on February 14, 2014
"The Triple Package" is an attempt by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld to explain the economic success of certain ethnic groups. Their thesis is that the economic success of these groups can be adequately explained by three cultural traits (NOT genetic or racial characteristics). These three traits are a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The authors focus on the following successful groups: Indian, Iranian, Lebanese, Nigerian, Cuban, Chinese, Mormons, and Jews. They contrast these groups from African Americans, Hispanics, and the general American population.
Claims of Racism:
First, let me begin by stating that "The Triple Package" is NOT a racist book as portrayed by the media. Nor is it a "semi-racist" book as one reviewer put it. At no place in the book do the authors assert that certain racial or ethnic groups are intrinsically superior - although they do claim that successful ethnic groups may view themselves as superior or privileged in some way. Nor do the authors assert that certain racial or ethnic groups are intrinsically inferior to another group. In fact, the authors explicitly claim that key cultural features explain a group's economic success, and that such success is not the result of genetics or any inherent racial or ethnic characteristic. Thus, anyone who states that the authors are making racist claims - i.e. asserting the inherent racial superiority (or inferiority) of one group over another -- has simply not read the book or has severe difficulties with simple reading comprehension.
Second, many of the negative reviewers seem to dismiss the empirical information the authors present. That is, it is an empirical fact that many immigrant groups tend to achieve high levels of economic success in America. This is clearly observable in American society. In many cases, success is achieved despite arriving in America with little money, with few or no connections, and even under oppressive conditions. The authors focus on a handful of groups -- Indian, Iranian, Lebanese, Nigerian, Cuban, Chinese, Mormons, and Jews. However, the authors could've also mentioned other ethnic groups, such as the German immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Japanese, or the South Koreans. In fact, many of the same facts have been expressed by Stanford economist, Thomas Sowell, and George Mason University professor, Walter Williams. Both Sowell and Williams are African American.
Moreover, while the authors of "The Triple Package" are criticized for mentioning that Mexican Americans and African Americans are economically unsuccessful groups, their points were not intended as racist attacks. The authors could've easily mentioned the early Irish immigrants to make the same points. During the early 20th century, it was not uncommon to see help wanted signs stating, "No Irish Need Apply". In fact, many Irish business owners themselves preferred to hire non-Irish whites. It was said the Irish were prone to excessive drinking, fighting on the job, and general unreliability. These behaviors are all examples of poor impulse control. And it was not unusual for employers to prefer a "black man" to an Irish man, according to Sowell in his book, "The Economics and Politics of Race". Not surprisingly, such behaviors held back the Irish for a long time compared to their non-Irish counterparts -- the Germans and the English.
Some criticisms of the book...
1) Correlation is not Causation:
The authors' thesis is really an argument based on correlation; that is, there are three cultural traits correlated with economic success. From this starting point, they jump to the conclusion that these traits are complete and sufficient explanations for the success of certain ethnic groups. However, correlation is not causation. Observing that three traits are correlated with success is not the same as claiming that they are sufficient explanations or causes for the success. The latter requires proof, and I didn't think the authors did a very good job of providing that proof. Ice cream sales and the incidence of drowning are positively correlated, but it would be wrong to conclude that ice cream consumption causes drowning. Rather, more people eat ice cream and more people swim during the summer months.
2) Poor Argumentation:
The authors are careful to state that the absence of these "success" traits is not the cause of poverty. Instead, they point the finger at other factors, such as discrimination and exploitation - African American slavery being the most salient example. But this seems like a planned, politically correct response to avoid offending certain ethnic groups. I don't think the authors actually believe their own statement. For if you accept their thesis, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that an absence of these so-called "success" traits are the cause of economic poverty.
Here's the problem. Other ethnic groups have also experienced discrimination and exploitation, but have found ways to rise to economic prominence. The Jews and the Chinese come immediately to mind. Have the authors forgotten that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II? Do they not know that Jewish discrimination in Europe can be traced back to Medieval Times? Or that as many as 20,000 Chinese (by some estimates) were murdered in Malaysia in just a few days due to racial tensions and Malaysian animosity toward the Chinese? Nonetheless, the Jews and the Chinese have achieved phenomenal success wherever they settled. The authors would say that the three "success" traits are present in these groups, which enabled them to overcome discrimination and exploitation. But isn't this the same as saying that the absence of these traits in other groups are the cause for their poverty? After all, according to the authors, if the traits were present then these groups would not be poor.
The authors also claim that all three "success" traits must be present. If just one of these traits is missing, then economic success may not be achievable. Interestingly, I couldn't help but notice that the authors didn't mention non-Chinese Asian groups, such as South Koreans, Filipinos, or Vietnamese. On what foundation would a superiority complex rest for these groups? For most of their history, they were dominated by other nations. There was no great civilization in their past that they can point to or admire, at least nothing comparable to the glory days of the ancient Persian or Chinese empires. And they make no claims to being a "chosen" people like the Jews. Nonetheless, these groups are very successful in American society. How do the authors account for this?
3) Alternative Considerations:
Common sense and experience might get you to accept that impulse control is good and that insecurity can motivate a person to excel (to prove oneself), but the authors do not seem to consider other more direct explanations for a group's success. For example, nearly all of these successful groups rose to economic prominence by one of two routes - higher education or self-employment. Perhaps it was the value these groups placed on education or the chosen path of entrepreneurship that explains their success. This is what economist Thomas Sowell claims in his book, "The Economics and Politics of Race." It's true that impulse control plays an important role when pursuing a higher education or trying to launch a business; however, it is less clear that a superiority complex or a sense of insecurity is a requirement for success.
Perhaps these successful groups came to America with existing human capital, which they used to their advantage and imparted to their children. By human capital, I mean the collective set of individual attributes, personality traits, knowledge, skills, and competencies that produce economic value. This certainly seems to be the case with the Cuban Exiles versus the New Cuban immigrants. There is little doubt that people from different socioeconomic groups have different traits, knowledge, and skill sets (on the whole) -- in other words, human capital. The former had human capital of economic value, coming from the higher echelons of Cuban society. The latter lacked human capital, having come from poorer Cuban social classes. As a result is it really surprising that the former was successful in America, while the latter are not much better than other Hispanic groups? Can the authors really assert that they have narrowed down the entirety of such success to just three traits or factors?
4) Poorly Structured References:
The book makes a lot of claims and quotes from various sources, but there are no footnotes or easily traceable end notes (at least not in the e-book version). End notes do exist but it is not in a traditional format, thus, I found it more cumbersome to locate information. Moreover, many of their claims were taken from tertiary sources, rather than from original published articles. And in a few cases, I found the claims a bit exaggerated from what was stated in the original articles.
5) Writing Style:
As far as writing style, the book is a very easy read. It was relatively free of spelling errors and grammar mistakes, and there was no ambiguity in the content. Nothing made me question what the authors meant by a particular term, phrase, or sentence. However, I felt the book was intended for someone with no more than an 8th grade reading level. I realize that an 8th grade reading level will reach the widest audience (according to some studies); nonetheless, I felt this limitation made the writing style wearisome and irritating at times (at least for me).
In summary, the book's thesis is provocative. The authors are bold to tackle this topic, given the predictable back lash and misrepresentation in the media. However, I think their argumentation leaves much to be desired. The book is okay, but there are far superior books that tackle this idea of culture and economic success. I would recommend reading Thomas Sowell's book, "The Economics and Politics of Race" and Theodore Dalrymple's "Life at the Bottom". These books are better written and more convincingly argued. And unlike Chua and Rubenfeld, these authors only make the general claim that culture is a significant contributing factor in a group's economic success. They do not try to assert that a specific number of traits or a particular set of traits is sufficient to explain it all.
Why do some rise from humble beginnings to great achievements, while many others don't? Finally, we get someone with credibility to expose the elephant in the room - the fact that some cultures are far more successful in fostering academic achievement than others. Granted, academic achievement is far from being the sole determinant of success, no matter how you might define that term, but it certainly is key ingredient to STEM success, as well as having the opportunity and ability to launch a Silicon Valley startup - talents we're sorely lacking vs. many of our Asian competitors. Obvious 'more successful' cultures - those of Chinese/Japanese/South Korean (Confucianism followers) origin, as well as others with significant Jewish heritage - plain as day to all of us high-school students decades ago. Authors Chua/Rubenfeld also add several other groups, including Indian-Americans. Indian-American pupils have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee 11 out of the last 15 years, including the last six years straight.
More specifics: Of the 141 U.S. Presidential Scholars in 2012, 48 were Asian Americans (52 in 2011) - mostly Chinese and Indian. Asian-American SAT scores average 143 points of the U.S. average - including 63 points over whites, and that gap is increasing. While just 5% of the population, they comprise 19% of the undergraduates at Harvard, 16% at Yale, 19% at Princeton, 19% at Stanford, and many suspect there's a 'glass ceiling' that limits their admissions below what they would be based on National Merit Scholarships and SAT scores. Intel Science Talent Searches over the last five years have picked 23 Asian-Americans (mostly Indian and Chinese) of the top 50. Asians and Asian-Americans represent 30-50% of enrollees in leading U.S. music programs, while all four Americans first-prize winners at the quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Competition (likely the world's most prestigious) were Asian-Americans. Indian-Americans have the highest median household income of any Census-tracked ethnic group in the U.S. Taiwanese and Chinese households are close behind. Since 1965, Indian-Americans have won 3 Nobel prizes and Chinese-Americans 6.
Pepsi, Sun Microsystems, MasterCard, United Airlines, Motorola, Adobe Systems, Citigroup, Citibank, HSBC North America, McKinsey, U.S. Airways, and now Microsoft have current or recent American-Indian CEOs. American-Indian immigrants such as Vinod Khosla have founded more Silicon Valley startups than the next four immigrant groups combined (Britain, Taiwan, China, Japan). Bobby Jihdal and Nikki Haley are governors, Fareed Zakaria, Atul Gawande, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Sanjay Gupta are well-known leaders in the media and medicine.
Then there's the Jewish-American population, 1.7% of the total. Four of the top-ten paid 2011 CEOs were Jewish Americans, four of the top-ten hedge-fund managers, and 20 of the top 50 on the Forbes 2009 list of wealthiest Americans. They also comprise 51% of Pulitzer-prize winners for non-fiction and 13% for fiction, 37% of Academy Award winners for best director, 13% of M.D.s, three of the nine Supreme Court judges, and 36% of U.S. Nobel-winners. World-wide, Jews comprise only 0.2% of the population, while being awarded 20% of the Nobel prizes.
Stuyvesant, one of the best U.S. high schools, new students in 2013 included 9 blacks, 24 Latinos, 177 whites, 640 Asians. Bronx Science, another NC super high-school, has a student body made up of 64% Asian-Americans - yet, most Chinese immigrants are not admitted via skill or education criteria. NYC offers free tutoring for poor families - 43% of recipients, yet they only make up 14% of the total student population.
The 'secret' of all these successful cultures is no secret - hard work, backed up by parental support. Indian-Americans have formed self-help groups in their communities that help their children in academics and science/computer/electronic ventures; a weekend trip to my local university library invariably shows it largely filled with Asian students, despite their comprising only a small fraction of total enrollees. And I still remember my Jewish high-school peers - all good students, and committed to learning. (Unfortunately, I was neither.)
'Triple Threat' digs into this subject deeper than most, showing that the superior results of some cultures aren't simply an artifact of eg. immigrants being rich. Another interesting finding - Nigerians comprise < 1% of the U.S. black population, yet number over a quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School. (And yes, I can almost unerringly identify Nigerian blacks - they're the ones that usually demonstrate a much better work ethic than my own. Embarrassing.)
Three traits, when combined, propel these more successful cultures, per Chua/Rubenfeld: 1)A superiority complex, 2)Insecurity - a sense that they haven't done good enough, and 3)Impulse control - the ability to defer immediate gratification to instead build a better personal future. I'm skeptical of the 'superiority aspect' they cite - I can't ever recall anyone from those groups acting superior, except possibly out of frustration that others don't exert comparable efforts and then complain they're 'picked on' or 'discriminated against.' The inadequacy aspect - that's been repeatedly demonstrated by others such as the late Professor Stevenson at the University of Michigan who compared parental attitudes, pupil effort, and pupil achievement between the U.S., Taiwan, China, and Japan. (American parents were satisfied with their pupils' progress and our students relatively dumb but happy - completely the opposite in Asia. Impulse control has been linked to higher lifetime achievement previously.
Bottom-Line: 'Triple Threat' is provocative and brings at least a temporary roll-back of PC blindness. It is not the first to do so. Hopefully, us 'happy Americans' will not toss it off as offensive and racist. Fat chance - too many knee-jerk 'thought leaders' will see it as 'radioactive' and try to boost their ratings by dissing it.
on February 4, 2014
People love to paint arguments that they don't like as racist or culturally supremacist. I challenge those who are skeptical to read the entire book and judge it based on what's within its pages, rather than what the media is portraying the author to be. Chua certainly could have put her argument more tactfully, and I believe she should have. But her underlying points are sound. I'll try to explain.
No doubt many critics will attack Chua and Rubenfeld for a narrow definition of success. While it's true that "success" is defined in different ways by different people, that's not the point of this book. Chua and Rubenfeld readily acknowledge that academic achievement and high income don't automatically indicate success, that a fulfilling life has many more aspects than a prestigious school or career. The authors are sparking a much-needed conversation about culture and education, about child raising, and yes, about how the differences in these things across ethic divides can have profound effects on future generations and on this country as a whole.
Chua says the three traits are "superiority", "insecurity", and "impulse control". Her choice of words here can no doubt be better, but once again it's the underlying premise that we should be considering. In a way, Chua is saying that we should check our self-esteem with modesty, continuously seek to learn and improve, and balance daily gratification with long-term investment. The "Triple Package", whether you believe in the term or not, are traits that can be attained by all people for their own individual definitions of success, not just to pursue academic success.
It's simply not fair to say that the authors failed to address all possible definitions of success, or to brandish them as racists, especially when they specifically reject the notion that certain races or religions have a genetic or even a cultural edge. That said, negative responses are understandable given the controversial tone and word choice. Perhaps the diction was purposely selected to sound controversial in order to sell copies, a choice that readers dislike but authors practice nonetheless.
In short, I agree with the fundamental premise of Chua's argument, but I dislike her delivery.
on April 18, 2015
"The Triple Package" expands further upon the parenting that Amy Chua described in her controversial best-seller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" -- while the aforementioned title was a memoir, this book is a pop-psychology book with a bit of self-help superimposed on top. Chua writes about the success of particular cultural groups (success in this case is defined in the economical sense as being financial attainment) and the three features she claims leads to this success: superiority, insecurity, and impulse control. The book details the different ways in which multiple cultural groups in the US --Chinese Americans, Mormons, and Jews among them -- manifest these characteristics differently, but share those same three central traits.
This book is controversial, but she makes a pretty convincing, if simplistic argument - people that succeed are those who are confident enough to have an inherent sense that they can accomplish something, are introspective enough to have a realistic view of their flaws and strengths, and are tenacious and focused enough to see their goals through to completion; furthermore, they are able to pursue hard work with the promise of delayed reward without being distracted by immediate gratification. That much I can agree with. What I don't necessarily agree with is that some cultures 'have it' and others don't. What I think is true is the emphasis on family environment in terms of later success - some families live by the 'triple package' premise and others, less so, and while it may be more common in certain cultures, it certainly isn't exclusive to them.
I also agree with her acknowledgement that this "triple package" doesn't come without adverse side effects. Full disclosure - I grew up in a half-Asian (though not Chinese or Indian, the two Asian subgroups she emphasizes in the book) family and had a sort of watered-down "tiger childhood". I grew up playing Chopin and Bach on the piano for hours on end, being expected to succeed on all forms of standardized tests, and facing the comparisons to parents' friend's children when I didn't live up to expectations. Socializing on weekends was the exception, not a rule growing up, and - like Chua states - most weekends were spent on extracurricular pursuits. Some kids really do thrive on this, and I was probably one of them - I naturally had an interest in science, truly dreamed of being a 'research scientist' since I was 8, and ultimately ended up graduating from medical school and ending up in a research-oriented specialty. But others do not - the 'triple package' by design emphasizes conventional success (as Chua notes, often in career paths which are well-established such as medicine and law), and children whose interests and skills fall outside of the culturally accepted norm - i.e.., arts and humanities in particular - often end up feeling stifled and lost, at least amongst my friends with similar childhood experiences.
Chua's book really lays out the facts - it argues both the pros and cons of this 'triple package' culture, and though it emphasizes the successes of those who follow it, it doesn't shy away from discussion of the perils of aggressively overemphasizing achievement, and ultimately you can draw the conclusions for yourself. Would you raise your kids with these values? My personal opinion is that in moderation each of these traits is probably beneficial. Emphasizing hard work and impulse control is never a bad thing, but to take it to the extreme that the "Tiger Mother" memoir entails is too much.
This book begins with the question of who is successful in America. The answer is not a list of individuals who have accumulated wealth, achievements, or fame. Instead the authors focus on groups whose members measure above average in business and other forms of "...material, conventional, prestige-oriented success." These cultural groups are defined similarly: "...their members tend to be raised with, identify themselves by, and pass down certain culturally specific values and beliefs, habits and practices." America's most successful groups include Mormons; immigrants from Cuba, Nigeria, India, China, Iran, and Lebanon; and Jews.
These groups are not genetically superior or recipients of unfair advantages, argue authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. They share three cultural characteristics the authors call "The Triple Package." Members of each group have a Superiority Complex, "...a deeply internalized belief in your group's specialness, exceptionality, or superiority." Members of successful groups are characterized by Insecurity, "...a species of discontent--an anxious uncertainty about your worth or place in society, a feeling or worry that you or what you've done or what you have is in some fundamental way not good enough." Finally, these cultural subgroups value Impulse Control, "...the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task."
Triple Package values run counter to three strong currents in contemporary American culture. Rather than regarding any person or culture as Superior to any other, Americans shy away from comparative judgments. Insecurity is seen as a threat to self-esteem, which has become a core value in public education where the competition which can lead to achievement is softened to reduce disappointment and negative self-esteem. Impulse Control is incompatible with the immediate gratification and unrestrained freedom valued in our indulgent, youth-oriented culture. Triple Package subcultures are successful in part because they contrast so sharply with the mainstream culture around them.
The book explores how these values are manifest differently in the eight successful subcultures. There are analyses of how successive generations can lose their subcultural heritage, becoming simultaneously more mainstream and less successful. Contrasts with the values of poverty-stricken subcultures, such as those found in Appalachia and inner-city neighborhoods highlight the advantages of Triple Package values as a path to individual as well as group success.
This is a well-researched and thoughtfully written book. The arguments and supporting evidence are clearly communicated. An extensive and usable chapter notes section allows readers to engage with the authors' main points in depth. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in subgroup differences in contemporary American culture.
on March 21, 2016
This book really resonated with me, even though I am at best a third-geeration American. In my own youth, the Triple Package was very much present, although not named as such. Being raised in a firmly Catholic household, with two parents who experienced the Depression (my mother had lost most of her teeth for want of funds to see a dentist, and never attended college despite being valedictorian of her high school class; my father never attained more than high school and a factory worker's livelihood), impulse control was a dominant part of my upbringing and I am glad it was. But being raised in a very religious environment also confers a belief in some kind of innate superiority versus the nonbeliever, the second of the three factors. And my awareness of the history of poverty in my family tree, reinforced my having to wear patched pants to school, and sitting in a family car with no radio, let alone air conditioning, gave me the third factor, insecurity. Inequality, I learned first hand, can be a spur as much as a hindrance, to attainment.
But beyond personal affinity, an objective citizen cannot help but notice the data on certain population groups achieving above-average economic success in the face of daunting obstacles, including minority status and language differences, while other groups stagnate at and below the average. I admire the courage of the authors to discuss these inconvenient truths openly even though they clash with political correctness. I found many sections of the book eye-opening. I reject the slur that some left-wing reactionaries have flung at the book, that it is racist. Nothing in here treats persons of color differently than the white majority. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything in this book that treats the majority demographic group in the US favorably at all. Only Mormons and Jews as subsets of the white majority will find their values reinforced.
The book is very, very easy to read. My only criticism of the book is that certain sections were a little too anecdote-driven. Where they had data to back up their arguments, those chapters were fantastic. I urge all persons considering the book to read it.
on April 22, 2014
Excellent mind-blowing book!!
In the back of our minds we've always wondered...why do Asian kids perform so well?? Heck, my third grade classmates and I hated the Chinese girl in our class because she was so smarter than the rest of us. I've also wondered about Jews--why are they so smart and successful?? Same thing with Indians in America.
This book hit the nail on the head in regards to Lebanese and Iranian Americans. Every Middle Eastern person (Arabs in particular) knows that the Lebanese are good at business and making money. And anyone who is familiar with Iranian (aka "Persian") culture knows that they are the most ethnocentric, arrogant group of people on the planet, lol. They look down on everyone--Arabs and Afghans in particular (because apparently Afghans speak "fake Farsi", when it's not Farsi at all, it's DARI, a different dialect of Persian).
People need to read this book with an OPEN MIND. There is not one racist sentence in this entire book, everything is backed up with research and stats. I, personally, am not a part of one of the cultures that belong to the Triple Package, but I'm not offended by this book at all.
Heck, I read this book and thought....what are these people doing right? How can I learn from them? What can I teach my daughter so she is successful like these people? I am so grateful I read this book.
Instead of being foolish and offended, LEARN FROM THIS BOOK! How can you apply the triple threat package to your own life...to the lives of your children to make them successful??
I'm waiting on Amy Chua's book on HOW TO BE A TIGER MOM....I want to know!
on February 17, 2014
I just finished reading this book, and was extremely moved by authors’ empathetic description of the various immigrants’ experiences. Chua and Rubenfeld delve deep into the immigrants’ experiences of being an “outsider” and their feelings of humiliation when faced with discrimination and negative stereotypes. I found the description of the Cuban Exiles who fled Cuba between 1959 and 1973 – to be particularly insightful. Many of these exiles lost all their wealth when fleeing Castro, and ended up working as waiters in Miami. The authors describe how this loss of their previous status (“status-collapse”) not only created strong insecurity, but the type of insecurity that would serve as a powerful motivational drive to succeed.
Some critics of the book have questioned whether the real reason for the Cuban Exiles’ success story in the U.S. has to do with the fact that many of them came from economically privileged backgrounds in their home countries. These critics miss the authors’ more subtle point: “Scorn, contempt, and above all resentment: These levers of motivation, so well-known in literature, are wholly uncaptured by the useful but bland terms “human capital” and “social capital.” Chua and Rubenfeld then provide a much deeper, more nuanced account for what drove the Cuban Americans to spectacular success. They describe how the Cuban Exiles’ plummet in status was itself an additional blow and extra goad to succeed. They discuss how having capital and wealth alone is never enough for success in a capitalist society: you also need drive, and resentment fuels drive. Chua and Rubenfeld go on to describe how for many immigrant groups the sudden traumatic experience of loss of status, disrespect and scorn served as powerful motivators.
As a Russian immigrant, I believe that Chua and Rubenfeld’s focus on “status collapse” captures exactly what I myself experienced; and how this traumatic loss of status explains much more profoundly my own drive to succeed in the US (much more, say, than the mere fact that we possessed “human capital” – terms used by the usual run-of-the-mill sociologists.) I personally arrived as a refugee with no money or papers. I ended up graduating from University of Pennsylvania summa cum laude and ultimately obtained a Harvard PhD. Most of my drive came directly from the psychological feeling of insecurity and "status collapse" I experienced - feelings that were traumatizing at the time, but which also formed the basis of my drive to succeed.
Also, I cannot understand how critics could possibly mischaracterize the authors for somehow “promoting” some cultures over others. In fact, the book does the very opposite. It focuses on not so much the intrinsic “culture” of the immigrant groups (be they Nigerian or Cuban or Indian), but on the fact that these communities managed to CREATE POWERFUL NARRATIVES OF PRIDE, and in this sense reversed the degrading experience of negative stereotypes that prevailed against their groups. If anything, the book is optimistic and uplifting for ALL groups, for it talks about how any individual can defy the existing cultural narratives about their own groups, and instead “write their own scripts.” One of my favorite lines in the book is: “Families and whole communities can create narratives of pride that reject the master narratives of their society, or turn those narratives around, reversing their meaning.”
Overall, a much more deep and insightful book than your usual “sociological” treatise on immigrants.
The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
"The Triple Package" presents a provocative thesis that when three distinct forces (the Triple Package) come together in a group's culture, they propel that group to disproportionate success. Thankfully, these forces or set of values/beliefs are accessible to anyone who choose to incorporate them into their lives. Yale Professors and best-selling authors, Chua and Rubenfeld provide the public with a riveting book that is sure to inspire a cultural debate. This controversial yet fascinating 304-page book includes the following eight chapters: 1. The Triple Package, 2. Who's Successful in America?, 3. The Superiority Complex, 4. Insecurity, 5. Impulse Control, 6. The Underside of the Triple Package, 7. IQ, Institutions, and Upward Mobility, and 8. America.
1. A well written, well-referenced book. A page turner.
2. A fascinating and potentially incendiary-producing topic in the capable hands of Professors Chua and Rubenfeld. A good use of world history and research to make provocative claims. In general, I found their observations to be fair and even-handed even when they leaned on their own personal cultural experiences.
3. The book is very provocative and is not afraid to touch on very sensitive topics. Overall, I think the authors went out of their way to be as edgy as possible without crossing the line. "Throughout this book, we will never make a statement about any group's economic performance or predominant cultural attitudes unless it is backed up by solid evidence, whether empirical, historical, or sociological."
4. A great job of defining, explaining and supporting arguments in favor of their thesis of the three elements of the Triple Package: 1. A Superiority Complex, 2. Insecurity. And 3. Impulse Control. Most importantly how these elements work together to instill drive and deliver on defense. "Superiority plus insecurity is a formula for drive. Superiority plus impulse control is a formula for hardship endurance. When the Triple Package brings all three elements together in a group's culture, members of that group become disproportionately willing and able to do or accept whatever it takes today in order to make it tomorrow."
5. An interesting look at America's most successful groups as measured by conventional metrics such as income and academic accomplishments. "If there's one group in the U.S. today that's hitting it out of the park with conventional success, it's Mormons." Find out what the church holdings are...significant comes to mind. Enlightening sections on Cuban Americans, Nigerian Americans, Asian Americans and American Jews. "American Jews are disproportionately successful by pretty much any economic measure." The authors focused on a total of eight ethnic groups.
6. Controversial conclusions. "The success of Nigerian Americans and certain other black immigrants - who face many of the same institutional obstacles and prejudices as African Americans - is significantly due to cultural forces"
7. The book is full of surprises and fascinating tidbits. Find out who the most highly educated ethnic group in the United States is...I won't spoil it for you.
8. Interesting observations on religious groups, particularly concerning how Mormonism ties into American exceptionalism and how it departs on key theological points from most Christian denominations. "In particular, Mormons reject the doctrine of original sin." Also a look at Protestants, and the Amish.
9. Some quotes are memorable, "I don't consider myself an immigrant. I am an exile. I did not leave Cuba for economic reasons. I left Cuba because of Communism. I left because I had to."
10. A mesmerizing discussion regarding superiority and inferiority as it relates to race. "African Americans in every stratum of American society, including the most successful, repeatedly testify to the internal burdens of being black in the United States and `the sheer force of will' required to succeed `while being condescended to (under the best of circumstances).'"
11. The need to redeem parental sacrifice. Impulse control exemplified in Chinese American parenting. Excellent examples from different cultural groups.
12. I really enjoyed learning about the sources of pride from some of the lesser-known groups. "The Lebanese, he writes, are `descendants of the ancient Phoenicians,' a Semitic people who, like the modern-day Lebanese, were famous for being commercially successful wherever they went."
13. The importance of how to deal with failure. The book does a good job of discussing the factors that lead to success. "Now confirmed by numerous studies, the correlation Mischel discovered between impulse control and success is nothing short of jaw-dropping." There is also a fascinating new wrinkle on the famed marshmallow test.
14. Eye-opening observations. "Success in America today comes more often to groups who resist today's dominant American culture".
15. Understanding the price to pay for the Triple Package, the most glaring pathologies. "The Triple Package works by making people very good at attaining conventional success, so everything depends on how much you think conventional success is worth."
16. Upward mobility in perspective. "Rising remains the rule in America, not the exception." Very good cognitive-inducing points though the authors do acknowledge that upward mobility is shrinking.
17. The causes of success and nonsuccess. Many myths debunked including myths involving innate higher IQ among Chinese American immigrants as a reason for their disproportionate success. "If Asian students were truly genetically superior to other students, they would not be spending twice as much time on homework each week as their peers in order to outperform them." "Drive predicts accomplishment better than IQ, and the Triple Package generates drive."
18. Interesting case studies on Appalachians, the Amish ("They aim not to show the world but to be separate from the world."), and of course Holocaust survivors. This one quote moved me, "Representing six million dead is a grave responsibility, and a terrible burden for a child to carry."
19. A broad-brush portrait of the current Triple Package trajectory in America and how to reverse it. "America declared war on both insecurity and impulse control. By 2000, all that remained of the American Triple Package was the superiority complex - which, by itself, leads not to success, but to swagger, complacency, and entitlement."
20. Justice Sotomayor's success puts a smile on my face. "Sotomayor's story illustrates just how extraordinary a persona has to be to overcome the odds and institutions she had stacked against her."
21. Comprehensive notes.
1. Sometimes misrepresents the mainstream liberal thinking. Example, "Everyone is equal to everyone else". As a progressive thinker, that is not what "we" espouse. It's about equal opportunity not equal outcome.
2. Notes were not linked up. A real shame.
3. We are products of our genes and the environment that we grow up in. The focus of the book is on specific cultures but how does biology play into it?
4. The authors did a very good job of stating their case that America remains an excellent country for upper mobility but did not discuss in any significant detail, the big elephant in the room, increasing inequality gap.
5. Some comments come across as presumptuous, and they were doing so well...
6. No formal bibliography.
In summary, I really enjoyed what turned out to be an enlightening and provocative book. I am of the progressive persuasion but a lot of the arguments resonated with me. This is a book that hopefully inspires civil conversation on sensitive issues. In my view, the authors have gone out of their way to be edgy without being disrespectful. You don't have to agree with every conclusion to enjoy a book, you may not even agree with the tone but you would miss out dearly if you skip this book. Why give this book five stars when I clearly didn't agree with everything in it? Because I love books that enlighten, inform, provoke, inflame, and bring new ideas to the table. I highly recommend it!
Further recommendations: "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change" by Stephen R. Covey, "Getting Things Done" by David Allen, "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg, "The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D., "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, "The One Thing" by Gary Keller, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work" and "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath, "Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't" by Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Outliers: The Story of SuccessRebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success" and "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell, "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success" by Rick Newman, and "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink.
on February 6, 2014
I think this is really another book about Chua's theories of early childhood education, secreted inside a media-baiting book full of clusters of cherry-picked statistics and anecdotes about races and religions, but I'd argue that the actual "countercultural" assertion secreted inside is basically the same as the thesis of her last book:
Impose daily practice of something hard on children, in order to inculcate clear expectations and early habits of discipline and perseverance, not to mention reaping the benefits of exposure to cognitively enriching skills during the crucial age of maximum neuroplasticity.
On page 22, the authors grant that, "In any given family, no matter what the background, an especially strong parent or even grandparent can instill children with a sense of exceptionality, high expectations, discipline, creating a kind of miniature Triple Package inside the home."
On page 127, the authors write "Chinese American preschoolers and kindergarteners engage in a 'focused activity' at home for about an hour a day, compared to less than six minutes per day for white American children the same age. Chinese American children watch about one-third less television than white Americans. Asian kids are more likely to attribute success or failure at school to how hard a student works; by contrast, white American kids are more likely to attribute it to innate talent, luck or teacher 'favoritism'." The more advantageous thought pattern is clear given what we know about fixed versus growth mindsets from Carol Dweck's research. The practices described (extensive parent-led early academic work done at home outside the school rubric) drive some people mad--shrieks of "DEVELOPMENTALLY INAPPROPRIATE!!" fill the air--but those objections may, in fact, be culturally specific romantic notions about childhood that ought to be debated more openly.
Finally, on page 133, Chua-Rubenfeld state, "If people are made to do almost any impulse-controlling task--even as simple as getting themselves to sit up straight--on a regular basis for even a few weeks, their overall willpower increases. Suddenly they're stronger in all kinds of unrelated activities that also require concentration, perseverance, or temptation resistance." The idea is that if you invest early in personal discipline in one domain, the benefits will be spread across other arenas of your life, leading to "success," as conventionally defined in First World societies. (In one blunt aside, Chua-Rubenfeld address objections to their definition of success with this: "Goodness, religiosity and self-awareness are not what modern economies reward.")
I think it's easy to say that Chua-Rubenfeld's cultural explanations for success are spurious, but it may be harder to disprove the value of practices recommended herein, whatever the inspiration: Start early, think different (they claim Steve Jobs as a stand-alone exemplar of the Triple Package), work hard/long/smart. It's not easy--or everyone would do it--and Chua and Rubenfeld at least deserve credit for contributing to the conversation about how we can better ourselves individually and America at large.
Sidebar: For an interesting case study of an African-American family that exemplifies Chua-Rubenfeld's Triple Package attributes, take a look at Condoleezza Rice's childhood memoir Extraordinary, Ordinary People. She grew up under Jim Crow segregation (inferiority) in a high-status family in Birmingham's black elite (superiority complex) that focused intensely in scholastic, athletic and musical training from a very early age (impulse control).