Tuesday, March 25, 2014


This book has been discussed in many quarters and it seemed the authors Amy Chua and Jed Rosenfeld (a married couple) were often fighting the charge of being racist.  In fact they were discussing group dynamics and identifying what groups were most successful.  Why one group grabbed onto the success factors while others didn't is the result of a lot of history.  The dynamics are limited in many ways and naturally tend to change.

The groups they chose to explain their theories are ethnic centric and as such are not only normal, but illustrative of general principles.  When stereotypical behaviours are pointed out it only reinforces racist images to some people, but the explanations are important because they do apply to other groups.

If you read this book you are likely to gain a better understanding of group dynamics that lead to success and like the authors be able to point out examples.  There certainly are exceptions and the same dynamics have and will apply to other groups.  The authors admit that individuals can encompass the Triple Package.  Amy and Jed, also were able to identify and analyze some of the dynamics of (financially) unsuccessful groups such as Amish and Appalachians.

The  main immigrant groups studied are Asians, Nigerians, Jews, Iranians, Lebanese, Cubans and Mormons.  There are trends within these groups that they also examine.  The three factors are: superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.  It may seem that the first two are contradictory, but not really.  For instance it is common for groups to feel pride in their ancestral past, but also recognize they are not respected in the present.  Impulse control does not necessarily require the first two factors, but they often contribute to the motive for impulse control.

The three factors have a downside and in reality seldom last more than to the third generation.  The downsides include arrogance, neuroses, and the inability to live in the present.  They can propel people to great success, but immigrants normally sooner or later assimilate and enjoy the fruits of their success.  A common phenomenon is that the grandchildren of self made millionaires are often happy to spend the money, but not interested in duplicating the effort that created the wealth, regardless of ethnic background.

One trend that counters the Triple Package was the self esteem movement.  Instead of prodding youngsters to do better it was considered better to build their self esteem by avoiding criticism or high expectations.  A strong current trend is towards instant gratification.  Today's youngsters and even those not so young get frustrated if they have to wait more than a few seconds for a response after a keyboard click.  The authors contend that these trends have contributed to financial bubbles and the increase in national debt.

The Triple Package is more critical to upward mobility than intelligence.  Many observers feel that Jews and Chinese are just more intelligent (arguably a racist assumption), but the authors cite studies that debunk that notion.  The superiority complex and the insecurity drive hard work and demand strong impulse control.

Impulse control is being recognized as a key factor in success.  A famous study was done with young children and marshmallows.  They would be offered a marshmallow and told that if they could wait a few minutes they would get another marshmallow.  Most youngsters couldn't wait and when they were visited many years later it was learned those who were able to wait were more successful by most measures.  A more modern study delved deeper into the issue.  This time youngsters divided into two groups:  one was promised something exciting and it was followed up while the other group's promise was not followed up.  Those who had promises fulfilled were more trusting and waited for the second marshmallow.  Essentially this was another proof that impulse control can be developed.

Many years ago I read an earlier book of Amy Chua's,  "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability."   For many people it also seemed racist but I believe it also just explained group dynamics in a way that made the world more understandable.  In many third world countries minorities often become dominant and are resented by the majority. Democracy can sometimes exacerbate the situation.  The two books illustrate how frustration can get tied into racist excuses, but if you understand the dynamics, the reality is much deeper.

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