Monday, November 24, 2003

# Posted 11:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

AMY CHUA ON DEMOCRACY AND MARKET-DOMINANT MINORITIES: Young Yale Law professor Amy Chua has a beautifully written piece in Prospect Magazine (UK), on the possibility that social changes accompanying democratization will unleash forces of resentment against market-dominant ethnic minorities. Amy Chua's subject is close not only to her research interests but also to her personal experience from an ethnic Chinese family in the Philippines. Of course, Chua chooses not to stress that market-successful ethnic minorities are prone to scapegoating under authoritarian states, too, which generally seek ways to deflect popular discontent from themselves - think Stalin (or, for that matter, Putin) and Jews. However, Chua's argument is well-presented, and her prose style is remarkable, as here in her opening paragraph:
In many poor countries, markets concentrate wealth in the hands of prosperous ethnic minorities. In these places, democracy can be an engine of vengeance.
One morning in September 1994, I received a call from my mother in California. In a hushed voice, she told me that my Aunt Leona, my father's twin sister, had been murdered in her home in the Philippines, her throat slit by her chauffeur. My mother broke the news to me in our Hokkien Chinese dialect. But the word "murder" she said in English, as if to wall off the act from the family through language.
The murder of a relative is horrible for anyone, anywhere. My father's grief was impenetrable; to this day, he has not broken his silence on the subject. For the rest of the family, though, there was an added element of disgrace. For the Chinese, luck is a moral attribute, and a lucky person would never be murdered. Like having a birth defect, or marrying a Filipino, being murdered is shameful.
I find Chua's writing to be some of the best-written prose, if nothing else, coming out of the academy at the moment. If the Bulldogs lost the Yale-Harvard matchup on the football field last Saturday, then we certainly won with regard to luring Chua away from Cambridge. I'll look forward to reading much more from her in the future. And her final note is more optimistic with regard to ways in which market-dominant minorities may be ultimately reconciled with their broader societies - i.e., by being seen to be "significant and visible" contributors to those societies:
The University of Nairobi, for example, owes its existence to wealthy Indians in Kenya. The Madhvani family, owners of the largest industrial group in east Africa, provide education, healthcare and housing for their African employees, and also employ Africans in top management. In Russia, there is the unusual case of the Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich, whose philanthropy won him election as governor of the poverty-stricken Chukotka region in the Russian far east. More typically, however, building ethnic goodwill requires collective action through ethnic chambers of commerce, clan associations, and so on.
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