In this issue

Volume 7, Number 154
3 March 2007

Male Dominance in Bolivia

"No lo permites, Jack. ¡No lo permites!"

It was 1960, and here was I in Boulder, Colorado, talking to an old friend, Jorge Arteaga, in La Paz, Bolivia. Jorge had sent his older daughter to live with us, to learn English. But she had found some Spanish-speaking girl friends with whom she preferred to live. So she had told us she would move. Jorge wanted me not to allow that. I was telling him that if she had the money there was no way I could stop her.

This marked a cultural difference, and I knew it though Jorge did not. In Bolivia of 1960, the man was head of the household. The dominant male was also the head of the business firm, which was inevitably small. Oh yes, there were rich people in Bolivia, but rarely would they risk their money on a larger business, and anyone who was "lower class" could not possibly have good ideas (in the opinion of the upper class). Only big foreign companies would invest in larger businesses. Thus Bolivian industry rarely grew.*

In 1960 I had been an advisor to the monetary stabilization board, which consisted of all the cabinet ministers. It met regularly with President Victor Paz Estenssoro. President Paz was the boss, and the whole cabinet knew it.

In fact, whatever was the enterprise, the dominant male was the boss: household, business, government, whatever. Depending on who he was, he was mostly unwilling to take advice from anyone "lower" than he. As an advisor, I would make many suggestions on how Bolivia should be run, but few were accepted.

One night I invited the ministers of finance and labor over for dinner. It was customary in Bolivia to have wine for dinner, especially for guests. I knew the two ministers quite well, however, so I apologized, saying we were teetotalers. They were very polite but amazed. The next day they asked me if all Americans were teetotalers. "We are only a few," I said, knowing they had been to diplomatic parties where alcohol was regularly served. My wife and I had also been to such parties, and Bolivian hosts had always insisted when we refused the wine ("Tome, tome," they would say), but American hosts would rarely push like that.

This little tidbit may help us understand Middle Easterners and other foreigners who do not behave as we do. Our president, for example, does not understand. He thinks most Iraqis want peace and democracy, while I believe most do not. Instead, they may want a strong man to lead them (like Saddam Hussein). Just a different strong man.

I am reminded of Robert Secher, who was sent to Iraq a bit over a year ago to train Iraqis for their coming takeover. He was killed last October. In April, 2006, he wrote to his family about the Iraqis he was training:

God's will takes care of most of their day to day needs . . . They sleep all day and complain how hard their lives are but make no efforts to change. They lie [i.e., do not tell the truth] constantly to elevate their status or get what they want. The ones that are actually good to go are incapable of getting the rest to do anything, without the US Army [behind them]. (NY Review of Books, 3/15/07, p. 6).

Of course, this judgment does not apply to all Iraqis, only those he was training. Also, most Americans make no effort to change their conditions either, but some do. These "some" mark a difference between American and Bolivian cultures

Why are Bolivia and other less-developed countries not more developed than they are? I have an American friend who believes that this is because Bolivia has always been under the thumb of big companies from abroad, like the tin monopoly. This may be partly true, but I believe the main reason is that there are too many dominant males who resent new ideas by social "inferiors." My friend also believes that one dominant male — President Evo Morales — will build new schools, fill potholes and pave roads, etc. In fact, he and his subjects have neither the culture nor the money to do all that, before they are overthrown militarily for not having succeeded. So long as there is a critical mass of dominant males, they will protect their dominance militarily.

Economic development has occurred in Western Europe and North America not because of democracy (though that was surely a part) but because there were enough lower-class people to demand their way and to push aside the upper class when the ideas of that class were inappropriate. Evo (my friend thinks) will succeed largely because he is himself from the lower class.

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson

* See my book, Centuries of Economic Endeavor, for my explanation of why cultures change but slowly. It is now on the web under a this title: A History of Wealth and Poverty (click the link to see the online edition).

A Different Interpretation

Is the pattern of extreme male dominance a direct cause of slow economic development, or is it a side-effect of a "sociological disease" which has many effects, one of which is to hold back growth and development? I prefer the latter explanation.

In my view cultures with extreme male dominance are associated with societies that still exalt personal honor, whose systems of justice have not fully accomplished the replacement of clan-based retributive justice (i.e. revenge) with a more modern system of courts, police, and enforced contract law. In this view the cause of underdevelopment is the absence of an effective Rule of Law, especially with respect to property, contracts, and rights.

When law is highly imperfect or absent, then people naturally fall back upon retributive justice, and the burden of enforcement falls on the male heads of households. This encourages the culture of male dominance that we see in a great many underdeveloped countries, in medieval Europe, and in contemporary street gangs and Mafia-style organized crime families.

It may be instructive to look at the example of Haitian immigrants to the United States. Before they left Haiti they were trapped in extreme poverty, living in communities with absent, corrupt, or incompetent government, the prey of gangs and criminals. After arrival in the United States, most Haitians become nearly model citizens, living in peaceful and clean communities, working hard, and prospering. What enables them to make this transformation? I submit that it is, first and foremost, the presence of an effective Rule of Law.

— Loren Cobb, editor of The Quaker Economist.

A History of Wealth & Poverty

The Quaker Economist is the proud publisher of an online eBook entitled A History of Wealth and Poverty: Why Some Nations are Rich and Many Poor, by Jack Powelson.

Originally published in 1994 by the University of Michigan Press as Centuries of Economic Endeavor, this new electronic edition is now available to the public at no cost. Click here to read the book.

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On the question of male dominance (or dominant males) and the relationship of this phenomenon to development, I would offer these observations. The industrial revolution, the ultimate development phenomenon, occurred in Europe and the United States during the 1800s in a climate of absolute male dominance. So male dominance can hardly be accused of stifling development. Moreover, the relatively recent advent of women in positions of power in these two regions has not been accompanied by any reduction in economic growth. (Quite the contrary. Economic growth has actually been more rapid in the 20th Century than in the 19th.)

These circumstances suggest to me that the correlation between male dominance and development is essentially zero.

Next, a comment on the Bolivian context. What your correspondent Jack Powelson portrays as the Bolivian attitude toward not growing your business does not apply to all Bolivians.  Here in Santa Cruz, the fast-growing, pulsating center of eastern Bolivia, the syndrome he describes is regarded as being the mindset of people in La Paz (where his friend in fact lives). People here in Santa Cruz often say that the people of La Paz (the Paceños, or collas as they are more insultingly known) are incapable of thinking big. So these denizens of the High Plain (Altiplano) have only small businesses, or, better still in terms of status, are doctors or lawyers, or (perhaps best of all) government officials. It's bruited about here with fear and loathing that Evo Morales' sinister goal seems to be to make the government everyone's employer. Or the principal employer, at all events.

By contrast, here in the "Wild East" the people of Santa Cruz (the Cruceños, or cambas) have an almost Texas-like affinity for bigness, and such a strong distaste for government employment that all the national police here seem to be collas, much to the annoyance of the cambas getting parking tickets.

Even so, the big Bolivian companies here — and there are a number — do tend to be sole proprietorships, which might seem to fit the dominant male thesis. However, I think that this phenomenon is more likely caused by lack of trust in the society. Bolivian businessmen don't trust other people enough to take them on as partners, and, frankly, there is evidence to support this lack of confidence in one's fellow men and women.

— David Boldt, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Loren, I could not help but connect your comments to the present international situation, in which we find the USA busily acting like an Alpha Male. As the dust of depleted uranium blows in the wind and four carrier battle groups prepare to smite Iran, I feel that there is more to your thesis than meets the eye. Especially, in fact, the phrase "Mafia-style organized crime families," since so often it does seem that precisely these family groups who run the governments of planet Earth.

— Charles Stegel, California.

Reply: Just so. Thank you for being so perceptive, and so poetic, in a time that requires both. — Loren.

Sadly I read your post today. The more I study Quakerism the further from God it appears to be. God set up a hierarchy with Him at the top, Jesus Christ next, The man of the family next, then the wife and lastly the children.

I know that many men have abused this privilege over the centuries but, that in no ways nullifies it.

I started to study the Quaker philosophy when my wife became interested in it. Then she picked up the "no one can judge her" nonsense, and that she is free to do as she pleases (like changing religions and breaking her vows). She decided that it was alright to commit adultery, and sadly there was no logical reason she could not. She left our home! But, as you say, in our enlightened culture she is free to do that, just as the girl was allowed to leave your house against her father's wishes. How many woman leave home against their father's wishes because they can, and end up in adultery or whoring themselves on their next date? How many fathers give up [because they think] they have no right to be the man in the family?

The more that I have looked at the Quaker philosophy, ... , the more I just see it as more of the Judaism Christianity (sic) that is destroying God's people, for they refuse knowledge [and] they are destroyed for lack of it!

My wife started to reject God's law in something simple as violating the food laws to show she was free. Once she convinced herself that that was okay, [then] adultery was not so hard. She had "Free Will," you know.

Actually our only Free Will is to accept or reject God's Law and His Son's death on the cross for violating it. It does not allow us to choose laws and ways of our own making.

How will The Quaker Economist stand before God on Judgment day and explain themselves? I wonder if He will buy it? I doubt it!

— Michael Van Horn.

Reply: You have chosen to follow God's wishes, as best you could interpret what is written in Holy Scripture, by claiming your absolute rights as the King of your household, answerable only to God Himself. The consequences of this choice that you made were more than sad, they were tragic. I grieve for you and for the pain suffered by all in your family.

Is it possible that you carried your exercise of absolute power a little too far? Remember, even the Israelis in the time of Jesus were chafing under the iron rule of the Romans. In response, Jesus preached mercy and forgiveness, and a deep peace for those who suffer the most from absolute dictatorial rule.

Perhaps one day you may come to believe, as Quakers do, that there is that of God in every person, including wives and children and slaves and prisoners and rebels, and yes, even in rulers who, peacock-proud, wave an ancient text and loudly proclaim their absolute God-given power and authority. — Loren Cobb.

Thank you as always for your insights passed on to me by my brother-in-law in Atlanta. I have decided that I am a very happy spiritual Buddhist / Quaker / Atheist (whose acceptance of Jesus is matched by my acceptance of as many other good people as I encounter on my journey). — Ted Todd

Found on the Web

"I read every issue of Forbes, in order to get an idea of the world-view of the prototypical 'Rich Person' ... For the same reason, but in search of information about a very different world-view, I read The Quaker Economist, and am often astonished at what I find there. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't, but I always learn something. Unlike Forbes, it's free." — Ozarque, 8 Jan 2006.


Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting.

Editor: Loren Cobb, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.

Editorial Board

  • Chuck Fager, Director, Quaker House, Fayetteville, NC.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Valerie Ireland, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends.
  • Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.
  • William G. Rhoads, Germantown (PA) Monthly Meeting.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • John Spears, Princeton (NJ) Friends Meeting.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board do not necessarily endorse the contents of any issue of The Quaker Economist.

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