What is culture? What is economics? How are these two concepts intertwined?
We all identify with one certain culture, that of which we were raised. Our culture dictates to an extent, our thoughts, actions, and political views. A deeper insight into the complexity of ‘culture’ itself reveals that the sole concept of civilization is always changing; just like weather patterns, a nation’s perceived culture may be predicted to an extent, but cannot be specified.
I live in Canada. When I try and piece together what the ‘culture’ of my country is, I can’t seem to draw out many conclusions. Sure, we’re kind, we’re great at hockey, and we’re a breeding nest for all sorts of talent; but culture goes so much further than sports and entertainment.
Culture is dependent on many factors: age, ethnic background, location within a country (city or country), social and financial status, the list goes on. It encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things
The fact that my first thoughts on Canada’s overall culture as a country were Hockey and Justin Bieber is a perfect reflection of my age, my interests, social status, and where I live. Consider the different perspectives you could draw if you took a pool of people ranging in age, location, and social status. If you asked an elderly couple living in northern Saskatchewan what they thought Canada’s culture was, they would probably tell you about the comradery of Canadian communities, and how Canadians truly care for one another.
Conversely, if you asked a young 20-something couple living in downtown Toronto, they may tell you Canada’s culture is exciting, diversified, and perhaps less connected than that of a small, northern Canadian town.
However, one cannot define culture in one sentence because it depends on so many factors. Furthermore, it is very difficult to describe any nation as having a certain culture because when we make these assumptions, we have specific people, places, and ideologies in mind.
Culture is the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations – Merriam-Webster
Think about it, when I ask you what culture the USA has, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
You may think of diversity, political struggles, or even their music and entertainment tastes. The fact of the matter is, a culture of an entire nation can’t be boiled down to a few specifics. However, we can determine how the culture of any given country may differ from the next by assessing their political and economic structures, as well as their history.
First, let’s talk Politics
Understanding different political systems are important. Each political system has its advantages and disadvantages. It is worth considering the merits of other political systems, and perhaps incorporating some of the ideas into your own system. Some of the five more common political systems around the world include:
Here are some overviews of these five fairly recognizable political systems:
We often hear the United States referred to as a democracy. Indeed, many refer to the U.S. as a representative democracy. A democracy in a more traditional sense is a political system that allows for each individual to participate.
In theory, a republic is a political system in which the government remains mostly subject to those governed. Some scholars define any political system in which the citizens legitimize the government. As such, some consider the U.S. a republic. Indeed, there are those that believe that any form of government that is not based on heritage or authoritarian governance. In some cases, a representative democracy (or any form of democracy) might be considered a republic. Some of the types of republics that you might see include:
- Crowned (a constitutional monarchy might be considered a )
- Single Party
- Federal (the United States is often referred to as a )
When most of us think of a monarchy, we think of the political systems of medieval European countries. In a monarchy, a ruler is not usually chosen by the voice of the people or their representatives. Often a monarch is the head of state until he or she abdicates or until death. In many cases a monarch is the final word in government. There may be functionaries to make decisions and run the political system, but the monarch has discretion with the laws, and how they are enforced.
In most cases, a communist state is based on the ideology of communism as taught by Marx and/or Lenin. However, some argue that these political systems are not true to the ideals espoused by these revolutionary thinkers. Communist states are often dominated by a single party, or a group of people. A planned economy is often part of the governing class, and in many cases resources are taken and then redistributed to others, at the top of the system. Sometimes communists call themselves “workers’ states” or “socialist,” but there are very real differences in their operation. In a lot of cases, citizens are required to do certain jobs, or have some of their life decisions — especially concerning where they can live and what jobs they can do. Communism is often considered an authoritarian political system.
Another authoritarian form of government is the dictatorship. Normally, a dictator is the main individual ruling the country. While there are lackeys and others who work for the dictator, he or she makes most of the decisions, and usually has enforcers. In some cases, the political system is run by a small group of people. Dictators are not restricted by constitutions or parliaments. The governed are usually not consented in any way. Elections held are usually affairs in which the dictator is the only candidate.
How A Country’s Political System Influences Its Culture
It is intuitively clear that any nation’s culture is diversely influenced by the form of political leadership.
For example, many successful developed nations are either a Democracy, or a Republic. America and Canada for example, are flourishing democracies, while France, India, and Russia are all notable Republic-led nations.
The culture’s of these nations can (in varying opinions) either benefit or suffer as a result of the increased cultural diversity that these political authorities will allow.
As is common knowledge, America and Canada were built off of immigration. (You can read my answer on the most beneficial waves of immigration into America here.) Their economies were formulated on the basis of bringing in foreign talent and capital as a means to stimulate economic growth.
As this occurred, the cultures of America and Canada became largely diversified, which has through history, caused a tremendous amount of turmoil.
America is largely populated by African Americans, Germans, Mexicans, and of course, the Spanish and British.
Canada is not so diversified, but has faced numerous uncertainties due to population distribution among different cultures. The province Quebec has proposed several referendums in an attempt to secede from Canada to become either it’s own nation, or a subsidiary of France, due to it’s largely french speaking populace; we are seeing the same issues unfold in Israel/Palestine and Ukraine/Russia, where cultural diversity has indeed helped lay the building blocks to these nations, but political, cultural, religious, and lingual differences continue to hinder the synergy of these nations.
How Economic Structure Can Impact Culture
A country can either have a closed or open market, and by choosing one or the other, the variety of cultural diversity will be heavily influenced.
For example, the US and Canada both have immensely open economies, meaning that foreign businesses, governments, and consumers can invest in the US economy.
North America’s open economy structure has vastly shifted the types of products consumers purchase, from cars to televisions.
Furthermore, as foreign companies like Honda and Toyota continue to grow in Western markets, their business partners and consumers are more likely to immigrate to America because they can find their products in the US, and they can work for their homeland companies.
I think the best example of economic structure as it pertains to cultural influence is indeed the United States of America.
The US is by far the largest consumer of entertainment in the world, consuming close to $11 billion a year on entertainment, close to $8 billion more than any other nation.
The United State’s successful economic framework laid the foundation for a flourishing, consumer-driven, populace.
A great example of this is shopping malls.
Victor David Gruen, was an Austrian-born architect best known as a pioneer in the design of shopping malls in the United States; which remains the play-haven for any American consumer. Funny how an immigrant managed to pioneer one of North America’s most lucrative economic advancements in recent history.
The implementation of shopping malls in America gained global traction near the end of the 20th century, and also gave foreign countries a chance to adequately present their cultures.
Think about it, shopping malls in America are vastly different than shopping malls in Japan due to their immensely different cultures.
What is great about political and economic control is that without sound leadership, no nation can prosper enough to globally present their culture to the world in ways that affluent nations can.
Right now, we are seeing the greatest divergence of cultural diversity in history with the introduction of social media and the internet, which is, of course, all a result of the United State’s democratically-led government.
Without globalization and open markets, as well as democratic governments who praise immigration, our world would be a much more separated, prejudicial place.