Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture, by Eric L. Jones. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006. Cloth: ISBN 0 691 11737 3, $29.95. Pp. xvii + 297.
This interesting and frustrating book by an economic historian/development economist who asks big questions begins with the strong assertion that the majority of economists are probably correct in thinking that culture doesn't matter much. And yet, for the better part of 270 pages, he talks about why culture does matter. Reader frustration with this ambiguity can be minimized by realizing that Jones is using the concept of culture as a peg on which to hang a number of arguments and opinions relevant to the MBA students for whom (he says) he has written this book. He does not claim to have produced a literature review, but rather a summation of points of view written for an intelligent audience who will, he assumes, know little of the literature with which Jones has engaged over his career of thinking and writing about economic growth. It is also a book of somewhat curmudgeonly opinion written by a scholar who deserves to be heard.
The wise reader will begin by reading the first few pages to get the general tone of Jones' attack on those who have argued that culture matters and then skip (before returning to a more orderly progression) to page 48 where this remarkable passage will be found:
The use of the term "market" may need to be elucidated for some readers. Noneconomists associate markets with specific institutions of which, often enough, they think they ought to disapprove, like stock markets or any transaction involving dollars and cents. Instead of merely (market) places where goods or services are sold or exchanged, what is meant here by "market" is any state of competition between beliefs and ideas and forms of behavior, or the arena in which interaction takes place between the peoples who hold or practice them (pp. 48-49, italics added). Suddenly all becomes clear. For Jones, it is all about markets versus culture.
Read with this understanding the book makes more sense and Jones does say a lot that is sensible, especially in Part II where he deals with cultural change as part of immigration, with East Asia, with the range of individual choice in modern western societies, and with protection of cultural differences in modern nation states. Jones wanders widely and often wisely over an impressive range of literature and experience. This section...