Persistent Effects of Culture and Institutions

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Swissotel Chicago, Zurich A
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: James A. Robinson, University of Chicago

A Theory of Minimalist Democracy

Christopher Binder
,
Simon Fraser University
Patrick Francois
,
University of British Columbia
Francesco Trebbi
,
University of British Columbia

Abstract

Democracies in which political elites hold and respect elections, yet do not extend related freedoms that empower the non-elite (civil liberties, free press, rule of law, etc.), are empirically pervasive, but imperfectly understood. What motivates the elite to respect the electoral wishes of a weak non-elite in such systems? We lay out a formal model that sheds light on this, and related questions raised by such minimalist democracies. The key, we show, is the crucial role of competitive elections in allowing credible power sharing among the elite. The theory simultaneously rationalizes competitive autocracies, non redistributive democratizations, and the political resource curse.

Long Term Orientation and Educational Performance

David Figlio
,
Northwestern University
Paola Giuliano
,
University of California-Los Angeles
Umut Ozek
,
American Institutes for Research
Paola Sapienza
,
Northwestern University

Abstract

We use remarkable population-level administrative education and birth records from Florida to
study the role of Long-Term Orientation on the educational attainment of immigrant students
living in the US. Controlling for the quality of schools and individual characteristics, students
from countries with long term oriented attitudes perform better than students from cultures that
do not emphasize the importance of delayed gratification. These students perform better in third
grade reading and math tests, have larger test score gains over time, have fewer absences and
disciplinary incidents, are less likely to repeat grades, and are more likely to graduate from high
school in four years. Also, they are more likely to enroll in advanced high school courses,
especially in scientific subjects. Parents from long term oriented cultures are more likely to secure
better educational opportunities for their children. A larger fraction of immigrants speaking the
same language in the school amplifies the effect of Long-Term Orientation on educational
performance. We validate these results using a sample of immigrant students living in 37
different countries.

The Evolution of Culture and Institutions: Evidence From the Kuba Kingdom

Sara Lowes
,
Harvard University
Nathan Nunn
,
Harvard University
James A. Robinson
,
University of Chicago
Jonathan Weigel
,
Harvard University

Abstract

We examine the impact that institutions have on cultural norms. We study variation in historical centralization arising from the creation of the Kuba Kingdom, located in central Africa, in the early 17th century by King Shyaam. The Kingdom, which was much more politically developed than the nearby independent villages and chieftaincies, featured 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 descendants of the Kuba Kingdom with descendants of groups living outside of the Kuba Kingdom, we find that more centralized formal institutions are associated with weaker norms of rule-following and a greater propensity to cheat and disobey rules for material gain. We find that this difference is not confounded by differences in geography and that it is not due to differences in colonial and post-colonial experience.

On the Joint Evolution of Culture and Institutions

Alberto Bisin
,
New York University
Thierry A. Verdier
,
Paris School of Economics

Abstract

This paper presents a conceptual framework to analyze socio-economic environments in which culture and institutions jointly evolve. We conceptualize institutional change as a mechanism to imperfectly and indirectly internalize the lack of commitment and the externalities which plague typical policy choice problems in society. We embed this approach into a population dynamic model of cultural dynamics in which cultural traits (preference traits, norms, and attitudes) are evolving across generations according to a general process of cultural transmission. We characterize conditions under which the interaction of culture and institutions produces positive or negative feedback effects. Specifically we discuss the conditions for new institutions to set forth cultural and institutional dynamics which reinforce the socio-economic equilibrium pattern the new institutions were designed to achieve, and situations in which, on the contrary, the interaction of culture and institutions ends-up weakening the desired socio-economic equilibrium pattern. <br />
We illustrate our approach by means of examples involving typical socio-economic policy contexts discussed in the literature on institutions and culture (redistribution, public good provision, property right protection, occupational dynamics). We also highlight the possibility of non-monotonic joint dynamics (oscillations and cycles) and non-ergodic behaviors in which initial conditions determine important qualitative properties of the evolution of culture and institutions. Finally we draw implications for the empirical causal analyses of the impact of institutions and culture on development outcomes.
JEL Classifications
  • O1 - Economic Development
  • Z1 - Cultural Economics; Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology