Punctuality Today v. GDP per Capita Tomorrow; A Look at a Few Countries
Authored by Mike Kimel
In this post, I want to demonstrate the importance of a specific cultural trait, namely punctuality, on the economy. The difficulty, of course, is coming up with a good measure of punctuality, and in particular, one that isn’t regularly gamed.
Digging around, I found a paper entitled The Pace of Life in 31 Countries by Robert V Levine and Ara Norenzayan in the Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology in 1999. For the purposes of this post, the most interesting thing about this paper was this measurement:
As a sample of concern with clock time, the accuracy of 15 clocks, in randomly selected downtown banks, were checked in each country. The criterion for the correct time was that reported by the telephone company.
The 31 countries span the globe, and seem to encompass every inhabited continent, though it should be said, the list is Europe-heavy; unless I miscounted, 14 of the 31 countries are in Europe. The clock accuracy results for the countries, as well as several other measures of less relevance to this post, are returned in a table in the paper. I then compared those results (compiled in or before 1999, I remind the reader) with the real GDP per capita in US dollars for those same countries in 2015. That data was pulled from World Bank tables. The World Bank data excluded two of the countries in the Levine & Norenzayan paper, Taiwan and Syria.
Here’s what the data looks like, graphed:
I took the liberty of highlighting and labeling the three points at either end of the curve.
The figure shows that the correlation between the natural log of clock inaccuracy, as measured in average seconds of clock error in or before 1999 and real GDP per capita in 2015 is -0.56. That is, countries with more accurate clocks in or before 1999 tend to be wealthier in 2015. Note also that the correlation is a bit lower (-0.50) when data from the year 2000 is used. This suggests that if there is a causation, it isn’t running from wealth to clock accuracy.
Frankly, there are a few anomalies with the graph, and they tend to be where my intuition doesn’t match the accuracy ranking provided by Levine and Norenzayan. Having stated that, I should note that my intuition is informed primarily from having lived abroad for about a decade and a half, and from having a fair number of interactions (professional and personal). For example, Italy ranks second in clock accuracy, but my experience is that there are a fair number of Italians who tend to be relatively tardy to meetings, etc., relative to people from a number of other European countries. My admittedly snide hypothesis is that the Italian post office’s clock is simply just as late as the clocks in private Italian banks. Not surprisingly (to me, anyway), Italian GDP per capita is 9th among European countries included by Levine and Norenzayan, not 2nd.
Nevertheless, despite the anomalies, at a high level, this data seems right to me, and it provides a bit of confirmation to the idea that punctuality is tied to positive economic outcomes.
The backstory, for those interested:
A few weeks ago, I had a post showing that at the national level, over the past few decades, there is a negative correlation between immigration and subsequent job creation. In a more recent post, I looked at state level data to determine whether states with a greater percentage of immigrants created more or fewer jobs for the native born population. The results showed that outside the old Confederacy, the more immigrants as a share of the population, the less jobs were created for the native born population. In between the two posts, I tried to provide a few explanations for why the observed relationship exists.
In the “explanations” post, I mentioned cultural traits as issues that make a difference in whether immigrants contribute positively or negatively. In the comments to the post, I mentioned timeliness (i.e., punctuality) as one such trait. That statement met with resistance from other commenters. It was even suggested that such a view might be racist. This post is intended to support my comment.
I forgot to mention… as always, for a copy of my spreadsheet send an email to my first name (Mike) dot my last name (Kimel – one m only) at gmail dot com. I reserve the right to change computers or otherwise not have the file available if too much time has elapsed between this writing and the request.
Actually, Mike, what you said about punctuality in the earlier go-around was not simply that countries that have cultures that don’t prize punctuality have lower GDP and less innovation; you said that immigrants to the U.S. from countries with cultures that don’t prize punctuality, and that have lower GDP and less innovation, don’t assimilate well economically here, aren’t innovative here, and that they and eventually their adult children are drags on the rate of growth of employment here.
I and several others challenged that as ridiculous. I joked that I thought I remembered that the character Tevya in Fiddler On the Roof was wearing a pocket watch in that scene in which he sang “If I Were a Rich Man,” which would explain why so many Eastern European immigrants—Jews and others—managed to assimilate into the economy, innovate, increase GDP, and have a positive rather than a negative effect on the rate of growth of employment in this country.
This time around you change your premise to one that holds that countries that prize punctuality have higher GDP rates than countries—like Italy—that don’t. But the purpose of your original post was to discredit immigration from countries whose cultures don’t place a high value on promptness, and unless you reiterate your earlier claim, your new premise is irrelevant to your immigration premise—and by using Italy’s failure to make the trains run on time except during Mussolini’s reign (for those who don’t know, Mussolini ran for election originally on the promise that he would make the trains run on time), you undermine your original claim.
First- and second-generation Italian-Americans of any era can hardly be charged with being a drag on U.S. employment. Ditto for Greek-Americans, although Greece itself is known for not prioritizing punctuality in its culture. And as I write this, Jamaica looks to be in Hurricane Matthew’s immediate path and is expected to be hit hard sometime tomorrow, and since its U.S. immigrants are known for their industriousness I’m wondering: how high a priority does Jamaican culture place on punctuality?
I have learned that if I put too much in one post, it gets misinterpreted. This post was intended to provide a bit of support for the idea that people in different countries have different cultures which in turn affects growth.
The piece that I believe offends you, namely that people bring their cultures (the good and the bad) with them and that those cultures have some post-immigration persistence was not covered in this post. That is only because I am trying to keep the pieces of my argument short, hard to dispute and easily digestible.
The post-immigration persistence of cultural traits piece will probably be covered in the next post I write on this subject. I am only trying to figure out how data driven the next piece of my argument should be. If I use a data-heavy explanation it may require two posts.
Your data has zero statistical validity, Moreover, you use 1999 and prior periods to decide what constitutes cultures with more or less “puncuality” but only used GDP/capita for selectiveyears (1 o 2) to define “correlation” If punctuality culture relates to GDP then it would have to be true over al time, every year independent of elapsed time since 1999.
I also note you provided no uncertainty bounds on the data What are the 95% upper and lower bounds on the data?
I also note a paucity of GDP/capita data in regions where there’s no reason for there being no data over time.
As always Kimel (as in your other “conjectures”) your right wing conjectures are baseless. I’m surprised you haven’t toted out the “academic studies” yet that show blacks are mentally inferior to whites..
If you’ve got an hypothesis stemming from a conjecture, then you’ll have to use statistical analysis to determine if your hypothesis is supported by the data (all data, not just selected excerpts) that relates to your hypothesis.
You conjecture a lot I’ve noticed, but the data you use to support those conjectures has never shown any support for those conjectures other than by your own purely subjective interpretations.
Furthermore, since much of the entire GDP in advanced nations is based solely on consumer consumption, and since consumers almost never consume anything based on punctuality or using the hourly clock, then your chosen measure (GDP) has no basis as a measure of the effects of punctuality.
If on the other hand you mean cultural punctuality based treaits has a relation to productivity, .. i.e. in the production of goods and services, then you’ll have to control for cultural normal working hours and vacation durations first.
Oh, and just btw, I worked for a company that literally punched the clock at start of work, punched out for lunch, ;punched back in after lunch and punched out when done for the day.. and there was a strictly enforced start time and return from lunch time! And this included every employee (hourly or salaried, including all managers and executives).
I refused to hire on until I was exempted from this archaic “punctuality” culture… and I was given that exemption .. and within a year the organization I was in stopped the clock punching exercise (experimentally for a two year period).. and demonstrated miraculous increases in productivity, moral, and beating schedules and every meritorious metric a business has for increasing it’s profitability and output. Over the next two years the entire corporation pulled out all the punch clocks with similar results.
So friom a controlled experimental method, with carefully measured metrics, in an environment that was opposed to the experiment in the first place (btw, no unions were in the company or threat to them), it turns out that there’s no supporting evidence for your conjecture when taken down to the level of where it counts .. productivity and output per person.
There were, after this corporation did this several other major US corporations that did their own experiments.. within five years nearly no major corporation in the US was using punch clocks or trying to enforce “punctuality” .. start and stop times and lunch times become more flexible, depending on individual workers jobs and interdependencies with other workers.
So you’ll find that “punctuality”, paying attention to the clock, if you did any real research on the subject at all, isn’t more productive at the levels where GDP’s elements relate to punctuality. .l .. therefore GDP cannot be positively correlated with “punctuality”.
I would add a caveat though to my above post. In countries were employees were paid a pittance ..so called low wage nations, there was no evidence that relaxing “punctuality” had any effect on output and measured productivity, but moral increased, and that reduced turnover which reduced costs.. This information was provided by the foreign based subsidiaries of the corporation I worked for.
Also since the corporation was a multi-national, having several major locations in Europe, Japan, South America, etc. the results of eliminating the time clocks and managing by he clock “punctuality” were the same in Germany, France.. and yes, even Italy and there was no difference between Germany’s and Italy’s measured productivity in any event at this corporation, contrary to popular opinion even in this corporation.
It turns out that it’s perceptions of how people appear to respond and their apparent “attitude”. communicated by behaviors, facial expressions and “how fast they walk” or move from one position to another, etc .that makes for the myths like “manjana” …. but by metrics there’s no difference in the European cultures in productivity where the rubber meets the road.
Much of the difference is due to increased moral with pays huge dividends when crunch times come along… people are far more willing to give more of themselves to benefit the whole when they’re know they’re valued as more than just a hands-on source of replaceable labor. I think you can get that without a study though. .
1. I used every country for which there was data on both clock accuracy in 1999 or earlier and GDP per capita in 2015. If that is cherry picking, the only alternative I guess is to make data up.
2. I looked at the state of the economy a decade and a half after the clock accuracy measure was taken precisely to show that a) causality, if there is any, does not run from wealth to accuracy and b) any effect from punctuality (or something that moves with punctuality) persists for quite a while
3. Your example and mine have a difference in scale. Your company may have the same productivity in El Salvador and Singapore, and there may be good reasons for that. But the fact of the matter is, on aggregate, the Swiss have produced an economy and the Salvadoreans have produced an economy, and if you gave Swiss people a chance to move to El Salvador, and you gave Salvadorians a chance to move to Switzerland, the “voting with your feet” pattern would say something very definite about which group generated the better outcome. It may be required to deny such things in the circles you move, but you might be surprised as to what the typical Salvadorian might say.
4. I know Beverly and Bruce are convinced I have joined the Nazi party because I started looking at the effects of culture on economic and social outcomes. I have, however, stated a few times – my purpose is not one the far right would be willing to embrace. Granted, neither will Beverly and Bruce, and frankly, I’m not happy with what the data shows either. So I think I can safely say I will piss off everyone, including the Nazi crowd assuming they cared what we think over here. Data shows what data shows, not what we over here or the Nazis over there want it to show. To quote Philip K Dick, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. ” I’m guessing the folks on Stormfront haven’t figured that out. It is a pity the folks around here haven’t either.
Perhaps akin to the Germans and the “Japanese Coming To America?” And Americans building Opels in Germany (still not in Japan yet). These are cultural changes which are imposed upon the host country populace by the invading industrialists. Lived it in the US with both the Germans and the Japanese, seeing it with the Koreans who admire my experience and knowledge but then seem to think I need a guide in Korea even though I have wandered around Bangkok, Tianjin, Manila, Beijing, Pitsanlok, etc, by myself.
Both cultures demand an incessant need to do things in their own exact way in order to be correct. If you are American, wish to build cars with mostly American parts, then you will comply with their mannerisms and norms. In China, Thailand, Philippines, Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc.; the Japanese and Germans have been successful in importing their ways and cultural ways of doing things. If you believe they see the populace as equals (even Americans), you are deceiving yourselves.
Europeans never saw Africans as equals, placed women at a lesser level (Conrad), and imported the same cultural and status to the Americas with their arrival. Winthrop’s “shining city on a hill” was not meant for all who came to America. It was meant for a few with the rest taking refuge at the base of that hill. Winthrop was not a fan of democracy and neither are many people today as some are more equal than others. I sense what is being defined here is a fear, a fear of the more equal than others are the defining force of who will inhabit the “shining city on the hill.”
We have not done much to break down the economic walls of Detroit and other places.
Sorry… comment above I started with Singapore and moved to Switzerland mid example. Either way, both Singaporeans and Swiss people have, on aggregate, put together more functional countries than, on aggregate, the people of El Salvador have done.
Hmmm. About that Swiss-immigrating-to-El-Salvadore-vs.-El Salvadorans-immigrating-to-Switzerland thing, you’ve actually undermined your thesis.
Back to Tevya. And to the history of Jewish immigration and assimilation in the U.S. And to my own ancestors on both sides.
The Wikipedia page on Fiddler on the Roof begins:
“Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family’s lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wish to marry for love – each one’s choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith – and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.”
Just wondering, Mike. Have you ever wondered why almost all of the art stolen during the Holocaust was stolen from German and Austrian Jews? Lemmie tell ya. It’s cuz Jews in Germany and Austria had, for generations, suffered no officially-sanctioned discrimination there, and in Vienna, Salzburg, Frankfurt, Munich and other German cities many Jews owned shops that some of them built into significant businesses. This was true, but to a much lesser extent, in France, Italy and Holland (which had significantly smaller Jewish populations than Germany and Austria).
In Tevya’s day, and in fact dating from the early or mid- and late19th century to, well, you know, Vienna was the heart of European cultural and scientific life. Frankfurt and Munich were close. Many owned large farms, others successful (large-for-that-day) businesses. Most Jewish immigrants during that period were from Austria or Germany, and had come to this country with some money and used it to start businesses here, many of them quickly becoming very successful businesses.
In the early 20th century during and shortly after the second wave of Jewish immigrants, which consisted mostly of Eastern European Jews, there was considerable tension between the early German and Austrian Jewish immigrants—the former who looked down on the latter and who were the ones who had established some of the major cultural and scientific institutions in this country. (And a few who died on the upper decks of the Titanic along with those in steerage, emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S.)
Elsewhere, on the periphery of Germany and Austria—mainly in parts of the larger Austro-Hungarian Empire, many Jews owned shops. This was true especially in Galecia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galicia_(Eastern_Europe), Prague and Budapest—where, because they were part of the Empire were not subject to officially sanctioned discrimination nor to pogroms, as those in Eastern Europe were.
But it didn’t take much time for Eastern European Jews, whether First Wave or Second Wave, to become highly productive, and many became entrepreneurial.
Both of my grandfathers were First Wave immigrants, but while my maternal grandfather’s last name was German (presumably Austrian) he was from Galicia. He himself was not entrepreneurial, but his older brother, who brought my grandfather to this country, was quite. He started a successful clothing business in upstate NY and then moved to Chicago and started what became the largest wholesale fur company in the Midwest. He was VERY wealthy. (My grandfather? Not so much; he was just a salesman at the company and his salary was the same as the other salesmen’s; i.e., middle-class. But productive!)
My grandfather, by contrast, immigrated here from Vilna, Lithuania—definitely Eastern Europe, complete with state-sanctioned discrimination AND pogroms, and not known then for its culture of punctuality, nor its math and science aptitude, not its entrepreneurial prowess—at the age of two with his parents, six older brothers and older sister. Two more brothers and a sister were born in this country—on the homestead they had come here to farm in western Missouri, notwithstanding that the two languages the parent were fluent in—Lithuanian and Yiddish—weren’t spoken much out that way.
The oldest child, a son, moved to Chicago and started VERY successful copper-wire-manufacturing business. The next-oldest, also a son, moved first to Chicago and then to Kenosha, WI (at the state line, just north of Illinois), and started a business (I don’t remember what kind) and then owned the movie theater in downtown Kenosha. All the brothers except the youngest became wealthy at least for a time except one, who was only upper middle class. (My grandfather lost much of his wealth just before the Depression and the rest of it during the Depression, but picked up the pieces quickly afterward to own a small business in which he had a single employee.)
My maternal grandmother immigrated here from a shtetl in Malawa, Poland, when she was 17, after writing to her uncle in Chicago, who had immigrated a few years earlier, and asked him if her would lend her the money for her passage. Which he was able to do, out of his paychecks, notwithstanding that the shtetl he grew up in was governed much more by the sound of roosters crowing in the morning than alarm clocks, or clocks at all. My grandmother, in turn, brought over her younger brother, who became a tailor, and her older half-sister and her family, the son who obtained a B.S. in Chemistry from NYU and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Columbia.
My point, in case you missed it? What the HELL does your Swiss-immigrating-to-El-Salvadore-vs.-El Salvadorans-immigrating-to-Switzerland thing prove, exactly? Anything?
Now you are not dealing with my next post on the subject, but the one after that, namely what are the conditions under which we would expect the cultural traits to be more or less persistent.
Oh? I thought you’d dealt with that: Hispanic–cultural traits are permanent. White–nah.
Feel free to point out when I have made either statement or even implied statement.
Correct. But if we want Japanese companies making cars in the US, it doesn’t make any sense to demand they make those cars our way. If Hapanese or German or American car makers are successful elsewhere in the world, it is because they bring some better process that the competitors with the home court advantage can’t match. It also is human nature for those who bring those superior processes to fell superior. The flip side is that part of the cost of colonial industrialization to use your term is probably a feeling of inferiority. But the colonial industrialization usually doesn’t occur unless a culture isn’t doing something as well as another culture.
You read too much into what I have said.
That sentence in my long comment that says, “My grandfather, by contrast, ….”, should say, “My paternal grandfather, by contrast, ….”
I counted all the ants I could find on my side of the street in my back yard and then went across the street to my neighbors back yard and counted all the ants I could see.
The data clearly shows that there are more ants on the north side of streets than the south sides of streets.
(just because sime data exists doesn’t mean the conclusions you try to draw from it have any validity what-so-ever).
Data does point in a direction though,
Sorry for reading too much into what you wrote.
As noted in the post, I did a sanity check of the data. But you don’t have to trust me. There are plenty of business etiquette books and experts out there. Look hard. Very hard. See if you find one that runs against the pack. See if you find one that tells you that the Indonesians are more punctual than the Singaporeans, that the Salvadorians are more punctual than Americans, that the Kenyans are more punctual than the Swiss, or that the Greeks are more punctual than the Germans. Sure, there are exceptions, and maybe whatever world you inhabit is full of them, but in general, the Japanese show up on time and in general, the Brazilians don’t. I know those are stereotypes and stereotypes are evil, but those particular stereotypes exist for a reason.
A couple of other things about that long comment of mine:
The sentence that says “In the early 20th century during and shortly after the second wave of Jewish immigrants, which consisted mostly of Eastern European Jews, there was considerable tension between the early German and Austrian Jewish immigrants—the former who looked down on the latter and who were the ones who had established some of the major cultural and scientific institutions in this country,” should say:
“In the early 20th century during and shortly after the second wave of Jewish immigrants, which consisted mostly of Eastern European Jews, there was considerable tension between the early German and Austrian Jewish immigrants and the later (second-wave) Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe—the former who looked down on the latter and who were the ones who had established some of the major cultural and scientific institutions in this country.”
Also, it’s occurred to me that everyone now thinks, given the timelines I gave for my grandparents’ immigration to this country, that I’m REALLY OLD. And while I think I misspoke that both of my grandfathers were First Wave Jewish immigrants, I think that my maternal grandfather (who died before I was born) was Second Wave (although his brother, who was I think about 10 years older than he was, was First Wave), my paternal grandfather, the two-year-old-immigrant homesteader, was First Wave.
So, in the interest of clarity, about what generation I’m in (!!) as well as about my ancestors, I want to explain that both of my grandfathers married rather late in life for that era, that both of my grandmothers were quite a bit younger than their husbands, that my paternal grandfather already had been successful in Chicago as a businessman (and had run for political office; only once, and he lost) before he met my grandmother and that my grandmother had been married briefly in her early 20s and was in her mid-twenties when she married my grandfather, and that my maternal grandmother had difficulty getting pregnant and that my mother, the younger of her two children was born 12 years after my grandparents’ wedding.
That said, well … ugh, I’m still feeling really old right now. 🙁
I disagree. Read: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/magazine/why-is-it-so-difficult-for-syrian-refugees-to-get-into-the-us.html
welcome to AB