Can economies grow without losing their identity?
(picture from Wix's library)
Hello everyone! Yes, I’m back from (or to) the other side of the world… literally in my case (the other side of the equator).
This month’s article is inspired by a thought I had when visiting a few European countries: can economies develop while keeping their cultural identity? This begs the question: do we all need to become identical in order to grow?
This is something I have been considering for a time, especially after living in Peru for several years. In a related article (which you can find here), I briefly explain the concept of a “culture of poverty”, which I blame for the lack of economic progress in middle-income countries. I stand by this assessment, which means that some cultural norms must change for the economy to make progress.
Economic growth is often associated with a lost of cultural traditions. It is indeed true that new economic activities can displace traditional ones. We can think of mining industries disrupting small communities or industrial production replacing traditional agriculture. These activities will hopefully be best for most people in the country… but even so they tend to create marginalized groups that lose their way of life. In Canada, for example, the growth of our cities and industries was incompatible with the hunting traditions of the First Nations (the autochthones of North America). Europeans disturbed migration patterns of animals that were part of their culture. This meant that economic growth forced certain communities to abandon some of their traditions.
Thankfully, there are many ways to grow an economy. Although certain things seem to be mandatory (as discussed in the previously mentioned article), much is left to the cultural context of each country. In Europe, I went through seven countries with very distinct cultures but fairly comparable economic development (meaning: all high-income countries). When I was younger, I also had the chance to visit Japan and Singapore, amongst others.
All these countries had substantial cultural differences which made them unique. They were able to keep much of their cultural traditions (perhaps Japan more than most) and adapt them to their new economic realities.
Here are a few examples of differences in “cultural traditions” that were kept with a growing economy: an active royal family, passive royal family, or no royal family; an economy based on agricultural products, tourism and financial services, or on trade; having a relaxed life-style or a strict working culture, being very welcoming to immigrants or very closed to foreigners…
Although smaller communities may not be able to continue their cultural traditions in the exact same way as their ancestors did, most activities can be adapted to new economic realities. Economic growth doesn’t destroy culture if that culture is able to change some of its details. I’m afraid it’s up to the guardians of these cultures to see how they can adapt to this new world.
I personally feel that it’s much better to have a wide variety of economic and cultural systems in the world. It makes us humans more resilient to different shocks and it made my life so much more enjoyable when I had the chance to visit all these wonderful countries!
Take care everyone and don’t forget to have fun!!!!!!!