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WDR 2015

Does Culture Matter for Development?

Augusto Lopez-Claros's picture

For a variety of reasons, economists have avoided getting too closely involved with the concept of culture and its relationship to economic development. There is a general acceptance that culture must have a role in guiding a population along a particular path, but, as Landes (1998) points out, a discomfort with what can be construed as implied criticism of a particular culture has discouraged broader public discourse.
 
As we discuss in a recent paper, the role of culture in economic development is not an easy subject to get a handle on. To start with, one faces issues of definition. The more all-encompassing the definition, the less helpful it tends to be in explaining patterns of development. Economists tend to narrowly define culture as “customary beliefs and values that ethnic, religious, and social groups transmit fairly unchanged from generation to generation” (Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales, 2006). This approach is largely dictated by the aim to identify causal relationships, by focusing on aspects of culture that are constant over time. Not surprisingly, some of the most insightful writing on the subject has been done by anthropologists. Murdock (1965) argues that a culture consists of habits that are shared by members of a society. It is the product of learning, not of heredity. Woolcock (2014) highlights how the sociologic scholarship has evolved to consider culture as “shaping a repertoire or ‘tool kit’ of habits, skills, and styles from which people construct ‘strategies of action” (Swidler, 1986, p.273).

​The Story of the 2015 World Development Report: Mind, Society, and Behavior

Varun Gauri's picture

English settlers to the New World believed that the climate of Newfoundland would be moderate, New England would be warm, and Virginia would be like southern Spain. These beliefs were based on the seemingly common sense view that climate is much the same at any given latitude around the globe.
 
What is striking is that these views persisted despite mounting evidence to the contrary. As late as 1620, after 13 years in the settlement, residents in Jamestown, Virginia, were still trying to import olive trees and other tropical plants, perhaps inspired by Father Andrew White, who had assured them that it was “probable that the soil will prove to be adapted to all the fruits of Italy, figs, pomegranates, oranges, olives, etc.” Eventually, the English settlers did adjust their mental models about North American climate. The accumulation of scientific data, combined with personal experience, was undeniable. But the adjustment was slow and costly, in terms of both money and lives lost.

Why Economics Today Should Give Us Hope: An Outsider’s View

Dani Clark's picture

At 23, starting graduate school for international relations, the prospect of taking economics frightened me. Having just spent my college career as a history major that marched for peace probably had something to do with it. There was also that time in 4th grade when I got a D in math, but we won’t go there.

Anyway, it was a very nice surprise when I found that the math and logic of economics made sense to me. I was proud of myself for “getting it.” And of course, for starting my own subscription to the Financial Times. Ah, the conspicuous consumption patterns of a newly-minted student of economics.

Making Development Edutaining

Swati Mishra's picture

Development is not easy; making it sustainable, even more difficult. Take for example road traffic rules. We can build better roads and install traffic lights, but cannot guarantee adherence to traffic rules. Even with laws in place, people may be more willing to pay fines than stop at a red light or wear seat belts. How do you make people value their own lives or their betterment? To succeed, we have to motivate people rather than just educate them.

Gamification of Thrones

Sana Rafiq's picture

If you put a target in the toilet, men will miss less. That’s the intuition behind the proliferation of strategically placed fake flies in public urinals. While anyone who has had to clean up after a careless aimer might say, “It’s about time,” anyone who has studied behavioral economics might say, “It’s about games.”

Games are fun. We play them for hours on end, of our own free will, without pay, in return for a feeling of accomplishment or virtual badges or points or just the promise of seeing all the cards bounce across the screen at the end of Windows Solitaire.

Development, on the other hand, is serious. People’s health, happiness, and well-being are at stake. Super Mario Brothers? Game. Candy Crush Saga? Game. Poverty, hunger, disease: Not games.

Aspiring to Understand Aspirations, Part II

Scott Abrahams's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and mindsets,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

Most children in Ethiopia and the other developing countries in the Young Lives Survey say they want—and expect—to go to college even though few of them will. Could those dreams differ by gender?

Before we look at the data, who would you predict are more likely to have college hopes: boys or girls? As advocates for gender equality, we would like to find no difference. But then again, there is a reason we need to be advocates for gender equality.

Saving Lives with a Bucket of Yellow Paint

Sana Rafiq's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and mindsets,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

If you had to guess, what would you say is the leading cause of unnatural deaths in Mumbai, one of India’s largest cities? Fire? Car wrecks? Suicide? In fact, the number one cause of unnatural deaths in Mumbai is railway track accidents.
 
According to India Railroad, in Mumbai, 10 people die everyday crossing the railway tracks. This amounts to more than 3,500 people a year, only in Mumbai. In fact, 15,000 people are killed every year while crossing rail tracks in India. But what causes these accidents? Is it because the individuals don’t know when the train is coming? Do they have poor visibility?

Changing Mindsets, Empowering People

LTD Editors's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and culture,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

When it comes to development, one size doesn’t fit all. It is about mindsets that can be transformed to see and do things differently. Taking a cue from this, The Hunger Project believes in empowering people to end their own hunger versus providing them with service delivery.  The Let’s Talk team caught up with John Coonrod, Executive Vice President, The Hunger Project, to know more about building self-reliant communities.

Aspiring to Understand Aspirations

Scott Abrahams's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and culture,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

In Ethiopia, 3% of students will go to college.* But how many would you guess say that they want to?

The answer is 75%. That is how many of the 14 to 15 year-olds surveyed by the Young Lives team out of Oxford said they would like to complete a university degree. Of those kids, 9 in 10 expect to get there.

An outside view on the WDR 2015: Will adding a behavioral dimension to development mark a paradigm shift?

Chris Eldridge's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and culture,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

Recently I was asked to give some feedback on the upcoming World Development Report 2015 (WDR 2015). WDR 2015 will be both important and timely. The following are some initial suggestions for the report.


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