support dependability and reliability in business relations, which is especially vital in societies that are just opening up market relations. Where there is a legacy of violence and suspicion, it is hard for people to feel secure enough to enter into long-term contracts. They tend to look for short-term gains at the expense of others, reinforcing a generalized skepticism about the market.............

The last paragraph hits upon the "trust" aspect of society. A society in which there is a large degree of trust tends to look long term. A low trust society develops a much shorter outlook.

It's ironic that high trust America (as I perceive it) is losing the race in the automobile industry to Japan, another high trust society. I think it's the MBA-ing of America. Two iconic American companies known for innovation, 3M, and IBM have been hit hard by this short-term bottomline attitude. Why invest your best efforts when your over paid corporate masters may want your head?

Democracy works well only in a high trust atmosphere, perhaps that's where we are failing in Iraq. Entrusting a democracy to a people tortured by a brutal dictatorship perhaps came too quickly.

Where is China going in the 21st century? It is a relatively low trust society and likely to remain so. It's hard to plan for the long term when government may change on a whim and demand your goods or money or even your life. A good article explaining the situation in China:

The Empire of Lies
Guy Sorman

The twenty-first century will not belong to China.

The Western press is full of stories these days on China’s arrival as a superpower, some even heralding, or warning, that the future may belong to her. Western political and business delegations stream into Beijing, confident of China’s economy, which continues to grow rapidly. Investment pours in. Crowning China’s new status, Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But China’s success is, at least in part, a mirage.......[more]

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