Re: individuals,collectives and CDSs

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Sun, 11 Aug 1996 20:17:05 +0000

At 02:06 PM 8/8/96 +0000, John McCreery wrote:
>Continuing the discussion of why the bifurcation of social reality into
>"the individual" and "the collective" may not be a good thing.
>Among those of us who live and work in East Asia there is an ongoing debate
>over how to explain the extraordinary economic performance of, first, Japan
>and, then, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore. Conventionally the argument has pitted
>rational-choice theorists who are heavily influenced by classic free-market
>economics against culturalists who who urge the importance of Confucian
>values which favor hard work and self-sacrifice in the interests of the
>group. The former are baffled by the fact that while classical economic
>theory suggests that political interference in the market will hamper
>economic growth, economies in which there has been a great deal of
>interference have been outstripping the rest of the world. Culturalists,
>meanwhile, have a hard time dealing with history. Why, if hard-work and
>self-sacrifice are the key was there no surge of economic growth in either
>Tokugawa Japan or either late imperial or later Maoist China?
>There is a revisionist approach,much maligned by both sides, whose
>beginning is usually ascribed to the work of Chalmers Johnson, who
>identified Japan as what he called a Capitalist Development State (CDS). In
>discussing Johnson's work, Karel van Wolferen, the author of _The Enigma of
>Japanese Power_ points out that classical economics is an individualist
>theory whose animus is directed to getting the state off the backs of
>individual businessmen and corporations who wish to be free to do whatever
>they like. The socialist alternative has been to imagine people working for
>the good of the whole; in the less than perfect world that precedes the
>completion of the revolution, the political apparatus governs on behalf of
>the whole and is given the power to suppress those who persist in being
>selfish. One theory is individualist, the other is collectivist, but both
>share the basic assumption that the regulatory state and market-oriented
>business exist in a state of perpetual conflict, with one opposed to the
>other. Both are blind to the possibility, developed in Japan following the
>Meiji Restoration, of an interventionist state that sees its duty as lying
>in active support of business while preventing the kind of inequities that
>might lead to revolution. In practice the result is a dense network of
>social relationships that are neither wholly individualistic (individuals
>and corporations--who are legal individuals--do not always get their own
>way, and those who get too far out of line will be punished and reined in)
>nor wholly collectivist (there is still lots of room for maneuver and
>plenty of support for fierce competition).
>Is all well? Of course not. Japan and its East Asian neighbors are human
>societies. They have been successful in promoting extraordinarily rapid
>economic growth but are now having to face the consequences in
>environmental degradation and what has become endemic corruption in
>government-business relationships.In Japan, the process of building
>consensus has become so complex that, while it may perform admirably in the
>long-term, it becomes a stumbling block when sudden crises have to be dealt
>with: last year the Kobe earthquake and the Aum subway gas attacks; this
>year the O172 e.coli bacteria related food-poisoning scandal.
>Does all of East Asia work the same way? Only in part. There are plenty of
>specific differences to complicate the picture.One thinks, for example, of
>the giant chaebol in Korea in contrast to the Taiwanese and Overseas
>Chinese penchant for smaller companies: the result of the Chinese belief
>expressed by the Taiwanese maxim that "It's better to be the cock in your
>own barnyard, than the water buffalo in someone else's." Even in thinking
>just about Chinese, we have to recognize that the histories and
>institutional arrangements that have shaped economic growth in Taiwan, Hong
>Kong and Singapore all have their special characteristics. And mainland
>China? That's a whole 'nother ball game.
>Needless to say, the debate goes on. One thing, however, is very clear.
>Framing issues in terms of the individual vs. the collective barely
>scratches the surface. Worse yet it can be seriously misleading.
>>John McCreery

I think the individual vs. collective paradigm is a very useful paradigm,
but is by no means a sufficient one on which to base a fruitful discussion
of economic growth. It is particularly useful (and probably a sufficient
one) in solving another, and even more gnawing contemporary issue, that of
racial discrimination, which the paradigm of multiculturalism will never
solve, and will only aggravate. Individualism, as against collectivism, the
theme of Western culture, brings many challenges and paradoxes with it, e.g.
opportunity vs. inherited privilege, economic merit vs. many other kinds of
merit, good luck vs. bad luck (safety-nets), government regulation vs.
laissez-faire (prevention of fraud, violence, discrimination.), etc.

As you say, in the Far East, the debate goes on. It also goes on in the
rest of the world. Western culture, its ideals, especially its ability to
accommodate diversity, is providing the premises with the most vitality for
that debate, and the U. S., as the leading exponent of that culture at this
time, is the prime moderator. The government of our country, and the
economic community, and the entertainment community, are assuming the chief
roles. Our academic community, for the most part, is way behind.

Best wishes. R. Snower