Culture and Development: Short Notes

Just in time for today’s lecture on economic development in Southeast Asia, and a week after the Asian values (or “listing our stereotypes of Asians”) class, a beautifully sarcastic post by Noah Smith on culture as an explanation for Chinese development. My frustration with culture as an explanation for “how Asian politics looks” is similar, although I don’t express it quite this way.

To head off such problems in our discussion of the politics of economic development in modern Southeast Asia, I plan today to walk through the classic Solow growth model and then explain that if they want to deploy politics or culture (or anything else) as a fundamental cause of Southeast Asian economic development, their choices are to apply it to TFP, capital, or labor. (I know that this simplifies growth accounting, but for pedagogical purposes and political science/Asian studies undergrads, it’s necessary.) The “discovery” that I hope that they make is that when you think really hard about that, culture—if not necessarily politics—isn’t a good candidate for being a cause of economic development.