[14 November 2008]
Does typecasting by nationality become more pronounced in a crisis? (One of the curious paradoxes of the identity politics of the 1980s and 1990s was that it was both wrong to essentialize people categorically based on their nationality, race, or gender or what have you, but at the same time the differences automatically engendered by these characteristics required a deeper respect.) I’m reading Orwell’s essays written during World War II, in which he concludes naturally enough that patriotism is the most powerful force in the world, considering all the destruction being wreaked in its name. In “England Your England,” he proceeds to claim that Spaniards can be known by their cruelty to animals and Italians are congenitally noisy before proclaiming that the British citizens’ respect for the law is a national characteristic.
Now, facing an economic crisis, more and more national stereotypes seem to be cropping up in economic analysis. Or maybe they are always there, but now we really need them to be true. Americans are presumed to be optimistic shopaholics, sustaining worldwide demand; Asians are inveterate savers who stubbornly refuse to consume more. And in an editorial in yesterday’s FT, Canadian finance minister James Flaherty champions his people’s dullness. In a piece headlined ” ‘Boring’ Canada’s financial tips for the world,” he writes,
Few countries are as dependent on trade or as integrated into the global financial system as Canada. Yet our financial sector continues to weather the turbulence better than many other countries. This did not happen by chance. Canadians by nature are prudent and our financial system has been characterised as unexciting. Canada’s regulatory regime ensures that stability and efficiency are balanced.
This sort of thing makes me extremely envious of Canadians. I wish I lived in a country that was generally proud of being boring and pragmatic as opposed to gluttonous and intemperate.