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Are There Certain Cultural Values That Are Necessary for Economic and Democratic Development?

Paper Type: Free Assignment Study Level: University / Undergraduate
Wordcount: 3534 words Published: 6th Nov 2020

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Cultural values refer to the core ideas as well as principles based upon which the entirety of communities exist. Cultural values are made up of several factors including the customs or rituals and traditions of a community, the core beliefs of the community and the guiding values of a community. Many authors have linked cultural values to the commonly held standards associated with what may be important or unimportant, proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable in the context of a society or a community[1]. In other words, cultural values drive the interaction among humans, influences their behavior and attitude towards certain things. It may be stated in this context that the cultural values of a community form one of the key pillars associated with the sustenance and development of communities and it is impossible for societies to progress in the absence of culture.

Are there certain cultural values that are necessary for economic and democratic development?

Cultural variables are incorporated into a baseline endogenous growth model of the economy. Societies with cultural attitudes towards thrift and achievement positively influence economic growth. On the other hand, cultural attitudes based on post-materialism negatively affects the economic development of societies. Throughout the years, many empirical research studies have aimed to explore whether certain cultural values had pivotal importance in the economic and democratic development of societies or not. Many research studies have presented a wide range of cultural values that may influence the economic and democratic development of societies and therefore, I have assumed that there are no specific cultural values that influence the same but rather, societal progress is achieved in a combined manner. Scholarly literature has presented an enormous amount of empirical literature suggesting that the cultural values of a community or society form a large part of the societal or communal development.

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Culture cannot be confused as an independent variable driving societal or communal development. Rather, there are various other elements that influence the cultural values of a particular community or society including the political framework, the vagaries of history, the climate or even the geography[2]. It may be stated in this context that culture significantly influences the economic development of any world region. For instance, the postwar economic success of nations like Germany and Japan could be foreseen by taking into consideration the specific cultural attributes of these nations as implied by Lawrence Harrison.

On the contrary, culture is not the sole factor that influences development. It is often assumed by economic analysis that one good reason should be sufficient to explain the relationship. However, the determinants of complicated procedures are interconnected and plural invaluably. Given that the economic performance of a nation and culture are linked, the transitions in one always influence the other to go through a change as well. For instance, In Thailand, the youth used to spend years of time undergoing religious apprenticeships in the Buddhist monasteries present within the nation. Whether the ripening period was deemed as good for the soul and spirit along with fitting the somnolent pace of conventional employment and economic activity then, the economy of Thailand today is fast with commerce thriving in the nation.

Consequently, the youth population now attend spiritualization programs for a matter of weeks to obtain limited awareness of rituals and prayers and get back to the material world. In this context, Harrison stated that time, which is often translated into money, has brought about a significant transition into the cultural values of the youth population of Thailand. It is further argued that it is impossible for individuals to impose this transition which is often depicted as a revolution. Rather, the priorities of the Thai youth were voluntarily adjusted by themselves to cope with the present, real and materialistic world[3]. Whether the aforementioned phenomenon reflected the response of culture to economic opportunity and growth, the reverse is also plausible i.e. the potential shift of culture against the enterprise.   

The theory of Human Development Sequence (hereinafter referred to as HDS) is a prominent theory of modernization that proposes that cultural values are responsible for mediating the effect of economic development on increasing democratization in nations. The HDS theory assumes a linear relationship in which economic progress influences transitions in the cultural values consequently leading to democratization. The opportunities and means of an emancipated and self-expressive life along with the desire to influence own lives are provided by economic development which further motivates a transition in the societal rules, norms, and values through which the populace is governed and consequently, more demand for democracy is created. It has been identified by previous scholars that enhanced education and specific standards of living as per GNI per capita (the sum of value added by all of the citizen producers in addition to product taxes less the valuation of output as well as net receipts of primary income) consequently lead to the enhancement of the political climate of a nation or region.

In order to explain this relationship, micro-level analyses have revealed that the enhanced accessibility and availability of education is able to allow citizens to develop critical and autonomous attributes. Thereby, it influences citizens to demand political transitions when they reach a specific point of financial security and a specific standard of living with the intent to be relieved from the regular existential worries along with enabling long-term planning for societal or communal development. This is especially applicable in the context of the Western nations where the enhanced accessibility and availability of information have been able to influence drastic economic and democratic development throughout a long period compared to the Eastern developing nations which are striving to achieve educational goals for the citizens. It has been argued by scholars in the past that for cultural values, emancipative values face increment with the presence of existential security in which life expectancy plays the most pivotal part.

GDP or GNI per capita does not lead to an increment of emancipation in any direct way or manner[4]. Furthermore, it may be stated that it is not possible for economic development alone to allow people to be free from existential concerns which necessitate some levels of human rights along with democratization[5]. Evidently, cultural values affect the socio-economic development of communities or societies. Researchers have identified, for instance, an association between the slowing of economic growth and lower emancipating values which may be attributed to the change of focus from materialistic goals to post-materialistic ones. Contrarily, nations with higher emancipative values such as the US and the UK represent a significant development in several areas such as female education and life expectancy. In this context, it needs to be noted that while emancipative values potentially foster gender equality, equitable access to education and a healthier life, they are not able to lead to the accumulation of wealth further.

As previously stated, it is not possible for cultural values alone to influence economic development in a nation which can be supported by the cross-national variable in the context of the growth rates of the economy. There are considerable fluctuation patterns in the context of growth rates that are evident on a year-to-year basis as the outcomes of short-term elements influencing unforeseen circumstances and technological shocks which may negatively affect national outputs. The gradual change of the economy cannot be attributed to the cultural values alone but rather, are influenced by the political and economic institutions of a society. For instance, before 1954, common culture was evident in the context of both North and South Korea. Nevertheless, after 1954, South Korea has achieved far superior economic performance.

A substantial amount of empirical evidence suggests that cultural differences among nations are crucial in association with the different development rates of specific cultures. For instance, the Confucian-influenced economies situated in East Asia, over the period of the past 50 years, have been able to, by a wide margin, outperform the rest of the world. For instance, in the 1960s, China’s GDP accounted for 59.72 billion USD. As of 2018, China’s GDP accounted for 13.61 trillion USD which made the nation the second largest economy in the world right after the United States. In the 1950s, the economy of South Korea was undeveloped and agrarian due to which the nation had to depend profoundly on foreign aid. As of 2017, the GDP of South Korea accounted for 1.531 trillion USD earning the nation the 11th place in worldwide nominal GDP rankings. Given that there are a wide range and variety of political and economic institutions, the impact of cultural factors on economic progress is even more evident.

In line with the theory of cultural modernization, previous literature has suggested that socio-economic develop produces transitions in the cultural values generally which consequently lead countries to move from an authoritarian and poor position to a democratic and rich position. It has been argued in past literature studies that the political culture of a nation, among other things, is determined by the overall levels of interpersonal trust, endorsement for gradual societal transformation, as well as life satisfaction among the nation’s citizens[6]. It is determined by past scholars that nations that experience a higher level of the aforementioned things are comparably more likely to develop sustainable and stable democratic national frameworks. There are two key dimensions of cross-cultural variation that is evident in modern civilization. The first of which addresses whether nations depict secular-rational values or traditional values. Secular-rational values, for instance, do not place a significant focus on religion, deference to authority and conventional family roles and individuals having these values are generally more open towards common modern societal problems such as divorce and abortion.

On the other hand, people who hold traditional values highly emphasize on the importance of religion, deference to authority, conventional family roles, etc. and reject common societal problems such as the aforementioned issues. On the other hand, the second dimension is associated with whether the nations represent self-expression values or survival values. People that hold self-expression values focus on the importance of things like tolerance of diversity, life satisfaction, civic activism, sexual and racial equality, etc. Individuals having such values display high interpersonal trust levels and a greater say is demanded by them in how economic and political decisions are put into perspective[7]. On the other hand, survival values focus on the importance of economic and physical security. Individuals with survival values generally exhibit an ethnocentric world view and do not display considerable tolerance and trust levels. Throughout literature, academic scholars and researchers have followed two perspectives on culture, economy, and democracy.

On the one hand, it has been suggested by the first group of scholars that economic development is able to influence a transition in the culture of a society and it is the cultural transitions which, consequently, lead to the democratic development of the nations. On the other hand, the other group of scholars has suggested that economic development is associated with the democratic development of a nation and consequently, the experience of a society or community with democratic development influences cultural changes.

According to the writings of Lawrence Harrison, there are ten values that facilitate the determination of the rate at which a community or a society may evolve. It is indicated that these values include future orientation, frugality, merit, community - beyond family, justice and fair play, secularism, work and achievement centralized to a good life, rigorous ethical code, education, and authority dispersion. Several types of culture are there. As per these values identified by Harrison, nations with progressive cultures are able to evolve at higher rates compared to other nations[8]. It is also common for progressive societies to encourage the people within it to move beyond their families and develop a sense of the overall community[9]. For instance, the United States of America is considered to have one of the most progressive cultures in the world. Throughout the past few decades, there has been considerable democratic and economic development in the nation and with a 20.83 trillion USD worth of GPD as per 2018, it is currently the largest economy in the world.

Academic researchers have identified that the role of culture is one of the forming pillars in the stimulation of innovations and hence, it may be able to explain how culture impacts the long-term financial development in the context of nations. It has been hypothesized that culture is a fundamental force that drives the constitution of formal developments and thereby, influences long-run monetary development. A two-way causality relationship can be evident among institutions and culture which implies that culture is, in fact, a considerable part that determines institutions. It has been argued that in the context of individualist cultures, it is possible for societies and communities to achieve more innovation and thereby, further their economic development. Although not to the same scale as institutions in the nations, culture explains the differences in income levels among the citizens of different countries. In addition to that, it has also been identified that individualism has the means of affecting democracy. For instance, researchers suggest that more individualized cultures implemented democratization earlier compared to countries that did not follow the individualism values.

On the other hand, the opposite can also be true. It may be stated that people living longer under democracy may develop a more individualistic nature. In this context, it may also be stated that cultures following collectivism views tend to develop a defense mechanism to cope with the greater prevalence of historical pathogen. Collectivism views drive communities to put more emphasis on tradition, showing comparably less openness and trust towards foreigners, putting constraints on individual behaviors and actions all of which negatively affect democratic development in societies or communities. However, it is possible for such cultures to develop monetarily or economically[10]. For instance, nations such as Singapore, China, and Vietnam do not follow the individualism culture view and although democratic developments have occurred in all of these nations, the rate of developments associated with democratization has been comparably low compared to the Western nations such as the United States.

From the analysis of the wide range of literature presented by previous scholar and academic researchers, it can be identified that there are no specific cultural values that drive economic, as well as democratic developments in the context of a nation, society or community. Nevertheless, it can also be identified that cultural values are one of the most pivotal functional pillars that form the basis for these types of developments in the context of societies and communities[11]. In addition to that, it may further be stated that cultural values, economic development, and democratic development are all interconnected considerably and the change in one may lead to the change in the other. To support this claim, it may be mentioned that economic development is associated with the democratic development of a nation and consequently, the experience of a society or community with democratic development influences cultural changes[12]. Furthermore, economic development is able to influence a transition in the culture of a society and it is the cultural transitions which, consequently, lead to the democratic development of the nations.


In conclusion, it may be stated that cultural values alone are not responsible for the economic and democratic progress of societies or communities. Rather, culture is a part of the major system which is put in place when any type of development in a country, be it economic or democratic, is concerned. Furthermore, it has been identified that although specific nations with specific types of culture have been able to generate more success compared to nations that do not share the similar cultural attributes, there are several observable differences in the political and other types of institutions which do not indicate a similarity as to how specific cultural values may influence economic and democratic development in societies. There are various outcomes of this study. For instance, this study concludes that nations with Confucian-based cultures such as China and South Korea have been able to generate huge economic growth and success by a wide margin over the past few decades compared to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the US is a prime example of progressive culture and is the largest economy in the contemporary world. It is identified that cultures that emphasize enhanced access of the citizen to education are able to achieve improved development since enhanced education allows people to be autonomous and critical contributions to the enhancement of the political institutions and frameworks presented within the nations. Finally, the study has concluded that culture can significantly influence the socio-economic development of nations whereas, the experience with socio-economic determinants drives cultural change.  


  1. Kapás, Judit. "How cultural values affect economic growth: a critical assessment of the literature." Ekonomska Misao I Praksa 1 (2017): 265-285.
  2. Spaiser, Viktoria, Shyam Ranganathan, Richard P. Mann, and David JT Sumpter. "The dynamics of democracy, development and cultural values." PloS one 9, no. 6 (2014): e97856.
  3. Harrison, Lawrence E, and Samuel P Huntington. 2006. Culture Matters. New York: Basic Books.
  4. Van der Borg, Jan, and Antonio Paolo Russo. "The impacts of culture on the economic development of cities." Rotterdam: European Institute for ComparativeUrban Research (2005).
  5. Granato, Jim, Ronald Inglehart, and David Leblang. "The effect of cultural values on economic development: theory, hypotheses, and some empirical tests." American journal of political science 40 (1996): 607-631.
  6. 2016. Us.Sagepub.Com.https://us.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/81275_Chapter_7.pdf.

[1] Kapás, Judit. Ekonomska Misao I Praksa 1 (2017): 265-285.

[2] Spaiser, Viktoria, Shyam Ranganathan, Richard P. Mann, and David JT Sumpter.

[3] Harrison, Lawrence E, and Samuel P Huntington. 2006. Culture Matters.

[4] Van der Borg, Jan, and Antonio Paolo Russo.

[5] Van der Borg, Jan, and Antonio Paolo Russo. Rotterdam: European Institute for ComparativeUrban Research (2005).

[6] Granato, Jim, Ronald Inglehart, and David Leblang. American journal of political science 40 (1996): 607-631.

[7] 2016. Us.Sagepub.Com.

[8] Harrison, Lawrence E, and Samuel P Huntington. 2006. Culture Matters.

[9] Spaiser, Viktoria, Shyam Ranganathan, Richard P. Mann, and David JT Sumpter.

[10] Spaiser, Viktoria, Shyam Ranganathan, Richard P. Mann, and David JT Sumpter.

[11] Harrison, Lawrence E, and Samuel P Huntington. 2006. Culture Matters.

[12] 2016. Us.Sagepub.Com.


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