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Culture and Prosperity: The Truth About Markets - Why Some Nations Are Rich but Most Remain Poor

Culture and Prosperity: The Truth About Markets - Why Some Nations Are Rich but Most Remain Poor

by John Kay, J. A. Kay

A witty and accessible tour de force that is immersed in the latest economic thinking, Culture and Prosperity is an indispensable guide to the world around us and destined to become a classic text for understanding the politics of globalization.

Guided by the belief that a combination of lightly regulated capitalism and liberal democracy — the


A witty and accessible tour de force that is immersed in the latest economic thinking, Culture and Prosperity is an indispensable guide to the world around us and destined to become a classic text for understanding the politics of globalization.

Guided by the belief that a combination of lightly regulated capitalism and liberal democracy — the American business model — is not just appropriate for America at the dawn of the twenty-first century, but a universal path to freedom and prosperity, the United States is an unrivaled colossus seeking to remake the world in its own image.

After a decade of successive market revolutions around the world, beginning with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and continuing in countries as diverse as Argentina and New Zealand, the effectiveness of the market economy as a route to prosperity and growth is not in question, but a more sophisticated appreciation of the strengths and limits of markets is urgently required.

In this new and illuminating analysis of the nature and evolution of the market economy, John Kay attacks the oversimplified account of its operation, contained in the American business model and favored by politicians and business people. He even questions whether it offers an accurate description of the success of the American economy itself.

In an absorbing argument that rewards close reading, and rereading, Culture and Prosperity examines every assumption we have about economic life from a refreshingly new angle. Taking the reader from the shores of Lake Zurich to the streets of Mumbai, from the flower market of San Remo to the sales rooms at Christie's, John Kay reveals the connection between a nation's social, political, and cultural context and its economic performance.

Editorial Reviews

Daily Telegraph (London)
“Written with wit and subtlety ... Kay’s book is an important contribution to the post-1990s reassessment of capitalism.”
The Independent
“One of the leading British economists of his generation…gives answers to those puzzling questions that nag the non-specialist.”
Washington Post
“[Kay]…delightfully…solves the mystery of why markets work and why they sometimes don’t.”
London Times
“An ambitious and brilliantly executed book... accessible and witty, it sheds light on the way the world works.”
Publishers Weekly
Kay, an Oxford economist with a regular column in the Financial Times, tries to follow up on the success of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, but falls short of the mark (not to mention being perhaps a few years too late). The historical examples used to illustrate basic economic principles lack pizzazz, and hypotheticals meant to reflect contemporary individuals are equally stiff. Kay largely forgoes cultural analysis in order to meticulously define the most fundamental rules of market economies in the sort of dry academic prose that spends as much time announcing the contents of upcoming chapters as it does on dealing with the subject at hand. Eventually, Kay comes around to the suggestion that markets are successful when they are buttressed by strong institutions working together in "disciplined pluralism," but he never quite explains why some cultures are able to achieve and sustain such conditions while others aren't. He also points out that these ideal economic conditions are at some variance with the "American business model" of self-interested players operating with little government interference or taxation, but this is neither a new nor original observation. Though closing chapters do make a compelling argument for the supremacy of microeconomic analysis over sweeping macroeconomic theories, that simply isn't enough to propel the book ahead of better competitors with a long head start. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

Culture and Prosperity

The Truth about Markets - Why Some Nations Are Rich But Most Remain Poor
By Kay, J. A.


ISBN: 0060587059

Chapter One

A Postcard from France

"C'est l'équipe américaine." The cabdriver smiled gently as the crew descended from the bus ahead. They clustered together on the sidewalk, looking to each other for support. The environment has so many familiar features, but also unbridgeable differences. Insouciant Air France air hostesses wear a uniform with elegance but a clear hint of disrespect for authority.

Delta flies daily between Nice and New York. Most of the traffic originates in the United States. At the front of the plane are celebs dropping in at the Cannes Film Festival or Monaco Grand Prix. Some affluent but louche Americans, following in the footsteps of Frank Jay Gould and Scott Fitzgerald, prefer the south of France to California or the Hamptons. Businesspeople are on their way to the high-tech center of Sophia Antipolis in the hills behind.

There are conventioneers: a desk at the airport will be welcoming dermatologists or real estate brokers. And the plane fills up with tourists. Throughout the summer, crowds of young people, mostly American, squat on the steps outside Nice Station. They wait for trains that will take them on to Italy or Spain, or to Paris. In their backpacks are their European railway passes, tickets to the twentyfirst-century grand tour.

I live in Menton, thirty miles east of Nice, on the Italian frontier. The border was determined only in 1860, and in those days a visitor from either Paris or Rome would have experienced great difficulty in understanding the language, or being understood. Each isolated community had its own dialect. The arrival of the railroad a few years later ended this isolation. Poor fishing villages were gradually turned into prosperous communities.

But the border is now eroding. First the customs posts were abandoned, then the immigration controls disappeared. In 2002 the currency-exchange booths closed as the euro became the common currency for a dozen European states. The European Union has become a visible reality.

Within five miles of the sea, a ring of mountains climbs to five thousand feet, establishing one of the most beautiful coastlines and pleasant climates on mainland Europe. A twenty-minute walk leads down to the center of town. On the way you pass the Centre Roger Latournerie, operated by the Caisse Autonome Nationale de la Sécurité Sociale dans les Mines. The Centre is a holiday village for coal miners. The Caisse is neither a public nor a private body. It does not report to an elected official, but is not a charity: it is funded through levies on employers and employees and state subventions. Such organizations play a large role in the life of France and other continental European countries.

There are few coal miners in France today: Europe's accessible coal has long since been used up. French electricity is mainly generated from nuclear power. State-owned Électricité de France built a series of reactors using American Westinghouse technology. The construction program encountered few of the environmental objections or site delays that plagued nuclear power elsewhere.

So visitors to the Centre Roger Latournerie are mostly retired. There are many retired people in Menton. The town has never been famous or fashionable, like Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice, or Monaco. But the British have always liked Menton and have given it an elderly tone. There are streets named after Queen Victoria, who wintered here, and Winston Churchill, who painted here. The hotels Balmoral, Westminster, and Hermitage, named after European palaces, date from the late nineteenth century and accommodated English and Russian visitors.

One reason Menton has many retired people is because France has many retired people. Only one Frenchman in six aged sixty to sixty-four works, compared with almost one in two in the United States; one male American in six between seventy and seventy-four has a job, but President Chirac, at seventy-one, is one of the few Frenchmen of his age still in full-time employment. It is said, only half in jest, that Chirac must stay in the job because presidential immunity halts investigation of corruption during his term as mayor of Paris. Retirement ages are closely enforced in France, but most French people would regard it as eccentric that anyone who could retire would not want to, and pensions are generous.

Beyond the Centre Latournerie, you turn left into the center of town and pass Menton's new school, the Collège Guillaume Vento. The Collège Vento is pleasant to look at and study in, impeccably maintained. When the scaffolding came down, I thought "This looks like a private sector building." And then I wondered why I expected a public school to be dowdier than a shopping mall. In Britain and America we believe that austerity is appropriate for the public sector. It has never been a French tradition, and it is not a French habit now.

The Frenchman Jacques Attali was the first head of the European Bank, established to aid the reconstruction of the former Soviet empire. Attali was sacked by British, Canadian, and U.S. delegates for indulgences -- the private jet and the marbled reception area -- that would have seemed quite normal for the chief executive of a large American bank. The Anglophones saw a difference between appropriate private and public behavior; the French did not.

The Collège Vento has a good reputation, and French schools are generally excellent. The most successful French film of 2003 was not Matrix Reloaded, but Être et Avoir, a moving documentary of a gifted teacher in a rural school. Rich parents in France do not hesitate to send their children to public schools, although French universities, overpopulated, riven by politics and mired in tradition, are in a poor state. The most internationally mobile couple I know sent their children to lycée in France, to college at Oxbridge, and to graduate school in the United States. These were well-informed choices.

There are shopping malls in France, and they are as dowdy as in the United States.


Excerpted from Culture and Prosperity by Kay, J. A. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

John Kay is one of Britain's leading economists. He has been a professor at the London Business School and the University of Oxford, and is currently a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. He is the only professor of management to receive the academic distinction of Fellowship of the British Academy. A frequent writer, lecturer, and broadcaster, he contributes a weekly column to the Financial Times. He commutes between London, Oxfordshire, and the south of France.

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