CNEH Conference

21 09 2009

I won’t be attending the forthcoming conference of the Canadian Network in Economic History due to the issue of timing. (The conference is taking place in Halifax in early October). There are some really interesting papers on the program, so I really wish I could go.   The keynote address will be given by Joel Mokyr (Northwestern University) and is on “Culture, Growth, and Cliometrics”. From the sounds of it, Mokyr will be asking what role culture plays in promoting economic growth, which is  topic historians have been debating since Max Weber published his famous thesis regarding the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.

I feel very ambivalent about the culturalist approach to studying why some countries do better economically than others. Clearly culture matters somewhat (as Mokyr’s research on the economic impact of the Enlightenment shows), but so do other factors, including institutions and, to be frank, exploitative extraction of wealth. The economic historian Greg Clark had this to say about cultural approaches to understanding the origins of economic growth:  “my reaction… is one of intellectual schizophrenia. I simultaneously want to endorse his promotion of culture, and to run screaming from his lethal embrace. As an economic historian who studies economic growth in the long run, I agree completely that the banishment of culture from much of the consideration of wealth and poverty by modern economists has left us with untenable theories of growth… yet attempts to introduce culture into economic discussions so far have been generally either ad hoc, vacuous, blatantly false, or void of testability.” (For the original context of this quote, see here).

Clark’s feelings on this issue are similar to my own.

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3 responses

24 09 2009
Chi

Culture is one factor, but different evolutionary paths leading to different average cognitive traits could be another factor.

Clark documents some of the research on heritability of traits and possible population genetic changes in this response to critics:

http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/Farewell%20to%20Alms/EREH%20response%20-%20revised.pdf

Here are some papers documenting the relationship between education and intelligence with economic growth.

http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/005501.html

Rindermann, H. (2007a). The g-factor of international cognitive ability comparisons: The homogeneity of results in PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS and IQ-tests across nations. European Journal of Personality, 21, 667-706.

Rindermann, H. (2007b). The big G-factor of national cognitive ability (author‘s response on open peer commentary). European Journal of Personality, 21, 767-787.

Rindermann, H. (2008a). Relevance of education and intelligence at the national level for the economic welfare of people. Intelligence, 36, 127-142.

Rindermann, H. (2008b). Relevance of education and intelligence for the political development of nations: Democracy, rule of law and political liberty. Intelligence, 36, 306-322.

26 09 2009
James Belich on the Rise of the Angloworld « Andrew Smith’s Blog

[...] While I am a bit more skeptical of “culturalist” explanations for economic outcomes (see my recent post on the topic), I also think that culture may have played a larger role in the expansion of the Anglo-Saxons than [...]

26 09 2009
James Belich on the Rise of the Anglo-World « Andrew Smith’s Blog

[...] While I am a bit more skeptical of “culturalist” explanations for economic outcomes (see my recent post on the topic), I also think that culture may have played a larger role in the expansion of the Anglo-Saxons than [...]

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