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Tiger Mom growls again
January 14, 2014 - Stephen Browne
Amy Chua, the famous or infamous "Tiger Mother" has a new book out, this time co-authored with her husband Jed Rubenfeld.
The book is titled "The Triple Package" for the three characteristics that Chua claims makes some groups more successful on average than others.
The three are: a group superiority complex, combined with a sense of insecurity, and impulse control.
Chua and Rubenfeld name eight groups in America they deem most successful as measured by income, occupational status, and test scores among other factors. The groups are: Jews, Chinese, Indians, Lebanese-Americans, Iranians, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons.
Not surprisingly, and in spite of specific disavowal by the authors of hereditary factors, they're being called racists. A fair amount of scornful note has been taken that they represent two of the groups in their own persons.
The fact is, what they're saying is not all that controversial. But perhaps they have themselves to blame for a bit of the controversy.
Chua's first book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" advocated disciplined child rearing rather than a permissive "follow your bliss" approach. Which shouldn't have been too shocking except it was kind of over-the-top.
Some claim a lot of that was tongue-in-cheek shock-jock talk. And it's hard to argue with success. Chua and her husband are Ivy League academics and their daughters won early admissions to Yale.
"But she threatened to give away her daughter's beloved doll house!"
Well yes, and that does sound cruel. On the other hand I just threatened to sell my son's Wii, so I'm not in a position to criticize.
I suppose I'm going to have to read the book. In the interim I have a few quibbles of my own.
China and India cover a lot of territory with many, many different cultures and language groups. Could we be more specific than "Indians" and "Chinese"?
Lebanese-Americans? Do they mean Christian Lebanese (like Danny Thomas) or Muslim Lebanese or both?
Same for Nigerians, lots of tribes there. Do they mean the often-persecuted Ibo tribe, sometimes referred to as "the Jews of West Africa"?
Cuban exiles, hard to argue with. They built the economy of Miami. Same with Mormons, they built a whole state in the desert.
The relative success of Jews is well-known, and my old Medieval Hebrew Civ professor was not shy about the reason. They teach their children to work hard and study. They value scholars, not athletes. They realized a long time ago that education is something they can't take from you at the border when they kick you out of their country (that "insecurity" thing).
Same with Chinese. Strong work ethic and admiration of scholars.
Add to this that immigrants willing to settle in a radically different culture in search of opportunity are already a self-selected group.
Hard work, saving, investment, education and a strong belief in yourself as an individual or member of a group. There shouldn't be anything controversial about that.
At least a mild anxiety about falling behind probably doesn't hurt either. And need we point out that impulse control is probably going to have something to do with how often people get arrested?
The fact that some cultures inculcate these values in their children more than others is what's making people nervous. But again, Chua and Rubenfeld are talking about culture, not heredity. And there are any number of examples of peoples with the same ethnic heritage going in different directions with different results for their future success.
The nation of Poland was partitioned by three occupying powers at the end of the 18th century: Prussia, Russia and Austro-Hungary. Poland ceased to exist as a nation for 135 years.
The results are still visible in Poland today. The former Russian lands are visibly poorer than the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian parts. And this was reflected in the relative success of Polish immigrants to America. Immigrants from the Russian partition arrived with less education and tended to remain poor, while immigrants from the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian partitions achieved much higher rates of success.
Three groups with vastly different rates of success, and in the case of the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Poles, success in different fields. But still the same ethnicity.
Chua and Rubenfeld have raised some hackles with their talk of superior groups and market-dominant minorities, but they're not saying anything that hasn't been noticed a long time ago by anthropologists. And as they point out, there's no need to bring in entirely unnecessary explanations of why some groups are more successful than others, when we already have perfectly adequate explanations.
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