Different Rules, Different Countries

In the previous post, I asked:

… what is the one factor that clearly distinguishes countries regardless of any other factors that may or may not be similar?

That one factor that distinguishes countries[1] apart is a set of rules that are–through some mechanism–created, enforced and followed within the various geographical boundaries that define it spatially. They include informal (norms) and formal (laws and legislation) rules that have evolved, and are generally stable, over time.

The set of high-level rules is the constitution of a country. Among other things, it lays down the rules on how rules are to made and by whom, and which rules are valid and which not. In the ultimate analysis, different constitutions define different countries.

Let’s take the example of Germany. Germany today is one country and one nation. It used to be one country and one nation before the end of the 2nd world war in 1945. Then it was divided into two countries — East Germany and West Germany — but it was still one nation. Then the two countries unified in 1990 and became one country, and of course one nation. 

Another example is Korea. For a very long time it used to be one country and one nation. Now it is two countries, North and South Korea but it is still one nation. One of them is quite rich and the other is extremely poor.

The norms and rules people follow define who they are. These can be religious and cultural norms that have evolved over time, or they can be deliberately constructed as legislation and imposed on people. The rules demarcate different countries. 

After Germany was divided up post-1945, the Western part got capitalist rules and the Eastern part got socialist/communist rules. In a matter of a couple of decades, the West became more prosperous than the East. 

The same story can be told about Korea. 

Examining something and noting its features is empirical work. Facts is what we have from empirical work. Coming up with explanations about why the facts are what they are is analytical work. Analysis leads to theory — a set of statements that explain a group of facts.

So here’s the theory: the differences in the different levels of prosperity among countries has something to do with differences in the rules that countries follow.

Germans in East Germany did not differ from those in West Germany. They had the same history, geography, culture, language, religion, music, literature, cuisine, etc etc. Yet in a matter of a few decades they were in two distinct countries enjoying two distinct levels of prosperity.

Think about that.

One reference that you will find useful in this context is my blog post Building Don’t Matter, Intentions Do. 

NOTES:

[1] Here I am implicitly distinguishing between two distinction notions: country and nation. There are countries such as India, US, China, Germany, Vietnam. It is possible to have more than one nation included in a country, or one nation spread over more than one country.

Anyway, the world is organized into countries. The oldest countries have existed a long time. Here are some:

  • France (CE 843)
  • Austria (CE 976)
  • Hungary (CE 1001)
  • Portugal (CE 1143)
  • Mongolia (CE 1206)
  • Thailand (CE 1238)
  • Andorra (CE 1278)
  • Switzerland (CE 1291)
  • Iran (CE 1501)
    [Source: ThoughtCo.]

Note that India does not show up in the list. Why? Because India became a country quite late in the history of people who lived in the geographical area we call India today. The Indian civilization has been around for thousands of years but the country known as India is just a few hundred years old. 

 

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

3 thoughts on “Different Rules, Different Countries”

  1. Two observations/comments:
    1. Would be great to understand better the differences between a country and nation. There seems to be plenty of contradictory explanations on the internet.
    2. In both the examples, S Korea and West Germany, the conditions for free markets etc. were adopted externally i.e. due to the effects of the war + US hegemony. Unified Germany under Bismarck was very successful and evolved organically. Do rules/systems that countries follow necessarily have to evolve organically for it to be long lasting and continued success? Thank you.

    1. Abhinav:

      1. The distinction between “country” and “nation” is a matter of definition. In our case, country is defined as an entity that is geographically bound and has a sovereign government over all residents of that geography. India, the US, etc., are countries in that sense. In contrast to that, for our purposes, a nation is a collection of people who have the same ethnicity, language, religion, culture, customs, etc. A nation is therefore not necessarily confined to, nor congruent with, a country. You could have several nations within a country, and you could have one nation distributed over many countries. However usually nations and countries are the same. For example, Germans form a nation and also constitute a country, as do the French or the Finns.

      2. The norms and laws of a country are arrived at through a process of evolution, generally. But of course they could also be rationally constructed in some cases, and imposed either internally or externally. In India, the cultural norms and laws have evolved over historical time, but the legislation is British in origin, imposed on India starting around mid-1800s and (in some sense) continuing to this day. India is ruled for the most part by legislation that the British passed.

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