Morality key to how past can shape current political institutions
Guido Tabellini, 4 December 2007
One of the main challenges of current research in economic growth and development is identifying the mechanism through which distant political and economic history shapes the functioning of current institutions. The author of CEPR DP6589 claims that an important channel for this shaping is individuals' morality (i.e. their values and convictions).
'Generalized' morality among individuals can help induce well-functioning institutions by making law enforcement easier, reducing corruption among bureaucrats and leading voters to vote based on general social welfare rather than personal benefit.
Exploiting attitudes revealed by opinion polls in the 2000 'World Value Surveys', the author finds that values consistent with 'generalized' morality are more likely to be widespread in societies that were ruled by non-despotic political institutions in the distant past (evident from the varying levels of trust and respect for others displayed by 2nd generation US immigrants). He also finds that countries or regions where 'generalized' morality is more widespread are more developed today, and have grown faster since the mid-1970s, with the contrast between Northern and Southern Italy a good example.
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