We present findings that document one way in which a society’s culture can affect political outcomes. Examining an annual panel of democratic countries over six decades, we show that severe economic downturns are more likely to cause political turnover in countries that have lower levels of generalized trust. We find no such relationship in non-democratic countries or on irregular leader turnover. This pattern is consistent with a mechanism that works through accountability and the electoral process. As further corroboration of this mechanism, we find that the effects of trust are greatest during years with regularly-scheduled elections and within democracies with a parliamentary system, a fully free media, and more stability. The estimates suggest that generalized trust significantly affects political institutions by influencing the extent to which citizens attribute economic downturns to the mistakes of politicians.
This paper provides evidence of the long-run effects of a permanent increase in agricultural productivity on conflict. We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts.
We test the long-standing hypothesis that ethnic groups that are organized around `segmentary lineages' are more prone to conflict and civil war. Ethnographic accounts suggest that in segmentary lineage societies, which are characterized by strong allegiances to distant relatives, individuals are obligated to come to the defense of fellow lineage members when they become involved in conflicts. As a consequence, small disagreements often escalate to larger-scale conflicts involving many individuals. We test for this link between segmentary lineage and conflict across 145 African ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Using a number of estimation strategies, including an RD design at ethnic boundaries, we find that segmentary lineage societies experience more conflicts and ones that are longer in duration and larger in scale. We also find that the previously-documented relationship between adverse rainfall shocks and conflict within Africa is only found within segmentary lineage societies.
When does culture persist and when does it change? We examine a determinant that has been put forth in the anthropology literature: the variability of the environment from one generation to the next. A prediction, which emerges from a class of existing models from evolutionary anthropology, is that following the customs of the previous generation is relatively more beneficial in stable environments where the culture that has evolved up to the previous generation is more likely to be relevant for the subsequent generation. We test this hypothesis by measuring the variability of average temperature across 20-year generations from 500-1900. Looking across countries, ethnic groups, and the descendants of immigrants, we find that populations with ancestors who lived in environments with more stability from one generation to the next place a greater importance in maintaining tradition today. These populations also exhibit more persistence in their traditions over time.
We study the effects of European immigration to the United States during the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1920) on economic prosperity today. We exploit variation in the extent of immigration across counties arising from the interaction of fluctuations in aggregate immigrant flows and the gradual expansion of the railway network across the United States. We find that locations with more historical immigration today have higher incomes, less poverty, less unemployment, higher rates of urbanization, and greater educational attainment. The long-run effects appear to arise from the persistence of sizeable short-run benefits, including greater industrialization, increased agricultural productivity, and more innovation.
Traditional cultural practices can play an important role in development, but can also inspire condemnation. The custom of bride price, prevalent throughout sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia as a payment by the groom to the family of the bride, is one example. In this paper, we show a perhaps surprising economic consequence of this practice. We revisit one of the best-studied historical development projects, the INPRES school construction program in Indonesia, and show that previously found small effects on female enrollment mask heterogeneity by bride price tradition. Ethnic groups that traditionally engage in bride price payments at marriage increased female enrollment in response to the program. Within these ethnic groups, higher female education at marriage is associated with a higher bride price payment received, providing a greater incentive for parents to invest in girls' education and take advantage of the increased supply of schools. However, we see no increase in education following school construction for girls from ethnicities without a bride price tradition. We replicate these findings in Zambia, where we exploit a similar school expansion program that took place in the early 2000s. While there may be significant downsides to a bride price tradition, our results suggest that any change to this cultural custom should likely be considered alongside additional policies to promote female education.
We examine the effects of Fair Trade (FT) certification of coffee on producers and households in Costa Rica. Examining the production dynamics of the universe of Costa Rican coffee mills from 1999-2014, we find that FT certification is associated with a higher sales price, greater sales, and more revenues. As expected, these effects are greater when global coffee prices are lower and the FT guaranteed minimum price is binding. Looking at households, we find evidence that FT is associated with higher incomes for all families, but especially for those working in the coffee sector. However, we also find that, within this sector, the benefits are not evenly distributed. Farm owners and skilled workers benefit from FT, intermediaries are hurt, and hired unskilled workers are unaffected. Thus, although FT creates sizable benefits (on average), it also results in a redistribution from intermediaries to farmers. Lastly, we also find evidence of positive effects of FT certification on the education of high-school-aged children, which is most likely due to the presence of scholarship programs that are funded by FT premiums.
We construct a database, with global coverage, that provides measures of the cultural and environmental characteristics of the pre-industrial ancestors of the world's current populations. In this paper, we describe the construction of the database, including the underlying data, the procedure to produce the estimates, and the structure of the final data. We then provide illustrations of some of the variation in the data and provide an illustration of how the data can be used.
We study the historical origins of cross-country differences in the male-to-female sex ratio. Our analysis focuses on the use of the plough in traditional agriculture. In societies that did not use the plough, women tended to participate in agriculture as actively as men. By contrast, in societies that used the plough, men specialized in agricultural work, due to the physical strength needed to pull the plough or control the animal that pulls it. We hypothesize that this difference caused plough-using societies to value boys more than girls. Today, this belief is reflected in male-biased sex ratios, which arise due to sex-selective abortion or infanticide, or gender-differences in access to family resources, which results in higher mortality rates for girls. Testing this hypothesis, we show that descendants of societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture today have higher average male-to-female sex ratios. We find that this effect systematically increases in magnitude and statistical significance as one looks at older cohorts. Estimates using instrumental variables confirm our findings from multivariate OLS analysis.
We use variation in historical state centralization to examine the long-term impact of institutions on cultural norms. The Kuba Kingdom, established in Central Africa in the early 17th century by King Shyaam, had more developed state institutions than the other independent villages and chieftaincies in the region. It had an unwritten constitution, separation of political powers, a judicial system with courts and juries, a police force, a military, taxation, and significant public goods provision. Comparing individuals from the Kuba Kingdom to those from just outside the Kingdom, we find that centralized formal institutions are associated with weaker norms of rule following and a greater propensity to cheat for material gain. This finding is consistent with recent models where endogenous investments to inculcate values in children decline when there is an increase in the effectiveness of formal institutions that enforce socially desirable behavior. Consistent with such a mechanism, we find that Kuba parents believe it is less important to teach children values related to rule-following behaviors.
We present evidence that the traditional structure of society is an important determinant of the scope of trust today. Within Africa, individuals belonging to ethnic groups that organized society using segmentary lineages exhibit a more limited scope of trust, measured by the gap between trust in relatives and trust in non-relatives. This trust gap arises because of lower levels of trust in non-relatives and not higher levels of trust in relatives. A causal interpretation of these correlations is supported by the fact that the effects are primarily found in rural areas where these forms of organization are still prevalent.
Across human societies, one sees many examples of deeply rooted and widely-held beliefs that are almost certainly untrue. Examples include beliefs about witchcraft, magic, ordeals, and superstitions. Why are such incorrect beliefs so prevalent and how do they persist? We consider this question through an examination of superstitions and magic associated with conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Focusing on superstitions related to bullet-proofing, we provide theory and case-study evidence showing how these incorrect beliefs persist. Although harmful at the individual-level, we show that they generate Pareto efficient outcomes that have group-level benefits.
We use a variant of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to examine individuals’ implicit attitudes towards various ethnic groups. Using a population from the Democratic Republic of Congo, we find that the IAT measures show evidence of an implicit bias in favor of one’s own ethnicity. Individuals have implicit views of their own ethnic group that are more positive than their implicit views of other ethnic groups. We find this implicit bias to be quantitatively smaller than the (explicit) bias one finds when using self-reported attitudes about different ethnic groups.
Fair Trade is a labeling initiative aimed at improving the lives of the poor in developing countries by offering better terms to producers and helping them to organize. Whether Fair Trade can achieve its intended goals has been hotly debated in academic and policy circles. In particular, debates have been waged about whether Fair Trade makes "economic sense" and is sustainable in the long run. The aim of this article is to provide a critical overview of the economic theory behind Fair Trade, describing the potential benefits and potential pitfalls. We also provide an assessment of the empirical evidence of the impacts of Fair Trade to date.
We study the effect of U.S. food aid on conflict in recipient countries. Our analysis exploits time variation in food aid shipments due to changes in U.S. wheat production and cross-sectional variation in a country's tendency to receive any U.S. food aid. According to our estimates, an increase in U.S. food aid increases the incidence and duration of civil conflicts, but has no robust effect on inter-state conflicts or the onset of civil conflicts. We also provide suggestive evidence that the effects are most pronounced in countries with a recent history of civil conflict.
We provide evidence that a history of democracy at the local level is associated with contemporary democracy at the national level. Auxiliary estimates show that a tradition of local democracy is also associated with attitudes that favor democracy, with better quality institutions, and higher level of economic development.
Using data on U.S. intra-ﬁrm and arm’s-length imports for 5,705 products imported from 220 countries, we examine the determinants of the share of U.S. imports that are intra-ﬁrm. We examine two predictions that arise from Antràs (2003), Antràs & Helpman (2008) and Antràs & Helpman (2004). First, we ﬁnd that, consistent with the implicit logic of Antràs (2003) and the explicit predictions of Antràs & Helpman (2008), vertical integration is increasing in the importance of non-contractible headquarter inputs relative to non-contractible supplier inputs. In other words, we show that only non-contractible headquarter inputs affect the ﬁrm’s make-or-buy decision. Second, we also provide empirical support for the Antràs & Helpman (2004) prediction that intra-ﬁrm trade is largest where non-contractible headquarter inputs are important and productivity is high.
We exploit the recent declassification of CIA documents and examine whether there is evidence of US power being used to influence countries’ decisions regarding international trade. We measure US influence using a newly constructed annual panel of CIA interventions that were successful at installing and supporting leaders during the Cold War. Our presumption is that the US had greater influence over foreign leaders that were installed and backed by the CIA. We show that following successful CIA interventions there was an increase in foreign-country imports from the US, but there was no similar increase in foreign-country exports to the US. Further, the increase in US exports was concentrated in industries which the US had a comparative disadvantage in producing, not a comparative advantage. This is consistent with US influence being used to create a larger foreign market for American products. Our analysis is able to rule out decreased bilateral trade costs, changing political ideology, and an increased supply of US loans and grants as alternative explanations. We provide evidence that the increase in US exports arose through direct purchases of US products by foreign governments.
The study examines the historical origins of existing cross-cultural differences in beliefs and values regarding the appropriate role of women in society. We test the hypothesis that traditional agricultural practices influenced the historical gender division of labor and the evolution of gender norms. We find that, consistent with existing hypotheses, the descendants of societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture today have less equal gender norms, measured using reported gender-role attitudes and female participation in the workplace, politics and entrepreneurial activities. Our results hold looking across countries, across districts within countries, and across ethnicities within districts. To test for the importance of cultural persistence, we examine the children of immigrants living in Europe and the United States. We find that even among these individuals, all born and raised in the same country, those with a heritage of traditional plough use exhibit less equal beliefs about gender roles today.
This article discusses the importance of accounting for cultural values and beliefs when studying the process of historical economic development. A notion of culture as heuristics or rules-of-thumb that aid in decision making is described. Because cultural traits evolve based upon relative fitness, historical shocks can have persistent impacts if they alter the costs and benefits of different traits. A number of empirical studies confirm that culture is an important mechanism that helps explain why historical shocks can have persistent impacts; these are reviewed here. As an example, I discuss the colonial origins hypothesis (Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, 2001), and show that our understanding of the transplantation of European legal and political institutions during the colonial period remains incomplete unless the values and beliefs brought by European settlers are taken into account. It is these cultural beliefs that formed the foundation of the initial institutions that in turn were key for long-term economic development.