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Ethnocentricity and Free Trade

Der Speigel recently printed a poll of former East Germans. In it 49% say: “The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems but life was good there.” Another 8% say “Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today.” A full 57% defend a totalitarian, police state!

Typical of those polled is Thorsten Schon a 51 year old master craftsman who lives in Strasland on The Baltic Sea. Since reunification he has purchased a Porsche, traveled to Africa and by all measures has benefited from the fall of communism. “I’m better off today than I was before, but I’m not more satisfied” he says. He misses “that feeling of companionship and solidarity” and laments the rise in crime. “People lie and cheat everywhere today” and “today’s injustices are simply perpetrated in a more cunning way than in the GDR.”

Are these opinions merely looking back thru rose colored glasses? Or do they represent real questions we need to consider when assessing capitalism’s benefits and weakness’s.

Living in the southwest I’m often in contact with native American cultures.  InPenI once asked a Navajo gentleman what his definition of success was. A new car? A big house? “No” he said. His definition of success was to be “a good member of my clan.” Material things meant little to him. Family, friends and community were far more important.

He also felt that democracy was a mistake in native cultures. The corruption of so many tribal officials was a result of it. He felt native peoples would be better off if they returned to the old system of chieftains. His answers are remarkably similar to those of the former citizens of the GDR.

The poll reminds us not to be so judgmental when assessing a trading partners economic and political system. While human rights need to be adhered to, values may be very different. Modern capitalism has many benefits, but they come with a high price, a price that others with different value systems may not be willing to pay.