Wednesday, January 21, 2004

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The persistence of U.S. soft power

One concern voiced about the style of the Bush administration's foreign policy was that it would erode America's "soft power" -- the attraction of American goods, services, and culture to the rest of the world.

The Financial Times reports on a study to test this hypothesis. The results are mixed. The good news:

Consumers around the world put aside any ill-feeling about US foreign policy when they choose their fast food, soft drinks and sports shoes, a Harvard Business School study has found.

The survey of 1,800 consumers in 12 countries including Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia found that, despite expectations of a consumer backlash against US brands, most people still choose brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

About 88 per cent of people, a consistent figure across most of the countries surveyed, selected well-known global brands rather than local alternatives when asked which products they would like to buy. There was a rump of 12 per cent who did not want to buy such brands, associating them with the US and globalisation....

[G]lobal brands, including Nike, were favoured by consumers in developing countries because they represented a guarantee of quality in markets where basic standards were not always guaranteed. Coca-Cola, for example, was seen as being a brand that used clean water in preparing its soft drinks.

The bad news is that these results might speak more to the adaptability of U.S. corporations than indications of U.S. soft power:

Prof Quelch said the study, carried out by Research International last year, just before and during the Iraq war, also found that consumers felt that buying global brands showed that they were connected to global society. They did not regard big US brands as identifying them with America itself.

Companies such as Coca-Cola had already been moving towards greater sensitivity to local markets before September 11 2001. The backlash against globalisation had made them adapt their image, moving away from overt American values. "They managed to inoculate themselves before the war on terror," Prof Quelch said.

However it's worth noting that one source of American soft power is the adaptability/openness of our cutlure and our actors. So, in the long run, this is still good news.

posted by Dan on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM


After seeing Josephy Nye speak last year was under the impression that "soft" power went beyond if people are buying our products. I thought that true "soft" power is about being a nation other nations and people aspire to be like, rather than just being a nation that can sell products to the rest of the world. I think that definition jibes with some of the links back in the post.

And while this not solid data, I spent some time reading responses to the state of the union from around the world, and it certainly does not look like we are the envy of the world right now. They are more afraid than envious.

posted by: Rich on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

“Prof Quelch said the study, carried out by Research International last year, just before and during the Iraq war, also found that consumers felt that buying global brands showed that they were connected to global society.”

One should never take what they say in a serious manner. These consumers have a logically inconsistent, love-hate relationship with the United States. Their anger towards the United States is rarely based on rational objections, but envy and bitterness. These are the folks who yell and scream: “I want the Americans out of my country---and I want them to take me with them!” Advertisers simply have to accept this as a fact of life and devise campaigns to deal with their immature rantings.

“One concern voiced about the style of the Bush administration's foreign policy was that it would erode America's "soft power" -- the attraction of American goods, services, and culture to the rest of the world.”

Bad cop-good cop is standard operating procedure. You slap a few people around who deserve it---and then you play nicey-nicey. That’s all there is to it. America should never go out of its way to be liked. They just makes us look like a bunch of suckers. We should always place the emphasis upon being respected.

posted by: David Thomson on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

My experience abroad has always been that American products are almost never sold as "American". Even the people working for Coca Cola in Latin America, for example, don't think they are selling an American product. Mostly they think they are selling a universal product that happens to be produced by an American company.

posted by: GT on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Paragraph 10 refutes paragraph 7. Next!

posted by: Rocketman on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

150 people/country is not a huge sample per country. with no information about the socio-economic data collected it is impossible to tell which socio-economic groups with what kind of political clout those consuming US brands come from. my own experience in china, singapore, taiwan, and japan suggests that while some people eat at mcdonalds and drink cokes and watch US movies a sizable portion of people eat at local foodstalls, drink tea, and love bollywood, hong kong movies, and Japanese anime. soft power, moreover, isn't just about consumption. it is about values. some american values people like (often because they are similar to their own, such as democracy in western europe). other values they don't like (the US gun culture, the death penality, a relatively inhumane welfare system). the report on the survey doesn't really address the question of whether US soft power is on waxing or waning.

posted by: I. Johnston on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

"The bad news is that these results might speak more to the adaptability of U.S. corporations than indications of U.S. soft power"

U.S. companies are able to adapt to market conditions...this is bad news? Frankly, I don't see how it's even news.

posted by: Ignatius Byrd on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

The problem is that nobody really knows how to define "soft power." I've heard a whole raft of interesting definitions, many of which intertwine, but nothing to hand one's hat on.

Among other things, one could view the ability of US companies to adapt being reflective of soft power as the ability of the US Army to adapt reflects American hard power.

One of the reasons that "soft power" theorists are pretty much still theorists, is simply because (at least compared to their strategic studies counterparts) don't really know what soft power is, how to use it, accumulate it, control it, or deploy it to meet whatever specific needs of the state are called for. When it gets down to cases, a 5.56 mm bullet from a US Marine is a lot more easily quantifiable in its effects than a decision to purchase Nikes.

posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Edit: scratch "definitions" replace with "metrics"

Although honestly, one could make either case.

posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Coco Cola and clean water? There was a big controvoery in India about this a while ago, and Coke and Pepsi saw their market shares fall quite a bit as a result. See

The rumors were spreading like wildfire, and people were all-too willing to believe in conspiracy theories about "evil American multinationals".

posted by: Vish on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Coco Cola and clean water? There was a big controvoery in India about this a while ago, and Coke and Pepsi saw their market shares fall quite a bit as a result. See

The rumors were spreading like wildfire, and people were all-too willing to believe in conspiracy theories about "evil American multinationals".

posted by: Vish on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

probably true.

posted by: jason on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

David Thomson is spot on. Every aspiring young Russian, Brazilian, Indonesian, Turk wants to work for a US company or attend a top US university, regardless of their feelings about US foreign policy.

posted by: tombo on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]


Concerning your impression that others around the world fear us, I wonder if that is not good, at least in part.

As pertains to Europe, wouldn't a sober reflection on the disparity of power between the USA and Europe perhaps cause a reevaluation of the position of being utterly dependent upon the US for their security. If they were to begin to take their own security seriously, then they might also begin to take responsibility for their own security. Once they start down that path, then I think two things could happen.

First, they might begin to understand that security does have a philosophical cost as well as a monetary cost. This path would lead them to begin to think more like us, not less.

Secondly, since their fear is largely irrational and based on the very disparity of power that exists, any movement on their part to start taking responsiblity for their security, i.e. real concrete actions, would tend to diminish the disparity and in turn diminish their fear.

Certainly, despite fears of American Empire impulses, those impulses simply do not exist in the American body politic. If anything, we tend more towards isolation. An "empire" would have responded viciously to the 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut. It is the isolationist streak in us that caused us to wait 18 years before responding.

Perhaps the world's fear of us can accomplish two things simultaneously: 1) Convincing real enemies that we mean business, and lower the likelihood of attack and 2) Cause "lazy" coountries of Western Europe to grow up and begin to take care of themselves, and lower our direct costs of their defense.

posted by: Scott Harris on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Being feared and envied beats their opposites by a country mile, and then some.

posted by: Jerry on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Racketman wrote:
Paragraph 10 refutes paragraph 7. Next!

Only on a superficial reading of paragraphs 7 & 10.

posted by: Chuck Bearden on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Soft power is an interesting concept, to be sure. The impact of US commercial interests on the global economy can hardly be called its most definitive measure. And those that most frequently champion the use of soft power all too often overlook that a truly robust and successful national strategy requires the use of all instruments of national power. Citing a supposed erosion of soft power as criticism of current administration policy - which is far more broadly engaged in many more theatres - is to miss the entire point.

posted by: anon on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

The article says much of the attraction to American products was due to the inferior quality of local brands. "Soft" doesn't sell well when local brands are excellent, such as Legend beating Dell, IBM, and HP in China.

American marketing may adapt well to the local taste, but none of the actual products mentioned in the article are made in America. The brand and product may travel different paths. The cosmetics at the Avon store in Shanghai were made in Guandong, as are the Crest and BandAids for sale at the Wal-Mart and Carrefour in Beijing. Almost all the candles for sale under the house brand at Pottery Barn in Chicago were made in Qingdao using high-precision German machines. Your Nokia cellphone was made at a factory outside Shanghai, using a design from Norway, and marketed by Americans in Texas. When you refinance your home in New Jersey, there’s a good chance most of the money came from Asia.

Finally, many 'international' consumers are sophisticated. How many American wine connoisseurs would avoid a fine French Bordeaux? Do you really think Dick Cheney ever called them freedom fries?

posted by: Jack on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Certainly, as Rich suggests, the saleability of American brands abroad is not a terribly reliable metric of "soft power". David Thompson points out that people's expressed attitutes are at variance with their actual behavior, in a way which would lead to a more useful metric of US "soft power": what change in the visa lines at US embassies abroad? What change in permanent-residency and citizenship applications? (Applications, not completions, since the rate of completions depends partly on the competence of a branch of our government not known for competence.)

Show me statistics that significantly fewer people abroad want to become Americans, and I'll believe that our "soft power" has eroded.

posted by: Anthony on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

If western European nations were more open to and accepting of immigrants, then I'd suspect that many of those outside the western hemisphere who clamor to get into the US would be glad to emigrate to western Europe.

Soft power is less evident in the desire of people to come to America than their desire to become more like Americans, and I'd say that this desire is waning in Russia and has probably leveled off in Latin America and the rest of Eastern Europe.

The good news is that the arabs and persians appear to be warming somewhat to the notion of a more democratic, more market-based, freer political existence. Which only underscores the primacy of hard power.

posted by: tombo on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

The power of this concept really hit me on my few foray's into the street's of Baghdad last summer. Everywhere I went people spoke wonderful English and wanted to know about how to immigrate to America, how to go to American universities, or how to buy american music and magazines. The lure of these things must be pretty powerful to motivate you to go up to a group of armed strangers and strike up a conversation. We even had some Saddam Fedayeen prisoners ask to switch over to our side after two days of reading magazines given them by soldiers!

posted by: CJ on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

When I put out that definition of soft power I was not making a value judgement. I think that soft power is great, but so is hard power. What I really feel is that we need the right mix of the two. I think that what many of the "us vs. them" views of the US and Western Europe miss is that we could have a very effective division of labor between us and W. Europe if we were actually working together with Europe more effectively.

I am not sure if that division of labor is entirely in our best interests because we need some amount of soft power (especially to keep our economy strong), but it probably would be a good thing for world stability. This would hopefully encourage situations to have nations like Libya go to Western Europe and say things like, "protect us from the US, we will work with you to make sure the US will not see us as a threat." Some of this is happening and it is very encouraging.

However, I think that we can go overboard in our quest for absolute security. I think (and I will probably get flamed for saying this) that we should be willing to accept some risk in the name of being an open and free society.

Some here put forward that people who speak against America are irrational and that in reality they all want to move to the US. However according to an article I just read, "A recent study by the National Science Board found that the U.S. government issued 74,000 visas for immigrants to work in science and technology in 2002, down from 166,000 in 2001 – an astonishing drop of 55 percent." This is due in part to the collapse of the tech bubble and increasing outsourcing, but it is also the exact kind of stat that would indicate we are losing favor.

In that same article (link below) the author writes: "But having talked to hundreds of talented professionals in a half dozen countries over the past year, I'm convinced that the biggest reason [for the decline in visa applications] has to do with the changed political and policy landscape in Washington. In the 1990s, the federal government focused on expanding America's human capital and interconnectedness to the world – crafting international trade agreements, investing in cutting edge R&D, subsidizing higher education and public access to the Internet, and encouraging immigration. But in the last three years, the government's attention and resources have shifted to older sectors of the economy, with tariff protection and subsidies to extractive industries. Meanwhile, Washington has stunned scientists across the world with its disregard for consensus scientific views when those views conflict with the interests of favored sectors (as has been the case with the issue of global climate change). Most of all, in the wake of 9/11, Washington has inspired the fury of the world, especially of its educated classes, with its my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy. In effect, for the first time in our history, we're saying to highly mobile and very finicky global talent, "You don't belong here." "

Now I am not entirely convinced by this argument, but I think it is something to bear in mind. I am sure this perception of the US is not universally true, but it is one that I find surprising having spent a significant time abroad recently.

In the end, while our "hard" power President might play well at home, and might even be the best way for us to be safe, we should also be mindful of the trade-offs we are making. It is my belief (and here I am just guessing so disagreement will not offend me) that a less aggresive approach towards every threat (i.e. passing on the opportunity to invade Iraq, still invading Afganistan) might not make that large a difference in our security and might enhance our "soft" power which will pay dividends in the future.

BTW: The article is at:

I found it by accident and make no claims about the reliability of it as I have not had a chance to look into the authors background...heck I haven't even finished the thing myself, it just had a good stat and passage in it.

posted by: Rich on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Open this link in a new window for a real-world example of American corporate adaptability.

About the gesture shown:

Thailand’s traditional form of greeting is the wai, a lovely prayer-like gesture accompanied with a lowering of the head.
Social status is indicated by the height of your wai and depth of your bow: inferiors initiate the wai, while superiors return the wai with just a smile. Under no circumstances should you wai waitresses, children, or clerks - this only makes you look ridiculous! Save your respect for royalty, monks, elders, ‘superiors’, and immigration officials.

The "magic bullet" of our culture's appeal may be the respect it can display to other cultures. Maybe simple civility works.

posted by: mark on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

One thing regarding the article that I quoted. It is by Richard Florida, a trendy "expert" in economic development. I don't tend to agree with his opinions on that topic, but do think there is some element of truth to them. However the article that I quote I do agree with, and I am comfortable using his data as I do think he has a relatively high level of academic credibility.

posted by: Rich on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

All good points above. I would add that it doesn't help to have much of the world's elite media -- as well as some of its not-so-elite propaganda outlets, particularly those with ties to governments or political parties -- demonizing the U.S. on a fairly non-stop basis. What passes for knowledge about the U.S. in some places I travel is frightening.

posted by: Cosmo on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]


Its not just the US. In Britain Channel 4 did a documentary on Anti-semitism among Arabs, both in the UK and the Middle East. One of the people they interviewed said that the Jews controlled the world media becuase "Robert Maxwell was a Jew and he passed on his press holdings to his son Rupert Murdoch"

posted by: sam on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

ANTI-AMERICANISM, by Jean Francois Revel, is terrifically worthwhile reading on the subject of how the world's elite media conceives of and describes America. "Cosmo" is right: the paranoid fantasies that pass for "reporting" on the U.S. are appalling.

Terrific post by Scott Harris.

As to soft power being a question of whether other countries like us, to me that feels like Sally Field territory. ("You like me!") Having been involved in various politically-charged organizations over the years I've learned that likeability alone is a guarantee of failure. People really do respond to carrot-and-stick; there is massive research demonstrating this basic truth of the human psyche in the field of behaviorism.

In my experience, which I think does generalize to at least some of the situations we find ourselves in at the international level, people and probably institutions are most effective when they convey a message along the lines of: "I am a friend and ally; I like and respect you. But don't cross me."

At some level this is a simple matter of "setting limits." In any relationship you set limits, or you should. Some things are not OK. Period. Good fences make good neighbors, and good limits make good relationships.

I feel France is behaving better lately because of the hard line we've taken toward them--as well as, probably, some "quiet diplomacy" indicating that we can be congenial again if changes are made. (I could be entirely wrong--this is just an impression . . . )

posted by: Catherine on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

In that same article (link below) the author writes: "But having talked to hundreds of talented professionals in a half dozen countries over the past year, I'm convinced that the biggest reason [for the decline in visa applications] has to do with the changed political and policy landscape in Washington.

This is a bunch of BS. I am an immigrant to the US myself, and though I am well past all that (thank God!), I have kept up with immigration issues. The real reason for the decline in visas has been the sucky state of the economy, particularly in high-tech. Employers have to apply for visas on behalf of specific individuals, and with little hiring going on, there are consequently few visa applications. So this is not due to any "changed political and policy landscape in Washington". People immigrate to better their own lives and prospects, and tend to pay surprisingly little attention to what the government and its leaders think. My guess is that the author asked questions that generated the answers that he wanted.

posted by: Kevin P. on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Catherine wrote:
ANTI-AMERICANISM, by Jean Francois Revel, is terrifically worthwhile reading on the subject of how the world's elite media conceives of and describes America. "Cosmo" is right: the paranoid fantasies that pass for "reporting" on the U.S. are appalling.

I agree strongly with this. I just got back from a month-long visit to India. While many newspapers are fairly balanced, some of what passes for news and opinion is astounding. (For instance, I learned that the US created Saddam and provided him with all his weapons, including some weapons of mass destruction.).

The left is strong in international and foreign media, and there is always an unreasoning fear of the United States and its motives. Ironically, many of the same people will rush to visit the US and attend its universities.

posted by: Kevin P. on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

I think that in defining "soft-power" one has to differentiate between several different ideas. That people may want to be like us, want our stuff, or think that they can trust us are three very different things.

For instance, some posters have argued that American soft-power is undiminished because many young people in other countries want to come to America to live, work, or study. However this could be motivated by a desire to have our stuff rather than to be like us and it says absolutely nothing about the vast majority of their people who will never get to come to the States. In fact, those left behind may resent us more and trust us less out of jealousy, even as they continue to covet our stuff but reject our way of life.

In fact this very same dynamic animates most of the countries that have the young people who most want to come here. That so very few of them can, is a constant reminder of their inadequacy. And making someone think that you think that you're better than them is very rarely a good way to get them to cooperate with you.

So just remember: wanting our stuff, wanting our way of life, and trusting us are three entirely different things. Soft-power only exists when all three are in coordination and balanced. If they want our stuff enough to trade for it, if they trust our credibility enough to cut honest deals with us, and if they admire us enough so that we can all get along ... then this is the reservoir of good will that let's nations have peaceful and prosperous relations with one another.

An imbalance in any of the three factors can be disasterous. One could produce operational definitions for empirical metrics and break down the categories from here on out: such as the difference in US political credibility (are we really for democracy?) vs US military threat credibility (how far will we go in use of military force) vs deal making (will we keep our word?). The oldman is too old and too busy however to do the work of lazy poli sci or sociology professors for them. Let them figure out the obvious for themselves. Put in a limited information distributed networking decision making process and a Bayesian past information integrating projection for decision making in multi-participant in Open and multilevel mathematical game theories and you'd have a decent career set-up for you. But the oldman has more important things to do than tidy up theoretical psycho-history for people who should know enough to figure it out for themselves.

posted by: Oldman on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]


You make a valid point about people just wanting our stuff, not wanting to be like us. For some time, I have been collecting data in preparation for writing a book called "The Habits of Poverty."

The inspiration for this book was my own upbringing in poverty and the struggles that I have had and continue to have in overcoming habits created in poverty. To wit, long-term poverty in America is due to the action or inaction of those in poverty rather than a lack of opportunity.

It has always been tempting to believe that the attitudes and habits I developed in poverty were "right." To have to look inward and change is very painful, and very difficult. And the process of changing is hit and miss. But as I have tried to be responsible for myself in the areas of concern, rather than blame others, I have slowly begun to become more successful.

In a similar manner, it is tempting for citizens of other countries to believe that they can have our stuff without becoming like us. But in very concrete ways, that is simply not true. We have our stuff in part because of the culture we propogate.

The freedom, suspiciousness of centralized power, the fractured nature of governmental power, the ability to fail over and over without being labelled a failure - these are key traits of American society which have formed the foundation of our success. Among the most treasured of our values is the freedom from the requirement of perfection. We can be partially right, and that is good enough in America.

The Utopian ideal of Islamists, Communists, and Western European Socialists does not allow for partial success. It demands perfection. Professional failure is treated as a social disease. Ideological disagreement is anethema. These are not attributes that lead to successful societies.

To ignore the fact that characteristics of culture determine the success of the culture is equivalent to telling a poor person that he can be successful by rising from the bed at 10:00 am instead of 6:00 am, mouthing off to his boss, and playing the lottery every week. Successful parents teach the habits of success to their children by modelling those habits. And successful cultures follow the same pattern.

Those who believe they can emulate American success without adopting key elements of American culture are just fooling themselves. Citizens of other countries do not have to become wholly "American" to copy our success. But they do have to honestly find out why we are successful and why they are not. Then they have to undertake the painful and arduous task of adopting the portions of American culture that are responsible for our success. To think otherwise is a case-study in denial.

posted by: Scott Harris on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Scott Harris is right on target. He agrees with me completely---and therefore we know he is a brilliant man. Seriously, though, I have long argued that the rest of the world does indeed have to become more like us. There is far too much emphasis upon them wishing to buy our products. America is the superior culture and this enrages and embitters many outside of our country. Political correctness is probably the reason why few are willing to admit the obvious. Also, so many of our own fellow citizens are ashamed of being American. They perceive the Old Europeans and just about every other culture as superior to our own.

posted by: David Thomson on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]


Nice typology, and there's something to chew on about it.

However, consider this: if you want our stuff, will it stop there? That is, getting Coke and blue jeans is easy. But it won't make you part of the article you read in the Hindustan Times or the Bangkok Post.

Some will be satisfied w/ the goodies. But many won't---both b/c they don't make the next level (e.g., computers, software, etc.), or b/c the material goods themselves are not enough.

Nor do these countries/people have to be like us, necessarily. They just shouldn't be like THEM. By which I mean that a middle-class German is not necessarily like a middle-class American. The German may value his vacation days, gov't-paid college education, etc., more highly than he does the American's prospect of being richer, or paying fewer taxes. But a middle-class anyone, so goes the belief, is going to want a say in gov't---i.e., will be democratically minded (most likely in a republican-parliamentary, vice democratic, kind of way).

Democracies don't always get along, but the theory is that they don't fight each other. They don't always act honorably, but as Amartya Sen has noted, no country that has a free press and a democratically elected gov't has suffered a famine in the 20th Century. They may tolerate lynchings---but they won't create death camps.

You see this in East Asia---the middle class South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Singaporean, even some of the Malays, Filipinos, and Indonesians, are far closer to us, in certain basic values, than they are to their Chinese, North Korean, Vietnamese counterparts.

posted by: Dean on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

To expand upon my comments about the excellencies of American culture, one other aspect that is uniquely American, and contributes to our success is our very liberal immigration policy. In effect, our relatively open and inviting immigration policy is constantly reforming American culture.

American culture is not stagnant. It is constantly evolving. Immigrants bring their culture with them. In order to be successful in America, they must adopt the important elements of our culture. But because we do not demand uniform perfection, they are allowed to keep the portions of their old culture which they still value.

Over time, the general American culture adopts those valuable elements of other cultures and incorporates them into our own culture. In animal husbandry terms, or in farming, this process is what is called cross-breeding. When cross-breeding is unsuccessful, the result is discarded. But when cross-breeding is successful, it results in a much stronger species of animal or plant.

An easy example of this (from an engineer's viewpoint) is the success of Japanese style manufacturing. In the early 80's, there was real fear that the Japanese were going to overtake us - that we were falling behind in the world. Unlike other cultures which are rigid, we adopted Just-in-Time manufacturing, integrated our supply chains, and incorporated this strength of Japanese culture into our own. Today's engineering students do not think of JIT manufacturing and MRP systems as Japanese. They are fully American. In fact, we now beat the Japanese at what was originally their own game.

The point that the multiculturalists just don't understand is that preserving the many discrete cultures of the world is not only impractical, it is in fact undesirable. Those cultures which strive to preserve the purity of their bloodlines and their culture are dooming themselves. It is the adaptive nature of American culture that is its overall strength. Those who believe we should freeze time, and preserve all existing cultures deny the evolutionary process of growth and development.

American culture is strong because among the nations of the world, America is alone is encouraging this cultural cross-breeding. Multiculturalists should watch "Gangs of New York." It is a dramatic presentation of the stupidity of their philosophy.

Americans embrace constant change. Others who would be successful must also embrace change as well.

posted by: Scott Harris on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Thank you all for the spirited and very enjoyable discussion on 'soft-power' set-off by my typological post. Indeed as some have pointed out there isn't a hard distinction between the socio-economic forces that produce our stuff and the cultural habits that produce them. There is a give and take. I would caution however in specifying particular phenomena as being "married" to an antithetical or positive "success" habit. All things have to be taken all together in the big picture. There are other alternatives to the American culture that have produced similar success. One was the Victorian British culture, on which the American capitalistic culture was in fact based upon in mimicry. Certainly they didn't have the same exact values as we do now, but in *total* it sufficed to produce a similar balance in "soft-power" that led them to success.

As the immigrant son of immigrant parents, let me say that we never abandoned our culture and values. However, what we did do was emphasize the values and customs that best helped us compete and succeed in the New World, and lightened up on the ones that would have held us back. Every culture has a mixed bag of behaviors and beliefs which are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. The key is to cobble together a winning combination, and not to excuse failure because of clinging to tradition or "cultural identity".

Measuring our own soft-power, in turn we cannot blame the distrust of other nations on their own malice or ineptitude wholly. We must also take responsibility and say, even if we are to weild power for the very same ends we ought to wisely choose to do so while arousing the least enmity and therefore resistance. We cannot simply say that we have the power, or that our values are superior. We must choose among our values and emphasize those that best project the most favorable image to the world WHILE pursuing our ends assidiously. It is our responsibility to present ourselves to that others at least understand us, whether or not they agree.

posted by: Oldman on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]


The question which is always open to debate is how far must we go to assuage the fears of others. Certainly, we shouldn't throw our power around like a bull in a China closet. On the other hand, sometimes evil demands the exercise of power regardless of what "dishes" might get broken. We shouldn't needlessly make enemies. But we shouldn't assume that others' fears are legitimate either.

posted by: Scott Harris on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Rich - changes in the issuance of visas, or permanent residencies, or citizenships, are not indicative of changes in worldwide attitudes to the US. After all, as you point out, we could just decide to not issue so many. Or the INS could become even less efficient than it already is, and slow things down. What would indicate something would be a slowing of applications received. That would be somewhat affected by our economic slowdown, but not as much as visa issuances.

posted by: Anthony on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

I'm a visa officer at an American Embassy overseas. My experience has taught me a few things that are relevant to this discussion:

1) American policies do have an effect on the number of people receiving visas, but only the laws and policies which govern the number of people who receive visas.

2) A casual inspection of the numbers of employment visas Congress allows us to issue (mostly H, E, and L visas for those who care) reveals that our employment-visa policy is largely counter-cyclical in intent. In other words, when times are good, we are more open, and when times are bad, we tend to lower the number of people we want. HOWEVER, this being the US Gov't we're talking about, the changes tend to be a year or two behind the cycle.

3) My experience confirms the notion espoused above that people generally aren't turned off from working in the US by US foreign policy. People I've interviewed have certainly (on occasion) evinced skepticism of US policy, but it has never deterred them. Having read the quote from the Florida article, it sounds to me like the author is projecting his own dislikes of US foreign policy onto some kind of chimerical decrease in work visas/immigration. The fact is, we could take a lot more people than we do.


posted by: Green Lantern on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Mr. Scott Harris,

Put like that, I'd have to agree. However, what disappoints me is the utter backwardness and incompetence of GW Bush's choices. Out of the "Axis of Evil" there are much better cases for invading Iran or North Korea. And despite wishful thinking otherwise, no internal collapses in those societies have occured. If Saddam is any guide, an extremely unpopular dictator presiding over a broken society completly subjugated by sanctions can continue indefinitely without outside invasion. Those who expect a collapse of Iran or North Korea are just indulging in wishful thinking without any substantial basis in expectation. It might happen, but it just as easily might not.

The two countries also have much more extreme track records on working with terrorists, nuclear proliferation, and WMD development. The alqueda links that the Bush Admin wishes were true of Iraq and keeps on trying to manufacture, are actually true about Iran. If it was done intelligently and with maximal reasonableness, I would support imminent mobilization for military activity on both those fronts. We just invaded the wrong damn country Scott, and that REALLY bothers me. Saddam just wasn't a real threat or a real priority. Now we got two ticking timebombs that really are. As I've said before, I don't support GW Bush because he's "wrong" but because he's incompetent.

posted by: Oldman on 01.21.04 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

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