Book Review: Tiger Mom’s Superiority Complex; The book is racism masquerading as social science, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all wrong

Book Review: Tiger Mom’s Superiority Complex

By Jessica Grose February 06, 2014

Yale law professor Amy Chua gained fame—and stoked fires in the mommy wars—in 2011 with a Wall Street Journal piece called “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” The essay introduced Chua’s provocative book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which embraced cultural stereotypes about Asian moms having academically successful offspring because they don’t let their kids watch TV, get out of playing the piano or violin, or “not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama.” Three years later, Tiger Mom is back, with her claws only slightly retracted, and a co-author, her husband, fellow Yale law professor, and novelist Jed Rubenfeld. Their book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, has no problem with absolutes, either.

Instead of sticking with one outstanding tribe—the Chinese—Chua and Rubenfeld add seven more: Jews, Lebanese, Indians, Iranians, Nigerians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons. The authors (Chua is Chinese, and Rubenfeld is Jewish) say these eight groups are more financially and academically successful than others in the U.S. because they possess “the triple package” of traits—superiority, insecurity, and good impulse control.

Chua and Rubenfeld point to studies that show peoples’ performance in all sorts of activities increases or decreases when they’re stereotypically thought to be good or bad at the task at hand. They cite this as empirical proof that group feelings of superiority breed success. They also say that black students score lower on standardized tests when instructions “remind them about stereotypes concerning differential racial performance on such tests.” Yet doesn’t that undermine the inclusion of Nigerians? Chua and Rubenfeld seem to know they’re on shaky ground and stick in this maddening get-out-of-jail-free clause: “If a disproportionately successful group could be found in the United States without a superiority complex, that would … undercut the Triple Package thesis.” Well, duh.

It’s racism masquerading as social science but not all wrong

The book is racism masquerading as social science, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all wrong. On an individual level, feelings of superiority—i.e., narcissism—can help you become a leader. When P.D. Harms, an assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, co-authored a study in 2013 that aggregated other papers on leader emergence, he found that narcissists are more likely to become heads of companies for two reasons: They self-nominate and self-identify. “When someone puts a thing up on a job board that says who wants to be assistant manager or manager,” Harms says, “a narcissist will always say, ‘Me me me me.’ ”

One culture that Chua and Rubenfeld focus on is Mormonism, which has produced an astounding number of chief executive officers and chief financial officers, including the heads of JetBlue (JBLU), American Express (AXP), Deloitte, Marriott (MAR), andSam’s Club (WMT) (pretty good for a group that makes up less than 2 percent of the population). The authors argue that the Mormon sense of superiority is lodged in their theocracy. According to Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, Mormons don’t necessarily think they’re superior, but they do see themselves as the same kind of being as God. “This lends Mormons a real sense of possibility. That our efforts in this world all have the promise of vast potential and vast success.”

It’s common, according to Bowman, for Mormons to seek divine intervention for their careers. But another aspect of the religion—an emphasis on spending time with family—leads some to turn down opportunities, he says.

That’s the problem with broad arguments based on culture, like the “triple package.” When you actually talk to people who come from those groups—something Chua and Rubenfeld don’t do—the complexities contradict absolutes.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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