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The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief

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  • Boris Gershman

Abstract

The evil eye belief is a widespread superstition according to which envious people can cause harm by a mere glance at coveted objects or their owners. This paper argues that such belief originated and persisted as a useful heuristic under conditions in which destructive envy represents a real threat and envy-avoidance behavior, e ffectively prescribed by the evil eye belief, is a proper response to this threat. Historically, increasing wealth di fferentiation raised the risk of envy-induced destructive behavior leading to the emergence and spread of the evil eye belief. Evidence from small-scale preindustrial societies shows that there is indeed a robust positive association between the incidence of the belief and measures of wealth inequality, controlling for continental fixed eff ects and potential confounding factors such as patterns of spatial and cross-cultural diffusion and various dimensions of early economic development. Furthermore, the evil eye belief is more likely to be present in agro-pastoral societies that tend to sustain higher levels of inequality and where vulnerable material wealth plays a dominant role in the subsistence economy.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by American University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2013-14.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2013-14

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Web page: http://www.american.edu/cas/economics/

Related research

Keywords: Evil eye belief; Envy; Inequality; Culture; Superstition;

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References

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  1. Durante, Ruben, 2009. "Risk, Cooperation and the Economic Origins of Social Trust: an Empirical Investigation," MPRA Paper 25887, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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  8. Stelios Michalopoulos & Alireza Naghavi & Giovanni Prarolo, 2012. "Trade and Geography in the Origins and Spread of Islam," NBER Working Papers 18438, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Boris Gershman, 2012. "The Two Sides of Envy," Working Papers 2012-19, American University, Department of Economics.
  10. Conley, T. G., 1999. "GMM estimation with cross sectional dependence," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 92(1), pages 1-45, September.
  11. John Conlisk, 1996. "Why Bounded Rationality?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(2), pages 669-700, June.
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  1. The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief
    by UDADISI in UDADISI on 2013-08-27 10:58:00
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Cited by:
  1. Gershman, Boris, 2010. "The two sides of envy," MPRA Paper 25422, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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