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Equilibrium Fictions: A Cognitive Approach to Societal Rigidity

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  • Karla Hoff
  • Joseph E. Stiglitz

Abstract

This paper assesses the role of ideas in economic change, combining economic and historical analysis with insights from psychology, sociology and anthropology. Belief systems shape the system of categories ("pre-confirmatory bias") and perceptions (confirmatory bias), and are themselves constrained by fundamental values. The authors illustrate the model using the historical construction of racial categories. Given the post-Reformation fundamental belief that all men had rights, colonial powers after the 15th century constructed ideologies that the colonized groups they exploited were naturally inferior, and gave these beliefs precedence over other aspects of belief systems. Historical work finds that doctrines of race came into their own in the colonies that became the United States after, not before, slavery; that out of the"scandal of empire"in India emerged a"race theory that cast Britons and Indians in a relationship of absolute difference"; and that arguments used by the settlers in Australia to justify their policies toward the Aborigines entailed in effect the expulsion of the Aborigines from the human race. Racial ideology shaped categories and perceptions in ways that the authors show can give rise to equilibrium fictions. In the framework of this paper, technology, contacts with the outside world, and changes in power and wealth matter not just directly but because they can lead to changes in ideology.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.100.2.141
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 100 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 141-46

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:100:y:2010:i:2:p:141-46

Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.100.2.141
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  1. Benabou, Roland & Tirole, Jean, 2004. "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics," Papers 08-15-2005a, Princeton University, Research Program in Political Economy.
  2. Edward L. Glaeser, 2002. "The Political Economy of Hatred," NBER Working Papers 9171, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Marianne Bertrand & Dolly Chugh & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2005. "Implicit Discrimination," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 94-98, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Ejaz Ghani & William R. Kerr & Stephen D. O'Connell, 2014. "Political Reservations and Women’s Entrepreneurship in India," NBER Working Papers 19868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Guido Baldi, 2014. "Endogenous preference formation on macroeconomic issues: the role of individuality and social conformity," Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 13(1), pages 49-58, June.
  3. Hoff, Karla & Pandey, Priyanka, 2014. "Making up people—The effect of identity on performance in a modernizing society," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 118-131.
  4. Tanguy Bernard & Stefan Dercon & Kate Orkin & Alemayehu Seyoum Taffesse, 2014. "The Future in Mind: Aspirations and Forward-Looking Behaviour in Rural Ethiopia," CSAE Working Paper Series 2014-16, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.

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