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Corruption and Family Structure

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See that map above, from Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog group? The darker the color on the map, the more corrupt the country. Corruption is the norm around the world; northwest European societies, with their relatively low levels of corruption, are the outliers.

Via Steve Sailer [2], here’s a thought-provoking post from an HBD site [3] that correlates a country’s tolerance for corruption with its culture of family structure. Excerpts:

The connection between corruption and ‘familism’ has long been advanced, for example by Edward Banfield in his 1958 study of southern Italy, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society [4].  [note: Parts of southern Italy did practice cousin marriage then; see above.]  In a nutshell, the higher your loyalty toward your family group (be it nuclear, extended, clan, or tribe), the lower your loyalty toward the larger society, i.e. everyone outside your family group.  The Brazilian social anthropologist Roberto DaMatta sums up the attitude this way:


‘If I am buying from or selling to a relative, I neither seek profit nor concern myself with money. The same can happen in a transaction with a friend. But, if I am dealing with a stranger, then there are no rules, other than the one of exploiting him to the utmost.’

More:

 In the harshest possible terms: Corrupt, nepotistic societies are that way because, from top to bottom, they are full of corrupt, nepotistic people.  In different terms: People in such societies have much stronger family ties than Northwest Europeans, with all the good (old people taken care of at home, lower suicide rates) and the bad (large-scale nepotism and bribery).  The biggest lesson for international policy-makers is that one cannot graft a policy from one people to another without grafting the people itself.  And that way lies colonialism–as Greece’s current conundrum shows.

Because that’s an HBD site, they speculate that “inbreeding” (e.g., marriages between cousins) might have caused a supposed altruism gene to stay out of the gene pool in those ethnic and regional groups. I don’t know from altruism genes, but it seems to me sufficient to say that culture — nurture, not nature — is the culprit.

In any case, despite the HBD crowd’s concerns, the nature-vs-nurture thing is beside the point I wish to make here, and that is this: there are clear and unambiguous cultural differences that have a dramatic impact on the levels of corruption across societies — and that show why a project like the euro is so unworkable.

Moreover, I wonder if those more clannish societies are more “socialist” in the sense that few people can ever get really rich, individually, but nor can they get too poor either, because there’s always the family to look after you. This, versus what we have, in which it is possible to do very, very well individually, but you get old and die alone. An American friend who spent a lot of time in Italy told me that he loves the Italian way of life on so many levels. He said he couldn’t live there, because the frustration of everyday life — the inefficiency, the corruption, etc. — drove him crazy. But the Italians, in his view, may pay a significant price for their ways, but they derive non-monetary benefits that my American friend envied. This is somewhat analogous to my experience in Louisiana. We are poor and corrupt relative to most of America, but man, the people here are so wonderful in so many ways that you can’t put a dollar value on.

Finally on this topic, Spiegel [5] did an interview with Greek novelist Nikos Dimou, who said:

SPIEGEL: More than 30 years ago, you said in a SPIEGEL interview that in difficult moments of their history, Greeks always seek fault with others and never with themselves.

Dimou: That’s still true. When you talk to people here, they say, this Angela Merkel, this Schäuble (ed’s note: the German finance minister), why did they do this to us? I respond, “What does Merkel have to do with us? Nothing. We ran up these debts and asked the EU for help. That’s why they’re here.” Then the person I’m talking to usually replies that the Europeans are making good money off all this, or that it’s a conspiracy against Greece by the banks or by global capitalism.

SPIEGEL: Which could reflect another Greek trait you describe in your book, the tendency to overdo things.

Dimou: Precisely. We like to live beyond our means. You see this zest for life if you read (Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel) “Zorba the Greek” — we want to have everything, enjoy everything. The tendency to overdo things is also closely connected to a tendency toward repression. Greece is the home not only of democracy, but also of tragedy. The tragic hero is a person who overreaches himself, and violates the natural order of things.

And then:

SPIEGEL: Can Germans and Greeks ever hope to get along, despite their differences?

Dimou: Yes, they can, if they complement each other. The Greeks need the Germans because they can do things the Greeks can’t, and the Germans need the Greeks because they have this zest for life that makes the Germans happy.

Do the Germans see Greece as an indispensable part of their identity? So much that they’re willing to pay through the nose to support the weaker brother? It’s hard for me to see that, given the fundamental lack of felt cultural unity there. It’s all well and good to say “we’re all Europeans,” but how far does that really go? To be precise, how can you get people of nations that do not operate under the “familism” system described above — that is, nations that are not clannish — to feel a sense of connection and obligation to other nations such that they’re willing to spend till it hurts?

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Corruption and Family Structure"

#1 Comment By Anon On June 11, 2012 @ 7:42 am

Rod, for the record, it’s called the “Corruption Perception Index.” It’s not the darker the color, the more corrupt the country: it’s the darker the color, the more corrupt the “man on the street” thinks his country is.

I’m not saying this to nitpick, but I was surprised to see Saudi Arabia rated as less corrupt than India. I live in India currently, and I have friends who have worked in Saudi Arabia. The fact that Saudis think they are less corrupt than Indians says more about the Saudi mindset than it does about the realities on the ground.

#2 Comment By Martin On June 11, 2012 @ 7:56 am

Dreher: “but it seems to me sufficient to say that culture — nurture, not nature — is the culprit.”

Culture is the way people customarily behave, so you’re saying people customarily behave in a way because that is how they customarily behave? Culturalism is circular, as even its original Cultural Marxist popularizers knew.

You realize that the older, conservative position is the heriditarian view, right?

Culturalism, which was popularized by Boas and Cultural Marxists, holds that people are resilient and can be infinitely reshaped.

#3 Comment By Martin On June 11, 2012 @ 8:11 am

The positing of the nebulous (and meaningless) “culture”as an explanation for everything is the spaghetti monster of the social sciences: “I don’t understand the complexity of this at all and my brain hurts thinking about it so I’ll just wave a magic wand and attribute it to ‘culture’.” A true victory for the Cultural Marxists.

#4 Comment By Rod Dreher On June 11, 2012 @ 8:49 am

Culture is the way people customarily behave, so you’re saying people customarily behave in a way because that is how they customarily behave? Culturalism is circular, as even its original Cultural Marxist popularizers knew.

What’s your point? I’m saying that the habits in people’s minds and hearts, put there by culture, go much farther in explaining why a people does the things it does than some sort of theory that their inbred genes made them do it. Italians and Russians come from among the more corrupt countries. You cannot seriously believe that an Italian or Russian child raised in the United States will have a greater propensity to corruption because of his genetic heritage.

“Culture” is not nebulous and meaningless. I think you just want to believe the things you want to believe about genetics and morality.

#5 Comment By Zzedar On June 11, 2012 @ 9:13 am

I once read a summary of the tribal (as in nomadic, pre-civilizational) moral code as “me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world.” This seems to be a similar mode of thought.

#6 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 11, 2012 @ 9:51 am

I think anon’s point above is important. India is a more open society than many of its neighbors. In the short term this awareness could breed cynicism about their culture, but it’s a necessary prerequisite for cleaning it up. While a monarchy, military junta, or one party state can sweep it under the rug much longer.

There’s also the maxim “civilizations have the morality they can afford”. Much of the world is poor, so they can’t afford that much. Which of course feeds back into poverty.

#7 Comment By Tyro On June 11, 2012 @ 9:52 am

You somehow get the impression that the genetic determinists are just a few steps away from writing essays explaining how Greeks and Italians have a “restaurant gene” that was selected for over thousands of years.

Cousin marriage, in particular, is fairly well documented as a consequence of culture (lack of trust of those outside the immediate village, along with Muslim inheritance laws which ensure a share of family property that goes to the daughter), not the other way around.

#8 Comment By David J. White On June 11, 2012 @ 10:02 am

Can Germans and Greeks ever hope to get along, despite their differences?

I’m reminded of the old Monty Python sketch about the football (i.e., soccer) match between the Germans and the Greeks (ancient Greek philosophers vs. 18th-19th cent. German philosophers). I think the Greeks won by one goal, scored by Socrates.

#9 Comment By BradleyP On June 11, 2012 @ 10:03 am

Rod, you recount some profoundly important observations, here. Perhaps this is why Americans, Germans, Brits, and Japanese are such avid tourists. Those of us in less- corrupt, un-zesty nations can go enjoy the zestiness of faraway places for a time without drowning in their sea of crap.

#10 Comment By Martin On June 11, 2012 @ 10:05 am

Rod: “I’m saying that the habits in people’s minds and hearts, put there by culture, go much farther in explaining why a people does the things it does”

Sure, but why is a particular culture in place? Why don’t Nigerians have cutting edge science programs?

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Yes, in a façon de parler, one can speak of “culture,” but what underlies this culture? I suspect that there are genes for IQ, impulse control, violent behavior (aggression is adaptive in hunter-gatherer societies), etc. One could speak of “culture” as a superstructure built upon genes.

Rod: “You cannot seriously believe that an Italian or Russian child raised in the United States”

The genetic distance between Russians and NW European Americans probably isn’t that great, so maybe Russians can adapt more easily to the folkways of NW Europeans.

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But second generation Haitians and Nigerians in the US demonstrate the same IQ scores and behaviors as their ancestors.

In short, there is “culture” but it isn’t the whole story – not even close. The very notion of “culture” is only a hundred years old or so. It’s probably better to speak of folkways which imply a hereditarian foundation.

You should check out William Graham Sumner’s Folkways (although parts of it are outdated).

#11 Comment By reflectionephemeral On June 11, 2012 @ 11:29 am

Martin writes, “one can speak of “culture,” but what underlies this culture? I suspect that there are genes for IQ, impulse control, violent behavior (aggression is adaptive in hunter-gatherer societies), etc. One could speak of “culture” as a superstructure built upon genes.”

Well, not really, because culture changes over time and countries change over time. 100 years ago, many folks thought that southern Europeans were too superstitious and servile to have democracy, and that Asians were too shifty and feudal for capitalism to ever take hold.

China was pretty much the center of the world for about ever, then it faltered and was at the mercy of European powers for a while, then it was a brutal and impoverished Communist dictatorship, and now it’s on the upswing again. They had the same genes throughout it all.

Plus, within a country, gaps between groups change over time.

from 2003 and 2008, the life expectancy at birth for non-Hispanic black men rose from 68.8 to 70.8 years and for non-Hispanic white men rose from 75.3 to 76.2 years . These new statistics lowered the differences in the average lifespans for both group from 6.5 years to 5.4 years. … [In 1900], the gap was 14 years.

Attributing all differences to genetics is a scientistic way of saying, “everything is as it is, because this is how it must be.” If we didn’t have a written record of human history, that perspective would be much more persuasive.

#12 Comment By James Q. On June 11, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

This reminds me of a moment in Patrick O’ Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series where Captain Jack praises dockside corruption as the only means to keep a schedule when faced with the strictures of an indifferent bureaucracy.
Of course this is only funny through the eyes of a man of means who would dare to praise corruption for making his life more expedient. Saying corruption is only a facet of culture is not only wrong because it tosses ethics aside and affirms cultural double-standards. It’s also just soft-headed, relativistic mush that’s a preemptive reaction against someone who might feel culturally superior.

#13 Comment By Thehova On June 11, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

Sweden and Finland seem to dominate in these types of studies. Which does make think about the first commenter’s argument. Maybe it does just measure perception. Maybe Italians are simply more realist and pessimistic than the Swedes.

#14 Comment By Roger McCarthy On June 11, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

What would interest me would be an equivalent map of the United States in which one might, I expect see Illinois and Louisiana up at the top of whatever measure of corruption is used.

And yet do these states have a) similar family structures to each other and b) radically different family structures to whatever neighbouring states are considered least corrupt?

Presumably the answer to both of those questions would be no.

I actually see all this as a sinister new narrative.

It is not citizens but governments that have created the deficits which Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal etc are labouring under (and citizens hardly had a choice given that their was fair unanimity across all mainstream parties in favour of these policies – it would be difficult for instance to unpick the relative guilt of PASOK and Nea Dimokratia for the Greek crisis).

But the heirs of the criminal elites are now determined to make their citizens and not the elites pay for the crisis – and so the character of entire nations must be blackened as ‘corrupt’ and ‘lazy’ so they can be collectively punished for the benefit of international bankers.

But in fact Southern Europeans in general work longer hours and for less pay than Northern Europeans and for all their petty graft and nepotism were never even given the vast opportunities for legalised theft enjoyed by American and British and German bankers and ‘venture capitalists’.

And as for the Germans they should remember that after 1945 the Americans and the British rebuilt their entire economy from the ruins (and in Britain we actually reduced our rations to below wartime levels to feed our former enemies)- and they hadn’t let their politicians go on a spending spree with borrowed money – they had committed the blackest crimes in the history of the human race.

And while the Germans seem to have forgotten the extraordinary mercy and forgiveness they were shown, the Greeks have still not forgotten the hundreds of thousands (in a population of a few million) of their grandparents generation who were starved to death and murdered under Nazi occupation.

Bailing out the Greeks who never received a penny in reparation from the occupiers is not an unreasonable imposition on Germany – it is the absolute least that should be expected from them.

#15 Comment By Liam On June 11, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

With Confucius as referee, helped by Aquinas and Augustine:

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And Hegel arguing against the realities.

#16 Comment By JonF On June 11, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

Re: Yes, in a façon de parler, one can speak of “culture,” but what underlies this culture?

What underlies culture is history, which produces its own brand of inertia. Just as moving objects tend to continue moving at the same speed in the same direction unless acted upon by an opposing force, so too cultures tend to perpetuate themselves in the same ways unless external influences intervene.

And for those who would derive culture from genetics, consider the matter of language. Yes, there are genes which underlie human language without which we humans would not have language. But specific languages are not genetically patterned at all: they too are the child of history. And this is an important point since i can think of nothing, not even religion, that is more basic to human culture than language. Our genes give us the basic ability, but the specifics are determined by the ongoing presence of the past, and what each of us, as a child, learns.

#17 Comment By Sean Nelson On June 12, 2012 @ 7:21 am

Moreover, I wonder if those more clannish societies are more “socialist” in the sense that few people can ever get really rich, individually, but nor can they get too poor either, because there’s always the family to look after you. This, versus what we have, in which it is possible to do very, very well individually, but you get old and die alone.

I noticed this in Iraq. Familial and tribal loyalties trumped all, it seemed. While that limited some individual horizons, it did a better job of providing support from cradle to grave than “looking out for number one” does for most. There was certainly something to admire in that.

“Familism” extends to the political sphere as well, in a way that was surprising to me at first. After the Iraqi elections in early 2005 (remember the blue fingers?), I spoke with dozens of Iraqis who had voted. I asked each of them the reason why they had cast their votes, and to a man they replied that they had been instructed to vote for that slate by a tribal or family leader. The instructions were as simple as: “Check Box #112,” and everyone went along with it. The idea that you would judge for yourself and vote accordingly didn’t even occur to them (I know, I asked).

#18 Comment By JonF On June 12, 2012 @ 8:08 am

If people lacked a gene for altruism they would be unable to behave altrustically with family and friends too. We have a word to describe such people: Sociopath.

#19 Comment By Harold Stassen On June 12, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

What is your the on the perceived level of corruption of Orthodox countries vs. Protestant ones? Or of largely agnostic countries vs. religious ones? Why bother with religion if it only makes things worse?