The Triple Package:
How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise
and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
Mormons have recently risen to astonishing business success. Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in a generation. Nigerians earn doctorates at stunningly high rates. Indian and Chinese Americans have much higher incomes than other Americans; Jews may have the highest of all.
But the Triple Package has a dark underside too. Each of its elements carries distinctive pathologies; when taken to an extreme, they can have truly toxic effects. Should people strive for the Triple Package? Should America? Ultimately, the authors conclude that the Triple Package is a ladder that should be climbed and then kicked away, drawing on its power but breaking free from its constraints.
Provocative and profound, The Triple Package will transform the way we think about success and achievement.
In 2011 Amy was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, an Atlantic Monthly Brave Thinker, and one of Foreign Policy‘s Global Thinkers 0f 2011.
At Yale Law School, Amy teaches in the areas of contracts, law and development, international business transactions, and law and globalization. She is also a recipient of the Yale Law School’s “Best Teaching” award.
Jed Rubenfeld is the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is an expert on constitutional law, privacy, and the First Amendment. He joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1990 and was appointed to a full professorship in 1994. Rubenfeld has also taught as a visiting professor at both the Stanford Law School and the Duke University School of Law. He is also the author of two successful novels.
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.
They have done to Sociology/Social Anthropology what Rogoff and Reinhart have done to economics,
First, congratulations are in order for Prof. Chua and Prof. Rubenfeld. They have done, very successfully in my opinion, to Sociology/Social Anthropology what Harvard Professors Rogoff and Reinhart have done to economics and national debt. These people (to be fair to Prof. Rubenfeld, I don’t give him much credit for this effort. After watching him on the TV and listening on NPR, I came to the conclusion that he is an innocent accomplice) picked an emotionally volatile subject and came to their predetermined veiled racial conclusions with questionable data and questionable interpretation of data. The only saving grace is, unlike the falsified austerity theory of Rogoff and Reinhart, which wreaked havoc in the lives of millions of people in Europe and elsewhere, the damage done by the authors is rather limited in scope.
I was thinking of reading their book. But luckily, I listened to Mr. Tom Asbrook’s “On Point” on NPR on Feb 4, 2014. Tom appropriately titled this edition as, “Tiger Mom’ Talks Culture And Success In America”. (Note: Tom did not mention her husband and co-author, who was also present. This supports my earlier assessment of Prof. Rubenfeld’s involvement).
Tom also had Richard Alba, the professor of sociology at the Graduate Center at City University of New York on this program. Prof. Alba is the author of “Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America” and “Remaking the American Mainstream Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration”. It is a pleasure to listen to the logical, methodical, and scientific analysis of Prof. Alba. I am going to buy his books and read them.
Coming back to the current book, Prof. Chua was running away from the contents of the book, even when Tom politely, and repeatedly, kept reminding the author, “This is not what you have written. This is not what your title suggests”. Though their book prominently highlights the “household income and education” as one of the prime metrics (for example: Asian Indians, with average household income of $94,000/year, are the highest group), Prof. Amy told that this not their main objective. She repeatedly talked about the nebulous and all encompassing “setting your personal goals and achieving them”. She cannot run away faster and farther than the contents of her book. She was offering the ‘countless’ emails she received from the readers. I expected her to stand behind what she has written and not hide behind these so-called endorsements. That is the last straw for me (not to give a second look at it). I expected the authors to defend what they have “already” written in their book.
Their conclusion (which again they ran away from) that some groups “Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Nigerians, Cubans etc., are superior to others” is patently false. If that is so, why on earth more than a billion people are struggling every day in India, China and other countries. This group theory is obnoxious. I personally know a family where one son is a 4 star General in the US Air force and the other son is a plumber. (Please note: I am from New Jersey and I know that famous joke of a plumber saying to a bewildered Rutgers University professor who was surprised that the plumber was earning more than him. The plumber replied, “I was also not earning this sort of money when I was a full Professor at Princeton”).
When I was thinking of immigrating to USA, I had a discussion with my uncle who was a Professor at the University of Waterloo. He told me “You are comparing the crème de la crème of your country with the average person in USA. That skews your conclusions”.
Probably the words of John Adams will enlighten Prof. Chua and her husband, Mr. Adams said, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain”.
In my opinion, the authors are stuck at the first step (or even below that). They are measuring house hold income and education levels as “the” indicator of success.
The basic principle is simple, universally understood, and accepted. Immigrants from any country are a small self-selecting group of people. They are driven, willing to take risks, and ready to pay the price in terms of effort and sacrifices. That is true irrespective of the race, ethnicity, color, religion, and national origin.
But that simple truth does not sell books and Prof Chua knows this too well. Unfortunately, all too often in the course of our history, there are examples where similar reasoning was used to support the idea that certain section of the population is inherently inferior. “Innate differences in mathematical ability” is a recent example.
I want to, but cannot, give this book a rating of -3 stars, which it so richly deserves. For more details on the rating of -3, I refer to the paper by Capt. Tom Schorsch of USAF who wrote in his “CIMM the Capability Immaturity Model”. Everyone knows the CMM (Capability Maturity Model of Software Engineering Institute) uses a scale of 1 to 5 (initial, repeatable, defined, managed, and optimizing) to rank the organizations. But Tom adds 4 more levels to it (0: Negligent, -1: Obstructive, -2: Contemptuous, -3: Undermining). This book deserves a -3 star rating