Thursday, January 05, 2006

Anglo-Saxon Hegemony

In an article in The National Interest, Lawrence Mead takes a swing at explaining why countries dervived from Anglo-Saxon migrations (Great Britain's former colonies: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) remain at the forefront of global military and economic leadership. The focus of Mead's explanation for this self-evident phenomena are ideas. Specifically, the economic and cultural ideas on which Anglo-Saxons built their societies.

But why are the Anglos so rich? Principally because they are comfortable with capitalism. A special propensity to "truck, barter and exchange" appeared in England even in medieval times. The English became rich by developing a larger and freer internal market than rival countries. They also had an aristocracy more open to enterprise than continental rivals, and other entrepreneurs arose outside the landed elite. Due to these assets, the Industrial Revolution appeared first in Britain. The resulting wealth largely explains Britain's hegemony during the 19th century. It took Britain's European rivals most of a century to catch it.

The United States, lacking any premodern social order, built its culture and institutions even more fully around the market economy. And where Britain was an island, the United States was a continent. The American combination of confident capitalism with massive scale is equaled nowhere else. So the United States became a powerhouse of wealth and innovation with which it seems no other country can compete.

In recent decades, it did seem that Anglo economies were losing ground to eager rivals in Europe or Asia, pre-eminently Japan. But over the last quarter-century, the Anglos have trimmed taxes and subsidies, deregulated markets, curbed trade unions, cut welfare benefits and exposed their private sectors to ruthless restructuring. The end result is that the United States remains the world's richest country, while the British have the most dynamic large economy in Europe. At the end of the 20th century, the five Anglo countries led the world in overall economic policy. Not by accident, they also rank high in military expenditure.

Of course, capitalism works pretty well even for non-Anglos, though not necessarily all non-Anglos. For instance, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Korea and China are not "Anglo" cultures, yet they have proven remarkably adept at integrating and profiting from capitalism. True, Hong Kong benefited from British colonization - which imparted the British cultural tradition; and Japan was occupied and its legal system resculpted by the US. However, China and Korea have managed to adopt capitalism more or less on their own terms (the former even after specifically rejecting it for decades). So how have they succeeded where others failed? Is there some cultural element inherent in those societes which makes their embrace of capitalism easier?

Mead notes that a crucial aspect of Anglo capitalism is the rule of law:

The success of the market in Anglo countries did not occur in a vacuum. It reflects good governance. As early as the twelfth century, independent royal courts gained authority over all of England. The rule of law protected property and contract against force and fraud, and that was critical to the country's early economic dynamism. A broader tradition developed that government should be impartial. It should publicly explain its policies, and functionaries should be honest.

Impartial governance worked over time to liberate enterprise. The medieval economy, in Britain as elsewhere, was riddled with monopolies, guilds and other restrictions. But over the centuries these came to be seen as corrupt. In a regime where policies had to be explained, special privileges could not ultimately be justified. So mercantilism was ended, monopolies abolished and financial markets developed. Adam Smith proved the superiority of the free market, and in the 19th century Britain became the first country to adopt free trade.

The British passed the rule of law, like capitalism, on to their colonies, and it was the most precious of their gifts. In America, political and economic competition can look like a free-for-all, but it is undergirded by a formidable legal order. Enterprise is free yet regulated to limit collusion and other abuses. Most people pay their taxes and obey the law. A civic ethos suffuses the regime. Abuses and corruption occur, but they are exposed and redressed, as in the recent Enron scandal. American judges and juries are not for sale, which is why drug kingpins fear extradition to the United States. Equal opportunity, based on an elaborate education system, is generous. The whole system rests on a commitment to public impartiality that America imbibed, like mother's milk, from its British forebears.

Highly developed civil ethos and legal systems existed in China and Korea long before their contact with the West. Cultures that are predisposed to notions of the rule of law will be significantly more successful than those lacking that predisposition. This, Mead argues, may explain why most Third World nations cannot successfully govern themselves, and why they cannot transition to a capitalist economy.

In the Third World, in contrast, lack of the rule of law is a worse hindrance to development than any economic problem. Regimes are systematically corrupt. While nearly all economies today are formally capitalist, few are fully competitive. Officials often shield favored firms from answering to the law or the consumer. Without an ethos of impartiality, democratization achieves little. Elections merely change which politicians have their feet in the trough.

Mead is correct to insist that - as a prominent philosopher was fond of pointing out - ideas have consequences. Societies founded on successful ideas will succeed, whilst those founded on less successful (or downright wrong) ideas will flounder and fail. But ideas alone cannot explain the success of the Anglosphere. Nor do\ cultural predispositions completely explain why some non-Anglo cultures can successfully implement those ideas, while others cannot. Mead avoids any Jared Diamond-style linking of geography and climate to Anglo-Saxon success (though most Anglo-Saxon descended nations do seem to inhabit the same general climatic zones and feature generally similar geographies), and he steers clear of any biological explanation. But is it any coincidence that the but economic success of entire nations is always positively correlated with average national IQ? Or that the only significant economic challenge (and possibly a future military challenge) to Anglo dominance comes from the high-IQ nations of Asia? Of course, IQ remains the topic still barely able to speak its name in polite discourse, much less academia.


At 11:55 PM , Blogger Steve Sailer said...

In terms of international leadership, the English-speaking countries have the natural advantage of having distinct water borders, which mean they typically haven't had territorial ambitions that threaten other important countries. In contrast, Germany, due to its location in the middle of a vast plain without clear-cut natural boundaries, has seldom been trusted by its neighbors.

At 10:36 AM , Blogger al fin said...

Anglo-Saxons inherited a sense of ownership of the world from the sea-going British Empire that birthed the Anglic nations. British adoption of capitalism is what drove the British Empire to its worldwide extent. British openness to people of high IQ, although not perfect, was great enough to let the best rise to the top and help drive progress.

China might acquire a similar hegemony were it not for its "top-down" confucianism and communism in social structure. Chinese intelligence scores are higher on average than any european or anglo nation. That native intelligence is confined and trapped--not allowed to rise to the top--due to a non-meritocratic system.

China, to avoid the "landlocked" nature of Germany, must conquer Taiwan, to break the "blockade" of islands off its coast.

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At 10:08 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph is bullshit. High IQ can merely be outcome of better education in a better economy.


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