UNITED STATES - Amy Chua has done it again, with another best-selling book about the relationship between ethnicity and success. And once again she has been facing criticism and igniting controversy and then, well, laughing all the way to the bank.
Ms Chua had already caused an uproar when her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom - which argued that Chinese women make for superior mothers and that their kids are, therefore, superior to other children - was published in 2011. What she described as a critique of the American (or Western) way of parenting was denounced by her decriers (including many Chinese Americans) for allegedly perpetuating ugly stereotypes of Chinese women as strict Dragon Ladies.
Now the Chinese-American Amy Chua, together with her Jewish-American husband, Jed Rubenfeld, co-authored a new book in which they maintain that Chinese-Americans, Jewish-Americans and other ethnic and religious groups in the United States (Indians, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Cubans, Mormons) are more successful than, if not superior to, other Americans, marshalling a lot of statistical and anecdotal evidence to buttress their argument and provide an explanation.
Ms Chua and Mr Rubenfeld - who are both children of immigrant families and who are now teaching law at Yale University - have been bashed by numerous critics as "racists", despite the authors' insistence that what has made these eight groups more successful has nothing to do with race, or even religion and ethnicity. It's the culture, stupid!
More specifically, the couple contend in The Triple Package that Chinese and Jewish Americans, as well as immigrants from India, Lebanon, Iran, and Nigeria and members of the Mormon Church, all possess three qualities (the so-called "triple package") that they have identified as guarantors of wealth and power: a sense of superiority coupled with feelings of insecurity and an effective impulse control.
As the authors put it, "America's successful groups tell their members something different: You are capable of great things because of the group to which you belong (superiority); (but) you, individually, are not good enough (inferiority); so you need to control yourself, resist temptation and prove yourself."
Their main thesis is that when these three distinct forces come together in a group's culture, they propel the members of these groups to disproportionate success. They admit, though, that the same ingredients that boost success can also breed certain pathologies that members of these groups tend to sometimes display, such as lack of social skills and aggressive behaviour.
"That certain groups do much better in America than others - as measured by income, occupational status, test scores and so on - is difficult to talk about," the two admit. "In large part, this is because the topic feels so racially charged."
But they add that they reject the notion that the cultural traits are genetically inherited or reflect racial differences. After all, those who posses the "triple package" come from every race, and many different religions.
Yet critics have challenged the arguments in the book as pseudo-science and pop-sociology, noting that while no one denies that Chinese and Jewish immigrants have, in general, done better than other immigrant groups in America (although there are disagreements over the level of achievement by the other groups they mention), the reasons for that are more complex than they suggest and cannot all be placed under the heading of "culture" and certainly cannot be condensed into simple concepts or hashtags like #Superiority #Inferiority #Self Control.
Hence the unique history and family backgrounds of these groups could prove to be more critical to their success than psychological traits.
Many Indian immigrants as well as the first wave of immigrants from Cuba tended to come from educated and relatively well-to-do families with resources and incentives to succeed, while Chinese and Jews have demonstrated a tendency to place an emphasis on education during much of their long histories, and their success in science and business in the United States cannot be attributed entirely to outside social pressures.
In any case, Ms Chua and Mr Rubenfeld emphasise that the eight groups they discuss in the book are not going to remain at the top forever, and that new groups of immigrants could replace them in the future. As Chinese or Indian Americans assimilate into the American society, members of the new generation lose the traits that had driven their parents and grandparents to succeed.
Hence the so-called "model minority" - the term that some apply to Asian Americans - may become less of a model after one or two generations, when their children will be less inclined to gravitate to mathematics and science and will cease to outperform the other students. And some other immigrant group would then inherit the "triple package" and be crowned the new "model minority".