Members of the same nation have the same “cultural background”, which means that they share a good deal of political and social values and ideals, and they tend to believe in the same recipes to solve their problems. Such fundamental attitudes are often shaped by the historical experiences of a nation. For example, England had a kind of merchant democracy since the 14th century, when the House of Commons was founded. In the former Ottoman Empire, on the other hand, merchants had no institutionalized possibility to influence politics. Bribery and utilizing on personal connections were the only options to foster business interests. Does this not influence the way how business people approach politics in England and in a province of the former Ottoman Empire like Egypt even today?
Well, not in the contemporary economist’s view. In one of the recent tries to explain economic prosperity and failure on a grand level, the famous MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and his co-author James Robinson from Harvard set up a theory which explains economic success without references to values, traditions, or character traits of people. This is in line with the standard economic approach, which describes economic processes to be exclusively determined by (material) incentives. Moreover, these incentives are assumed to work in the same way for all people in every country and in every period. There are other approaches, but they play an almost negligible role in contemporary economic thought.
Personally, I believe that modeling human behavior as a sheer reaction to material incentives is a pretty impotent way to analyze economic affairs. Compare the Tibetan’s strategy to fight for one's own country with that of the Kurds with their PKK or the Palestinians with their various militant organizations. It is obvious that the Tibetan methods to resist the occupation of their country are restricted by the fact that, as I read recently, their religious belief “hardly allow[s] them to kill an insect”. Yet as a conflict economist who subscribes to Anglo-Saxon mainstream economic paradigms, one would ignore these “soft factors”. Rather, one would reason that it is in fact an optimal strategy for the Tibetans to remain non-violent in their struggle, given the material incentives they face. Likewise, also the Kurds and the Palestinians have material incentives to act as they do.
However, if one accepts that values do matter, an interesting question arises: Are there values and cultural traits of the Georgian people which may be instrumental for facilitating their economic development? I suspect there are.
When I was 17, I traveled with a friend to Morocco. We arrived with a ferryboat from Southern Spain, and immediately were surrounded by a hoard of people who wanted to sell us various things, from taxi drives to hotel accommodation to tourist merchandise. We somehow made it to the train to Casablanca. In the train we were approached by a friendly guy who involved us in a conversation. In the end, he offered us to stay in his apartment in a town called Asilah, which was on the way to Casablanca. We really trusted this guy, as he seemed to be intelligent and eloquent. Yet in Asilah, he took us to a tourist shop, and we were urged to buy the traditional dress of the local people. We were promised that if we were dressed in a djellaba and we would wear the traditional Moroccan shoes, people would consider us “guests”, not “tourists” anymore. After buying this stuff, we went to the apartment of our acquaintance and ate couscous. Then he began to smoke marijuana and urged my friend to also take a sniff. Out of politeness, my friend agreed. In that moment, a policeman entered the room. He lectured us about the evils of smoking marijuana, and he set up a scenario of us being jailed. We knew that while it was very common among Moroccans to smoke weed, foreigners who did the same thing were frequently incarcerated in one of the infamous Moroccan jails. At the same time, it was clear that this policeman just wanted to be bribed. So we gave him some t-shirts and other belongings from our backpacks, and indeed he left us alone. The story had a dramatic ending. We were quite terrified by this experience and we decided to return to Spain immediately. Yet the next morning, when we were alone in the apartment, we saw a chance to take revenge. We thoroughly demolished the furniture, the kitchen, and whatever else could be found. Then, dressed in our traditional Moroccan outfit, we rushed to the train station, being afraid that our host would discover the destructions and come after us. We hoped that with our new clothes, we would blend into the local population, but it didn’t work. In fact, we were the only ones dressed in djellabas. The people in the street were pointing at us and laughed, and a group of children were following us. At the railway station, the train was late, and we had a tough time waiting for two hours, always watching fearfully whether our host would appear. We left Morocco on the same day and swore to never come back.
When I arrived to Georgia last year for the first time, I wanted to give a tip to the driver who had picked me up at the airport. To my surprise, he rejected, and ever since, it happened to me many times that Georgians rejected tips. The next day I took my first taxi ride in Tbilisi, and I was surprised that although we hadn’t agreed on a price, the taxi fare seemed very reasonable. Since I moved to Tbilisi in September, it actually never happened that a taxi driver asked for an unreasonable fare. One does not have to negotiate the price in the beginning, as one can trust in the decency of the Georgian people. In general, in Georgia nobody tries to cheat on you, and nobody tries to rip you off. The bills in restaurants only include those items you ordered, and when you get change, you do not even have to count it. Last but not least, the police do not demand to be bribed like in Morocco for not putting you in prison. In fact, here the policemen stay in the background and do not even want to check your passport. This is Georgia.
So why do crowds of tourists enter a country like Morocco to get ripped off there, but so few people come to Georgia, where they are treated friendly and fairly? More generally, how could one utilize this positive attitude of Georgians for fostering economic development?
I will look at these questions in my next blog post.