The article in the url below is a review of a book by Niall Ferguson, the Harvard history professor. In the book (titled ‘Civilization: The West and the Rest’), Ferguson details the characteristics of Western/European society that, in his opinion, allowed it to develop more rapidly than any other world region. The six, so-called “killer apps,” are:
- Legal property rights
- A consumer society
- Work ethic
Where other societies have ‘civilized’ and caught-up with the West, Ferguson argues that it is due to emulation, rather than innovation:
“Mr. Ferguson shows that the most successful non-Western polities are those that have “downloaded” the six apps. A the top of the class is Japan, whose Western-style armies prevailed over Russia in 1905 and whose politics and economics were rebuilt so effectively after the catastrophe of 1945. … Mr. Ferguson does not claim that the six-app software will work with all socio-cultural hardware. The list of “resterners” for whom the connection broke—or who managed only a partial download—is long. It includes the Ottoman Empire, imperial China, czarist Russia and, more recently, the shah’s Iran.”
Reading Ferguson’s list made me wonder what the equivalent “apps” might be that will enable one culture or society (or, ultimately, all cultures and societies) to generate a socially-responsible economy. Ferguson makes no mention of moral or ethical development, or even a set of values that might make one economic system more ethical/socially responsible than another. Clearly the absence of these characteristics was no impediment to rapid economic growth!
If we are to move beyond a focus on economic growth alone to a more sustainable economy/society, however, someone is going to have to write that book, too.
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The Birth of the Modern World
By Brendan Simms
The Wall Street Journal
October 29-30, 2011