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Culture and the Historical Process

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  • Nathan Nunn

Abstract

This article discusses the importance of accounting for cultural values and beliefs when studying the process of historical economic development. A notion of culture as heuristics or rules-of-thumb that aid in decision making is described. Because cultural traits evolve based upon relative fitness, historical shocks can have persistent impacts if they alter the costs and benefits of different traits. A number of empirical studies confirm that culture is an important mechanism that helps explain why historical shocks can have persistent impacts; these are reviewed here. As an example, I discuss the colonial origins hypothesis (Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, 2001), and show that our understanding of the transplantation of European legal and political institutions during the colonial period remains incomplete unless the values and beliefs brought by European settlers are taken into account. It is these cultural beliefs that formed the foundation of the initial institutions that in turn were key for long-term economic development.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17869.

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Date of creation: Feb 2012
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Publication status: published as “Culture and the Historical Process,” Economic History of Developing Regions, Vol. 27, Supplement 1, 2012, pp. 108-126.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17869

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Luigi Guiso & Helios Herrera & Massimo Morelli, 2013. "A Cultural Clash View of the EU Crisis," EIEF Working Papers Series 1321, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Jul 2013.
  2. Horváth, Roman, 2013. "Does trust promote growth?," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 777-788.
  3. Alessandra Cassar & Giovanna d'Adda & Pauline Grosjean, 2013. "Institutional Quality, Culture, and Norms of Cooperation: Evidence from a Behavioral Field Experiment," Discussion Papers, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales 2013-10, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  4. Giuseppe Albanese & Guido de Blasio & Paolo Sestito, 2014. "My parents taught me. Evidence on the family transmission of values," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers), Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area 955, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  5. Nunn, Nathan, 2014. "Historical Development," Handbook of Economic Growth, Elsevier, in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 7, pages 347-402 Elsevier.
  6. Guiso, Luigi & Herrera, Helios & Morelli, Massimo, 2013. "A Culture Based Theory of Fiscal Union Desirability," CAGE Online Working Paper Series, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) 138, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  7. Marianna Belloc & Samuel Bowles, 2012. "The persistence of inferior cultural-institutional conventions," Working Papers, University of Rome La Sapienza, Department of Public Economics 157, University of Rome La Sapienza, Department of Public Economics.
  8. Johannes C. Buggle, 2013. "Law and Social Capital: Evidence from the Code Napoleon in Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 566, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).

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