Thursday, May 31, 2012

The "C" Word

Victor Davis Hanson explains Why Bonn Is Not Athens:

So Switzerland supposedly has everything going against it, and yet it is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Why and how?

To answer that is also to learn why roughly 82 million Germans produce almost as much national wealth as do 130 million Greeks, Portuguese, Italians, and Spaniards. Yet the climate of Germany is also somewhat harsh; it too has no oil or gas. By 1945, German cities lay in ruins, while Detroit and Cleveland were booming. The Roman historian Tacitus remarked that pre-civilized Germany was a bleak land of cold weather, with little natural wealth and inhabited by tribal savages. Race does not explain present-day national wealth. From 500 B.C. to A.D. 1300, Switzerland and Germany were considered brutal and backward in comparison to classical Greece and Rome, and later, to Renaissance Venice and Florence.

Instead, culture explains far more — a seemingly taboo topic when economists nonchalantly suggest that contemporary export-minded Germans simply need to spend and relax like laid-back southern Mediterraneans, and that the latter borrowers should save and produce like workaholic Germans to even the playing field of the European Union.

But government-driven efforts to change national behavior often ignore stubborn cultural differences that reflect centuries of complex history as well as ancient habits and adaptations to geography and climate. Greeks can no more easily give up siestas than the Swiss can mandate two-hour afternoon naps. If tax cheating is a national pastime in Palermo, by comparison it is difficult along the Rhine.

This also explains why conservatives get so worked up by what we view as America's cultural decline. Because a country's culture has far more to do with its long-term success than its resources or infrastructure.