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Measuring Social Capital: Culture as an Explanation of Italy’s Economic Dualism

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  • Galassi, Francesco L.

Abstract

The paper presents a quantitative test of the oft-repeated view that Italy’s backward and poor South suffered from low “social capital”, a tendency to defect from co-operative engagements. The problem with such assertions is that they run the risk of taking as evidence in favour of the hypothesis the very observations that need to be explained. The analysis carried out in this work tries to break out of this impasse by analysing the conditions under which it was ex ante welfare-improving for farmers in early 20th century Italy to join an unlimited liability rural co-operative bank which would give them access to cheaper credit but also exposed them to the risk of their neighbours’ defection. These co-ops are a prime testing ground for the cultural explanation in that they spread rapidly throughout Northern Italy in the late 19th century, but never gained a similar popularity in the South. I estimate the switching function for these co-ops in different parts of the country to test whether Northern and Southern farmers faced significantly different choice sets when making the decision to join. Identical choice sets but differential responses would of course favour the cultural explanation of the South’s backwardness. The results suggest that for the same parameter values, the choice sets for North and South were different, though whether this difference was large enough to explain the full difference in responses is not completely clear.

Suggested Citation

  • Galassi, Francesco L., 2000. "Measuring Social Capital: Culture as an Explanation of Italy’s Economic Dualism," Economic Research Papers 269304, University of Warwick - Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:uwarer:269304
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.269304
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Edward L. Glaeser & David Laibson & Jose A. Scheinkman & Christine L. Soutter, 1999. "What is Social Capital? The Determinants of Trust and Trustworthiness," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1875, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    2. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen & Loury, Glenn, 1993. "The Economics of Rotating Savings and Credit Associations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 792-810, September.
    3. Francesco L. Galassi & Jon S. Cohen, 1994. "The economics of tenancy in early twentieth-century southern Italy," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 47(3), pages 585-600, August.
    4. Zamagni, Vera, 1997. "The Economic History of Italy 1860-1990," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198292890.
    5. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1995. "Group lending, repayment incentives and social collateral," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-18, February.
    6. Basu, Kaushik, 1995. "Civil institutions and evolution: Concepts, critique and models," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 19-33, February.
    7. Polsi, Alessandro, 1996. "Financial institutions in nineteenth-century Italy. The rise of a banking system1," Financial History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(2), pages 117-137, October.
    8. Abramovitz, Moses, 1986. "Catching Up, Forging Ahead, and Falling Behind," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(2), pages 385-406, June.
    9. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Timothy Besley & Timothy W. Guinnane, 1994. "Thy Neighbor's Keeper: The Design of a Credit Cooperative with Theory and a Test," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 491-515.
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