Victor Davis Hanson has one of the most awful columns I’ve ever seen out on the wire today. The argument is that Greece is in trouble because of its bad culture, while places like Germany and Switzerland have good culture and therefore sound economic policies. Leaving aside the laziness of this kind of culture argument (what can’t it explain?), I was simply distracted by the gross errors of fact coming one after the other in quick succession.
Switzerland, by modern standards, should be poor. Like Bolivia, it is landlocked. Like Italy, it has no real gas or oil wealth. Like Afghanistan, its northern climate and mountainous terrain limit agricultural productivity to upland plains. And like Turkey, it is not a part of the European Union.
Wait, Italy is poor? Italy?
Unlike Americans, the Swiss are among the most homogeneous people in the world,
The country with four official languages? I’m sure they would be surprised to hear that they are “among the most homogeneous people in the world.”
and without much diversity, and they make it nearly impossible to immigrate to their country.
Apparently, the 22.9% of Switzerland’s population that is foreign-born, highest of any significant country in Europe, all got there illegally, and not through Switzerland’s generous guest-worker program. Huh.
OK, I can’t resist taking a dig at the culture-is-destiny claim too:
But government-driven efforts to change national behavior often ignore stubborn cultural differences that reflect centuries of complex history as well as ancient habits and adaptations to geography and climate. Greeks can no more easily give up siestas than the Swiss can mandate two-hour afternoon naps. If tax cheating is a national pastime in Palermo, by comparison it is difficult along the Rhine.
Yes, that’s the reason schoolchildren learn about the German Empire that dominated the ancient world. Cultures never change, and they are the ultimate determinant of prosperity; just look at your history. Wait, isn’t this guy a classicist?