Monday, February 10, 2014

Paper: The Political Economy of Science, Religion, and Growth

This is a fantastic, amazing, awesome, etc. paper from economists in Princeton; and in fact I'm actually a little "rationalist-guilty" about my excitement. Why? This seems to be confirming a whole checklist of suspicions that many of us have had for a long time about the relationship between religion and economics. It starts out:
...in both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a signi…cant negative relationship between religiosity and innovativeness...
DAYUM, they're not screwing around. And a word for non-economics junkies: this is an even stronger statement than it may seem. Innovativeness is crucially important to economic growth, because without new technology, the economy really does reduce to people just passing the same already-extant wealth back and forth to each other. Which tends to stay within families and ethnic power blocs, which explains the traps that a lot of developing countries get into. (And which many of them are finally getting out of.)

The authors go on to say (this is still the abstract):

the paper develops a model with three key features: (i) the recurrent arrival of scienti…c discoveries which, if widely diffused and implemented, generate productivity gains but sometimes also erode existing religious beliefs (a source of utility for some agents) by contradicting important aspects of the doctrine; (ii) a government that can allow such ideas and innovations to spread, or spend resources to censor them and impede their di¤usion; (iii) a religious organization or sector (Church or churches) that can, at a cost, undertake an adaptation of the doctrine that renders it more compatible with the new knowledge.

Really, read the paper already.

Haven't had enough? Here is a collection of posts discussing the connections between religion and economics. And for your shot of economic optimism, below you can see Hans Rosling showing the change over time in health and economics, which is (not surprisingly?) post-Enlightenment. (He has a good TED talk about women's fertility and economic development.)

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