ISET

ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

American Dream vs. Georgian Dream

When I first started reading to my daughter I decided to buy a collection of Georgian fairy tales. However, as I started to read, I noticed that there were lots of things I did not agree with and found myself having to rephrase some of the passages as I read. I noticed that the poor are always portrayed as good characters and, no matter how they get rich (stealing from, deceiving or killing a “vicious rich giant”), social justice is assumed to have been met. I have always wondered what Natsarkekia, a lazy “ash digger”, who even after appropriating the giant’s wealth would probably go on to continue digging ash, can teach our children. Why should such a lazy guy be the most popular fairy tale character in our country?

I am not sure whether it is the subconscious influence of Natsarkekia or just a coincidence, but you will find lots of Georgians who would refrain from calling themselves hard-working. “Talented but lazy” carries the connotation of a compliment, while hard-working somehow points to a lack of talent. Some Georgians would not even mind calling themselves “talented but lazy”, completely sure in the fact that they are too talented to work hard. The general attitude towards work ethics in this part of the world has been greatly affected by the Soviet experience and, as Georgians are especially good at finding loopholes in arrangements, the Soviet past has influenced our mentality too. However, I would not put the entire blame for that on the Soviet Union. Maybe Georgian attitudes towards hard work has deep roots in more remote past?

As of today, only 7% of Georgians consider hard work important for getting a good job. More Georgians rely on pure luck (9%) than on hard work for their professional success. Age or talent, God-given traits that are impossible to change, are given as much credit by the Georgian population as hard work (CRRC Caucasus Barometer 2011). There is nothing bad in being willing to maximize an outcome with the least use of resources, however, work ethics are one of those few things that help one, variable upon the will of an individual, move up the social ladder. If we do not believe that our efforts have the potential to change our lives for the better, then all that remains are miracles for turning the poor into the rich.

Maybe that is the reason why Georgians are so supportive of redistribution. If we look at recent developments in the country, we can see the growing support for redistribution. The first sign of this was the election of a new political party. The “Georgian Dream” coalition is obviously more equity-oriented than the previous ruling party. The coalition heavily emphasized that fact during its pre-election campaign, promising to address existing social problems through increased subsistence allowances, increased pensions, higher spending on education and healthcare, etc. Even back in 2010 most Georgians blamed social injustice for people being disadvantaged and 66.7% were ready to personally contribute in order to help those in need (Life in Transition II by EBRD and World Bank, 2010).

Of course, there are also more direct reasons for supporting redistribution. Despite Georgia’s spectacular growth, the amount of poverty registered increased from 6.4% in 2007 to 9.7% in 2012 (GeoStat). Additionally, subjective poverty (people registered in the database of social assistance as a share of total population) is about four times higher than the number of people receiving assistance. 36.9% of the population and 45% of families in Georgia are registered in the database of socially vulnerable, i.e. seeking financial support from the government (SSA).

As for indirect support for redistribution, as Alesina et al. (2011) show, attitudes towards social mobility in a country determine, to some extent, preferences for redistribution. NBER Cross-country research shows that Europeans are more likely to favor redistribution than Americans. The argument of Alesina et al. (2011) runs as follows: in the US social mobility is high and even the poor believe in the American dream – that anyone can succeed through hard work and all have the potential to lead a happy and successful life. So, poverty does not affect future income in America as much as it does in Europe, where social mobility is lower. Consequently, there is a higher demand for redistribution in Europe than in the US.

In terms of redistribution preferences, Georgia is more like Europe than the land of opportunities. Georgian fairy tales might have affected our subconscious in a way that most of us put ourselves in the shoes of the poor and perceive ourselves as poor. Here poverty is not perceived to be a personal failure; rather, it is viewed as a failure of the system. In the US, poverty is regarded as a personal failure because if you had worked hard, you would have been successful. In Georgia, neighbors usually complain to each other about their poverty, in the US neighbors try to show each other how rich they are. In Georgia you are poor because you were not given the chance to unleash your talent; it is not your fault and the government is responsible for taking care of you. That is the difference between the Georgian and American dreams!

Rate this blog entry:
21 Comments

Related Posts

Comments

 
Guest - Rati on Friday, 12 July 2013 11:52

there's an interesting joke: what is the difference between American and Georgian dreams?
American dream is "to become a millionaire", while Georgian one is "to be a millionaire".

there's an interesting joke: what is the difference between American and Georgian dreams? American dream is "to become a millionaire", while Georgian one is "to be a millionaire".
Guest - Eric Livny on Friday, 12 July 2013 11:57

Addiction to gambling is another attribute of the Georgian dream

Addiction to gambling is another attribute of the Georgian dream
Guest - Giorgi on Friday, 12 July 2013 12:22

I think the "Natsarkekia" syndrome is temporary. From my personal observations people start to realize that only by hard working they can achieve success. The very sad thing is that, young talented and also hard working people are leaving the country...

I think the "Natsarkekia" syndrome is temporary. From my personal observations people start to realize that only by hard working they can achieve success. The very sad thing is that, young talented and also hard working people are leaving the country...
Guest - ALEX on Saturday, 13 July 2013 23:29

They are leaving the country because they realize that in georgia despite talent and hard work still there is low chance to succeed.

They are leaving the country because they realize that in georgia despite talent and hard work still there is low chance to succeed.
Guest - Philippe on Friday, 12 July 2013 13:03

Dear Erik,
thanks for the post. just a quick comment to enrich the picture in noting that my French compatriots have a similar tenency to associating hard working ("laborieux") to a certain lack of talent, as talent is precisely this gift whereby a person is able to achieve quickly and nicely what others would hardly have carried out. There's nothing like an appetite for laziness into it, though, as what is appreciated in the end is action - the "nice deed" ("beau geste").

Dear Erik, thanks for the post. just a quick comment to enrich the picture in noting that my French compatriots have a similar tenency to associating hard working ("laborieux") to a certain lack of talent, as talent is precisely this gift whereby a person is able to achieve quickly and nicely what others would hardly have carried out. There's nothing like an appetite for laziness into it, though, as what is appreciated in the end is action - the "nice deed" ("beau geste").
Guest - Wiweck Singh on Friday, 12 July 2013 14:16

Excellent post!

Excellent post!
Guest - Hans Gutbrod on Friday, 12 July 2013 14:31

this is a really great post (I enjoyed the combination of fairy tales and data!). One thing we found striking in the data is that Georgians like the idea of redistribution in the sense of receiving – but they also seem to dislike redistribution in the sense of taking away. This was an issue, for example, with the garbage fees (unpopular with more than 80% of the Tbilisi population) and it also comes out in some of the CRRC data. See http://bit.ly/Income_Fair

Such inconsistencies are not entirely surprising, Americans want the government to create more jobs & improve infrastructure, and lower taxes and less debt. but in the Georgian context I think it also reflects that some of these trade-offs have not been part of a structured public/political debate, which often stays at levels of asserting and challenging legitimacy.

ISET, I think, has a great role to play in helping clarify some of these trade-offs in public debates.

this is a really great post (I enjoyed the combination of fairy tales and data!). One thing we found striking in the data is that Georgians like the idea of redistribution in the sense of receiving – but they also seem to dislike redistribution in the sense of taking away. This was an issue, for example, with the garbage fees (unpopular with more than 80% of the Tbilisi population) and it also comes out in some of the CRRC data. See http://bit.ly/Income_Fair Such inconsistencies are not entirely surprising, Americans want the government to create more jobs & improve infrastructure, and lower taxes and less debt. but in the Georgian context I think it also reflects that some of these trade-offs have not been part of a structured public/political debate, which often stays at levels of asserting and challenging legitimacy. ISET, I think, has a great role to play in helping clarify some of these trade-offs in public debates.
Guest - Helene Ryding on Friday, 12 July 2013 15:03

Nice article, but as Lenin said "What is to be done" about it? Lots of rags to riches stories in the papers? A lot of that may not involve hard work, just being lucky and willing to take a lot of risks. What is really working hard these days? Long hours being a banker?

Nice article, but as Lenin said "What is to be done" about it? Lots of rags to riches stories in the papers? A lot of that may not involve hard work, just being lucky and willing to take a lot of risks. What is really working hard these days? Long hours being a banker?
Guest - Eric Livny on Friday, 12 July 2013 17:08

Helene, there may be many competing definitions of what it means to work hard "these days", but isn't it like pornography - you know it when you see it. When I see my Vera neighbors playing backgammon all day long, I know they are not working hard or taking any risks. They seem to be happy they way they are, having bit of bread and wine, friends to play backgammon and say toasts with. Not a trace of desire to amass material wealth or climb up the social ladder.

When I now think of it, there is actually some beauty in this approach to life. In the long run, we are all dead.

Helene, there may be many competing definitions of what it means to work hard "these days", but isn't it like pornography - you know it when you see it. When I see my Vera neighbors playing backgammon all day long, I know they are not working hard or taking any risks. They seem to be happy they way they are, having bit of bread and wine, friends to play backgammon and say toasts with. Not a trace of desire to amass material wealth or climb up the social ladder. When I now think of it, there is actually some beauty in this approach to life. In the long run, we are all dead.
Guest - NP on Saturday, 13 July 2013 02:36

Very nice article, even though in order to be pleasant and easy to read sometimes oversimplifies. First of all, while it is true that being hard working has its merits, the same is true also about "being lazy". To quote an American, Bill Gates, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
If this is the case, Georgians might even find out to have a comparative advantage vis-à-vis "hard working Americans".
Moving forward and looking at the comparison between the "Georgian dream" and the "American dream" one could try to think about how these differences in attitudes and perceptions of reality came about. It is easy to blame it on "innate lazyness". But... is relatively low social mobility in Georgia due to lack of willingness to work hard or isn't it also possible that the lack of hard work is due to negative experiences showing that it does not pay? How remunerated has been, so far, hard work in Georgia vis-à-vis "smart" laziness or connections? When I look at the statistics about how employers chose the top management of their firms TODAY and I see that one of the main criteria is still "connections" (World Bank survey, 2013) rather than (for example) the level of education, I see how people might think that hard work is not the solution. This, on the other hand, might explain also why people might perceive redistribution as fair.
We live in a dynamic world. Even America's relatively high social mobility and the American dream might be at danger, as pointed out by some authors (see, for example, Stiglitz, 2012). Increasing social inequalities and rent seeking activities (not by the poor but by the richest) risk damaging the very fabric of societies and future growth. It is not even clear anymore that most profits go to the "hard workers". Most of the "hardest working" individuals on earth are among the poorest. The problem is that they are earning so little for their work that it is hard for them even to save enough to pay back their debts or to send their children to school. This, in turn, tends to perpetuate poverty.
To conclude, I do believe that fairy tales have always something to teach us, exactly as "dreams", if we can get past their "surface". Work ethics is certainly important, as is hard work. Neither of those is, however, enough in this modern world (and maybe never was) to ensure success. There is also the need that somebody makes sure the playing field is levelled and everyone has the same opportunities to develop its potential. Then, maybe, even the "lazy ones" will realize that working hard pays. And everyone will benefit from that.

Very nice article, even though in order to be pleasant and easy to read sometimes oversimplifies. First of all, while it is true that being hard working has its merits, the same is true also about "being lazy". To quote an American, Bill Gates, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” If this is the case, Georgians might even find out to have a comparative advantage vis-à-vis "hard working Americans". Moving forward and looking at the comparison between the "Georgian dream" and the "American dream" one could try to think about how these differences in attitudes and perceptions of reality came about. It is easy to blame it on "innate lazyness". But... is relatively low social mobility in Georgia due to lack of willingness to work hard or isn't it also possible that the lack of hard work is due to negative experiences showing that it does not pay? How remunerated has been, so far, hard work in Georgia vis-à-vis "smart" laziness or connections? When I look at the statistics about how employers chose the top management of their firms TODAY and I see that one of the main criteria is still "connections" (World Bank survey, 2013) rather than (for example) the level of education, I see how people might think that hard work is not the solution. This, on the other hand, might explain also why people might perceive redistribution as fair. We live in a dynamic world. Even America's relatively high social mobility and the American dream might be at danger, as pointed out by some authors (see, for example, Stiglitz, 2012). Increasing social inequalities and rent seeking activities (not by the poor but by the richest) risk damaging the very fabric of societies and future growth. It is not even clear anymore that most profits go to the "hard workers". Most of the "hardest working" individuals on earth are among the poorest. The problem is that they are earning so little for their work that it is hard for them even to save enough to pay back their debts or to send their children to school. This, in turn, tends to perpetuate poverty. To conclude, I do believe that fairy tales have always something to teach us, exactly as "dreams", if we can get past their "surface". Work ethics is certainly important, as is hard work. Neither of those is, however, enough in this modern world (and maybe never was) to ensure success. There is also the need that somebody makes sure the playing field is levelled and everyone has the same opportunities to develop its potential. Then, maybe, even the "lazy ones" will realize that working hard pays. And everyone will benefit from that.
Guest - Misha Nishnianidze on Saturday, 13 July 2013 19:44

Natsarkekia is very similar to Jack and the Beanstock or Puss in Boots (Le Chat Botté) so we can conclude that the English or French people are genetically lazy and seek redistribution.

Natsarkekia is very similar to Jack and the Beanstock or Puss in Boots (Le Chat Botté) so we can conclude that the English or French people are genetically lazy and seek redistribution.
Guest - Simon Appleby on Monday, 15 July 2013 09:42

An issue to consider is Georgia's very high rate of expatriation. Over a million Georgians live abroad, leaving 4.5 million compatriots at home. With a fifth of the nation living abroad, any survey on social attitudes to work will be somewhat skewed. Migrants typically make up the most dynamic, most adventurous, most entrepreneurial, most industrious and most ambitious subset of the population. In Georgia's case, the top fifth of the population for these traits has arguably removed itself from the survey sample.

Given that most budding entrepreneurs and ambitious professionals put in 80 hour weeks and live very frugally to support their ambitions, few of them see the state redistributing their hard-earned cash to the indolent as a desirable outcome.

An issue to consider is Georgia's very high rate of expatriation. Over a million Georgians live abroad, leaving 4.5 million compatriots at home. With a fifth of the nation living abroad, any survey on social attitudes to work will be somewhat skewed. Migrants typically make up the most dynamic, most adventurous, most entrepreneurial, most industrious and most ambitious subset of the population. In Georgia's case, the top fifth of the population for these traits has arguably removed itself from the survey sample. Given that most budding entrepreneurs and ambitious professionals put in 80 hour weeks and live very frugally to support their ambitions, few of them see the state redistributing their hard-earned cash to the indolent as a desirable outcome.
Guest - Nino on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 18:40

The funny thing is that we have a candidate for presidency who is promising regular financial support (150GEL per month) to lazy people. Interesting way of tackling the idleness problem by Gorgijanidze ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1H3E0ewd0I ) only in Georgian.

The funny thing is that we have a candidate for presidency who is promising regular financial support (150GEL per month) to lazy people. Interesting way of tackling the idleness problem by Gorgijanidze ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1H3E0ewd0I ) only in Georgian.
Guest - Maka Chitanava on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 19:37

Nino just now I am reading story of a Georgian god Orovela, who was god of hard working and joy (ჯაფისა და მოლხენის) at the same time; probably reflecting that one can not have joy without hard work. So we also had principles of "american dream" in our mythology, but fact that Natsarqeqia is more popular character compared to god Orovela already points that you are right. Interesting is also find out did our ancestors believe that it was only god who had to to work hard and we, people could rely on our fortunes :)

Nino just now I am reading story of a Georgian god Orovela, who was god of hard working and joy (ჯაფისა და მოლხენის) at the same time; probably reflecting that one can not have joy without hard work. So we also had principles of "american dream" in our mythology, but fact that Natsarqeqia is more popular character compared to god Orovela already points that you are right. Interesting is also find out did our ancestors believe that it was only god who had to to work hard and we, people could rely on our fortunes :)
Guest - lika on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 19:12

yes, that's the attitude. on the flip side, since ppl don't value work,never thought of work ethics or increasing productiveness or taking care of own employees, etc, they don't understand that working 10 hours a day is not expected. the youth that are working and receiving above-average ages may spent nights at the office. unpaid long hours are just part of any serious job. coz it's work, u know. devaluation of work is evident both in under-working or over-working.
honestly, i have not seen my hubby work less than 10 hours a day for 6 months now. and that is not fair.

yes, that's the attitude. on the flip side, since ppl don't value work,never thought of work ethics or increasing productiveness or taking care of own employees, etc, they don't understand that working 10 hours a day is not expected. the youth that are working and receiving above-average ages may spent nights at the office. unpaid long hours are just part of any serious job. coz it's work, u know. devaluation of work is evident both in under-working or over-working. honestly, i have not seen my hubby work less than 10 hours a day for 6 months now. and that is not fair.
Guest - boris on Sunday, 21 July 2013 21:51

This is so true! In Georgian language there is no even the word equivalent to English "earn". Google translates "to earn money" as "ფულის შოვნა" which has completely different meaning.

This is so true! In Georgian language there is no even the word equivalent to English "earn". Google translates "to earn money" as "ფულის შოვნა" which has completely different meaning.
Guest - Nick on Monday, 29 July 2013 16:41

Boris,

Before you make a statement about lack of a particular word in any language you should probably be at least fluent (if not a native speaker) in that language and not rely on google translator.

"earn" in Georgian is გამომუშავება.

p.s.
next time try
http://translate.ge/
:)

Boris, Before you make a statement about lack of a particular word in any language you should probably be at least fluent (if not a native speaker) in that language and not rely on google translator. "earn" in Georgian is გამომუშავება. p.s. next time try http://translate.ge/ :)
Guest - Cynthia on Sunday, 04 August 2013 05:36

Unlike "earn", გამომუშავება is a word coined recently and used mostly by economists and accountants. Unfortunately, Boris is right.

Unlike "earn", გამომუშავება is a word coined recently and used mostly by economists and accountants. Unfortunately, Boris is right.
Guest - forTheMeaning on Saturday, 03 August 2013 04:40

"Why should such a lazy guy be the most popular fairy tale character in our country?" Nino, but WHY do you want Georgians to be like Americans?
Do you know how many Americans would like to be like Georgians? How many of them would like to have the ability to slow down, to look around, to lie, to breath, just to be, to dance, to sing, to play, to have the ability to ENJOY the life, to be HAPPY.
well, may be not for ambitious people in the developing countries, but for rich Americans is already clear that they would rather have those abilities rather than dollars.
Yes, you should be careful about what to read to your daughter, you might very well teach her how to compete and earn money and at the same deprive her of the ability to enjoy life...

"Why should such a lazy guy be the most popular fairy tale character in our country?" Nino, but WHY do you want Georgians to be like Americans? Do you know how many Americans would like to be like Georgians? How many of them would like to have the ability to slow down, to look around, to lie, to breath, just to be, to dance, to sing, to play, to have the ability to ENJOY the life, to be HAPPY. well, may be not for ambitious people in the developing countries, but for rich Americans is already clear that they would rather have those abilities rather than dollars. Yes, you should be careful about what to read to your daughter, you might very well teach her how to compete and earn money and at the same deprive her of the ability to enjoy life...
Guest - Nino on Sunday, 04 August 2013 00:39

A person cannot enjoy life if s/he is a burden to other people or the whole society. First you should work in order to enjoy the fruit of your labor later. Of course, I do not want to deprive my daughter of the ability to enjoy her life and I am here just to make her happy as much and as long as I can. However, once I am unable to ensure her happiness, I do not want her to be looking at other people and waiting for their help, but to fight for her own happiness in a deserving way.

A person cannot enjoy life if s/he is a burden to other people or the whole society. First you should work in order to enjoy the fruit of your labor later. Of course, I do not want to deprive my daughter of the ability to enjoy her life and I am here just to make her happy as much and as long as I can. However, once I am unable to ensure her happiness, I do not want her to be looking at other people and waiting for their help, but to fight for her own happiness in a deserving way.
Already Registered? Login Here
Register
Guest
Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Captcha Image

Our Partners