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Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs

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  • Nathan Nunn
  • Raul Sanchez de la Sierra

Abstract

Across human societies, one sees many examples of deeply rooted and widely held beliefs that are almost certainly untrue. Examples include beliefs about witchcraft, magic, ordeals, and superstitions. Why are such incorrect beliefs so prevalent and how do they persist? We consider this question through an examination of superstitions and magic associated with conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Focusing on superstitions related to bullet-proofing, we provide theory and case-study evidence showing how these incorrect beliefs persist. Although harmful at the individual-level, we show that they generate Pareto efficient outcomes that have group-level benefits.

Suggested Citation

  • Nathan Nunn & Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, 2017. "Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 582-587, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:107:y:2017:i:5:p:582-87
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.p20171091
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gershman, Boris, 2016. "Witchcraft beliefs and the erosion of social capital: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 182-208.
    2. Henrich, Joseph, 2004. "Cultural group selection, coevolutionary processes and large-scale cooperation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 3-35, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Iyigun, Murat & Rubin, Jared, 2017. "The Ideological Roots of Institutional Change," IZA Discussion Papers 10703, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Auriol, Emmanuelle & Lassebie, Julie & Panin, Amma & Raiber, Eva & Seabright, Paul, 2017. "God insures those who pay?Formal insurance and religious offerings in Ghana," TSE Working Papers 17-831, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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