I picked this up after reading Harrison, The Central Liberal Truth. (See 9 April 2012.) While Harrison is primarily a practitioner who migrated to the ivy tower, Jones is an economic historian who has consulted for the World Bank. As the sub-title suggests, “A historical and economic critique of culture” he takes a rather different view to Harrison. While Harrison argues on thin evidence that politics can provide cultural solutions to economic challenges, Jones argues on dense historical and economic evidence that history and economic reality create culture, but culture returns the favour. As Pawson writes, causal chains in reality are dense, intertwined, and loop back on each other. Of course, I’m simplifying both arguments, but I find Jones more compelling than Harrison. I think the key distinction is between culture (values, attitudes and beliefs) and institutions (ways of organizing social behaviour). Culture influences institutions, and institutions shape economic activity. Economic activity brings change, and creates shocks to culture and institutions, which both change. The book is in two parts: cultural analysis, and cultural commentary, but the interaction of culture, institutions, and economies is evident in every chapter.
(also posted on Amazon)
David Last, 23 April 2013