The Economist tells us that North-South differences are everywhere.
Starting with tiny Belgium, we would see antipathy between a Dutch-speaking North and the French speakers in the South. Divided by a Germanic and Latin outlook, the stereotypes are predicable. The North is dour but hardworking while Southerners are “drinkers and dreamers.” In the European Union, the Germans and Dutch have complained about southern “Club Med” countries. But then, looking inside “Club Med” places like Spain and Italy, we have similar opinions about northern Spain’s or Italy’s business discipline and “fairs and fiestas” in the south.
Elsewhere too, in the U.S., Vietnam, Australia, and China, we could find the same kinds of regional clashes.
But let’s take a closer look at China and Starbucks.
China’s North-South Differences
In a 2014 study, researchers explained the difference between China’s northern noodle eaters and the southerners that consume rice. The stereotype is a “hale and hearty” individualistic northerner that plants wheat. Meanwhile, the southerners that cultivate rice are “cunning, cultured traders” that have fewer divorces.
Looking at these farmers’ lives, we would see rice farmers working harder. Rice requires that neighbors cooperate with irrigation. It is labor intensive. When researchers interviewed more than one thousand people from the north and south, they concluded that the interdependence that rice requires spills over to societal attitudes. Where rice cultivation was dominant, as in Japan and South Korea, people tend toward more community.
The researchers even hypothesize that years later, after people leave the traditions that shaped their personalities, they still retain those traits. They observed that, in Starbucks, people from China’s rice growing regions tend to sit in groups while the wheat growers sit alone:
Our Bottom Line: Basic Economic Questions
To produce and distribute our goods and services, every economic system has to answer the three basic economic questions. They have to decide:
- What to produce
- How to produce
- Who gets the income
So yes, the answers feed and clothe us. But also, like wheat and rice farmers, they can shape where we sit at Starbucks.
My sources and more: Happily, an Economist podcast on North-South differences made yesterday morning’s walk much more pleasant. From there, I went to their North-South article (with the podcast link) and then to the AAAS and this WSJ discussion of the China divide.