Cultural lag: in the tradition of Veblenian economics.

AuthorBrinkman, Richard L.

The purpose of this paper is two-fold: one is to demonstrate that the concept and theory of cultural lag is in the tradition of Veblenian economics; and secondly, that while cultural lag theory delineates and explains problems, it does not necessarily provide for a means of resolution. For example, historically the theory of cultural lag has served as a basis for problem identification and dissent. Veblenian economics, however, can also serve to go Beyond Dissent and promote assent in its relevancy to the processes of institutional adjustment and amelioration. In this respect, in the promotion of assent, there is a need for the origination and innovation of a social DNA to promote a synthesis of the disparate parts of culture via instrumental knowledge. In support of this position this paper is divided into five parts as an analytical whole: (1) a survey of references to cultural lag which have appeared in the literature written by Veblenian economists; (2) a clarification of the concept and theory of cultural lag; (3) a clarification of the "what is" vis-a-vis Veblenian economics; (4) a conflation between cultural lag theory and Veblenian economics; and, (5) the need for synthesis in the formation of a social DNA.

Cultural Lag: A Literature Search among Veblenian Economists

Both Clarence E. Ayres and Allan G. Gruchy, certainly considered bona fide Veblenian economists, were instrumental in keeping alive and maintaining a slender thread of scientific DNA for Veblenian economics during the post-WWII era. A question that arises, however, is how then did these two recognized doyens of Veblenian economics address and treat the concept and theory of cultural lag? Based upon his focus on culture and a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to Veblenian economics, in many instances Gruchy addressed the framework of cultural lag. "Institutionalists from Veblen on have been aware of the problem of cultural lag and in general have favored a policy of some form of collective management of the economic system" (Gruchy 1987, xiii). This position emanates from the fact that Gruchy, along with many other Veblenian economists, gave pride of place to the anthropological, holistic conception of culture.

Specifically with respect to Veblen, Gruchy stated that "Veblen explains that institutions and the culture in which they are embedded change over time in response to changes in science and technology ... Since all institutions do not change at the same rate, social or cultural lags develop" (Gruchy 1972, 21). Also, "[i]n working out his concept of class organization, Veblen introduced the concepts of the cultural lag and class conflict. According to his theory of culture the most important single factor that alters institutions, and hence human behavior, is technological change" (Gruchy [1947] 1967, 78). Problems arise, though, because not all classes are equally exposed to the changing technological conditions. This causes different rates of psychological adjustment among the classes, leading to cultural lags that affect cultural standards. "Where classes have different institutional standards and mental habits, their members find themselves acting at cross purposes" (78).

Gruchy, in his chapter on "Experimental Economics of Rexford G. Tugwell" discussed the concept of cultural emergence and its association with the concept of cultural lag. Cultural lag has "come to have a prominent place in the thinking not only of Tugwell but also of the other exponents of economic heterodoxy ... Cultural emergence is not a gradual, uninterrupted process; instead it is a spotty development in which certain cultural elements, such as institutions and social attitudes, fail to change as rapidly as other elements. This uneven cultural development creates lags which are the source of many serious social and economic problems" (Gruchy [1947] 1967, 415).

And on the neoinstitutionalists which include among others John Kenneth Galbraith and Clarence Ayres, Gruchy claimed that "[t]he logic of economic development constructed by the neoinstitutionalists calls attention to the lags in the evolution of society's institutional structure as this structure responds slowly to changes in society's technological foundation" (1972, 297). On Galbraith, in particular, Gruchy reported that "[t]he key to an understanding of Galbraith's economics of opulence or affluence is his concern with technological change and its impact on institutions and the minds of men" and "man is the victim of a cultural lag" (134, 136, and 137, 138, 169).

Ayres certainly emphasized the concept of culture. In fact, his theory of the economy and economic development constitutes a theory of culture evolution. Culture "exhibits two aspects; namely, the institutional (or ceremonial) aspect and the technological aspect. The institutional aspect of human culture ... is resistant to change and development. It is restrictive and backward looking, and seeks to preserve existing class arrangements and restrictions ... the cultural process is continuously affected by the lag between institutional and cultural change" (Gruchy 1972, 95-96). Outmoded institutional arrangements cause many social problems because they become obstacles to a satisfactory adjustment between the institutional and technological aspects of culture.

Other Veblenian economists, as well as Marxian economists, have recognized Veblen as a cultural lag theorist: "The culture of the old generation is devalued and demeaned as a result, creating the generation gap--a kind of cultural lag" (Dugger and Sherman 2000, 55; 1997, 1007; Hodgson 2004, 372, 192).

Rick Tilman cited "Veblen's theory of cultural lag in which institutions and science and technology are perpetually in a state of maladjustment with each other" (1990, 966). (1) The correspondence between John Dewey and Ayres indicates that they were both concerned with how to address the problem of cultural lag. Tilman, again, in another article reported that "[i]n recent years many political theorists have continued to concern themselves with traditional issues of political philosophy, issues which have less and less relevance in an industrial society undergoing sustained technological innovation and beset by problems arising from cultural lag ... problems of adjusting political institutions to a rapidly evolving technical-industrial base" (Tilman 1968, 423).

William Glade noted that "Veblen's contribution to the theory of cultural lag lies in his keen analysis of the basic dichotomy of the social complex-technology and ceremonialism-an analysis which goes far beyond the usual studies of the phenomenon of cultural lag and deals with the underlying aspects of society" (1952, 436). John Gambs commented on Veblen's Gestalt in which "today's Gestalt may contain left-over elements from yesterday's Gestalt. Thus there can be culture lags, and these culture lags may be of great significance" (1946, 25). Paul Bush, in his article on "The Theory of Institutional Change" introduces three types of ceremonial encapsulation. Bush related cultural lag to the first type, which he labeled "the 'past-binding' type. The first type of ceremonial encapsulation for which the term 'cultural lag' is most appropriate involves the 'past-binding' resistance of the traditions of the community to the absorption and diffusion of technological innovations" (1987, 1094).

Also, "[t]he concept of culture lag, which Veblen used to analyze social processes, has been widely used by American sociologists to account for both social change and social problems... The cultural lag approach has been one of the master concepts of modern social analysis" (Davis 1968, 304-05). This brief summary of the literature indicates that many bona fide Veblenian economists have addressed the concept and theory of cultural lag. But what then is meant by cultural lag?

Toward a Clarification of the Concept and Theory of Cultural Lag

What follows in this section of our paper is primarily an analysis of William Ogburn's concept and theory of cultural lag. It appears that "... Ogburn's analysis was widely used in institutionalist's circles" (Hodgson 2004, 372; Bush 1987, 1113). But neither Ogburn nor Veblen, nor will anyone else, provide a final or absolute theory of cultural lag. Science in its evolution constitutes an ongoing and continuous process of questioning, critique, and doubt. Consequently, the theory of cultural lag will itself continue to evolve and take on new forms and structures. For example, C. Wright Mills is an obvious supporter of Veblenian economics: "THORSTEIN VEBLEN is the best critic of America that America has produced" (Horowitz 2002, 107; Veblen 1970, vi, Introduction). Yet Mills introduced additional perspectives on the Veblenian as well as the Ogburnian concept and theory of cultural lag.

Mills recognized Veblen as a cultural-lag theorist, but in addition also noted that the theory not only relates to a response to an acceleration of culture that must be considered. "One might say that in terms of the rates of change at which sectors of culture could move, it is technology that is lagging, for the specific reason of the control of patents, etc., by entrenched interests" (Mills 1963, 546). Consequently, a problem also relates to the power of power elites that can control the very process of acceleration itself. The acceleration of culture is controlled by social organization and institutions. Such a problem exists in the acceleration of military technology wrought in a crucible of the military-industrial-complex. Or conversely, that the vested interests of power elites in the petroleum industry can also hold back the acceleration of the invention and innovation of solar technology. However, to have a framework as a locus of reference, and as a start, what then is Ogburn's explicit conception and theory of cultural lag?

While Veblen never used the term, the phenomenon of cultural lag was implied in...

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