american emulation: comments on caplan’s post

Over at Econlog, Bryan Caplan asks – why did so few people want to emulate the US?

After World War II, virtually every Third World country had a major political faction that looked on the Soviet Union as a model society.  What path should their nation take?  The answer was obvious: Emulate the Soviet Union….


As far as I know, the Christian Democratic parties of Germany and Italy never anointed the United States as the Promised Land.  But in the Third World, it’s hard to think of any major political parties that held the U.S. up as an ideal.  For example, the governments of South Korea and South Vietnam angrily rejected the Soviet path, but their alternative was independent nationalism, not Americanism.

Two responses: First, there was a lot of emulation of American culture. McDonald’s, blue jeans and Coca Cola ruled the day. Second, Americanism/Western democracies embodied two things that most people don’t like – market competition and limits on state power. The modal global citizen of the Cold War, and many of the elites of the time, loved American affluence but they wanted Soviet style redistribution. In general, people are deeply suspicious of markets and they also want states to have more power, not less. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are few parties that directly praised Western liberalism.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 25, 2017 at 12:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. He should first back up to ask *why* would they try to emulate the U.S.? After all, the U.S. was in a completely exceptional situation coming out of the Second World War, the only country with an advanced economy that wasn’t largely destroyed by the conflict, and it was able to take up a lot of slack at the top. Taking up that slack wouldn’t be thinkable (if you will) for third world countries. Whereas on the other hand, the Soviet Union had gone from a country with a very backward economy to the second most powerful country in the world in the matter of about four decades. That was exceptional too, but in a doable way (it didn’t require that all the other peer countries destroy one another). Having backed up, it would be reasonable to conclude that third-world politicians would have had to be wishful thinkers to have advocated emulating the U.S. And wishful thinkers do poorly in political battle with those who can get things done. My two cents.



    August 26, 2017 at 4:19 am

  2. Is the premise true? Plenty of Third World countries have political parties very closely aligned with the ideas upheld by the U. S. (or by the West, but for the topic being discussed they are practically the same). In fact, I have a very hard time thinking of a Latin American country with no major long-standing liberal and / or Christian Democratic parties. Aren’t those currents influenced by the U.S., at least in part?



    August 27, 2017 at 3:28 am

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