Wouldn’t it be interesting to be a social scientist? To be able to pick and choose a pool of examples at will and derive some rules from the set? In The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, Amy Chua of Tiger Mom fame and her husband argue that success within certain groups in the US, including, not surprisingly, Chinese Americans and Jews, display a set of characteristics that makes them successful. Namely, they have a superiority complex (the authors certainly do!), a sense of insecurity, and superior impulse control. They run into many difficulties in explaining their theory, the first one being how to define success. Is it high salaries? Lots of CEO slots? An unusually high percentage of prestigious academic prizes? Well, yes, some of that, but the examples pick and choose which ones apply to various groups so I was not entirely convinced.
The second problem is that almost all the groups they depict are immigrant groups, and not your average immigrants either. Whether it’s Cuban-Americans, Iranian-Americans, or Chinese-Americans, they arrived in the country (as the authors note) with advantages of education and certainly determination to succeed, assets that are sure to assist their progeny in being successful even if the parents are employed in menial jobs upon arrival. But this little problem waved away.
The most interesting contortions occur when the authors discuss African-Americans, who by many measures are not very successful in the US, and since the authors assert that triple package implies success, then no success must mean failure on the triple package — but of course there is a strong pressure to avoid saying such an un-PC thing so much back-paddling is accomplished, not very successfully in my mind.
In the end, it seems that the real aim is not so much to expose the weaknesses of any particular group, but rather to argue that the US, once (supposedly) a triple-package country, has gotten soft on self-esteem classes and instant gratification. Buck up, America, they say. Alas, it seems that it’s more a matter of looking down upon the unsuccessful as not having tried enough rather than encouraging hard work. I will take my bucking up with a dash of compassion, please.