SINGAPORE - A nation’s economic prosperity is affected by policies as well as human values – and the impact of these values should be taken more seriously than they currently are.
This is the message of a new book by finance experts Tan Chin Hwee and Thomas Grandjean.
Values At The Core: How Human Values Contribute To The Rise of Nations was launched at a private event in Marina One on Wednesday (Dec 9).
The book observes that in recent decades, much of the work done to explain the different economic outcomes across nations has focused on policies such as good governance, rule of law and democratic institutions. Another approach emphasises the role of geographical factors such as location and climate.
But the different sets of values guiding people around the world are often neglected by economists.
"Why are human values so often disregarded? Because they are complex, they are messy, they are hard to measure," said Mr Grandjean, 39, at the launch.
"They do not lend themselves well to beautiful mathematical equations. But if we remove values from the equation, in our view, we can never fully understand how economies work."
Mr Grandjean cited trust - in one another and in the government - as a reason why citizens of countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark accept some of the highest tax rates in the world.
"High taxes have made those countries much more equal at a time of growing inequalities.
"But when other countries where trust is much lower try to replicate that model, the results are usually disappointing," he said, with a nod to France under former president Francois Hollande.
The book identifies four values which the authors believe have had the greatest impact on economic life: hard work, thrift, trust towards others and risk-taking.
It also suggests that Confucian and historically Protestant societies' focus on a strong work ethic made them much richer, except when these nations did not adopt a market economy.
Mr Grandjean said some parts of the book could be "quite sensitive" - notably the discussion of the value of hard work and how some nations are more hardworking than others. "We stressed the fact that if a community does not work as hard, we should not label it as lazy or with other derogatory terms... It's a question of perspective and life priorities."
Mr Tan, 49, who has three children aged 10 to 16, said: "I hope to influence my children, to tell them that values are important and to reinforce what my parents taught me - the value of hard work, thrift, honesty, things like this."
All proceeds from book sales will go to FamChamps, a student initiative that encourages young people to champion family values.
Values At The Core ($29.96) is available here.
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