Culture, institutions and the long divergenceJournal articleAlberto Bisin, Jared Rubin, Avner Seror et Thierry Verdier, Journal of Economic Growth, 2023

During the medieval and early modern periods the Middle East lost its economic advantage relative to the West. Recent explanations of this historical phenomenon—called the Long Divergence—focus on these regions’ distinct political economy choices regarding religious legitimacy and limited governance. We study these features in a political economy model of the interactions between rulers, secular and clerical elites, and civil society. The model induces a joint evolution of culture and political institutions converging to one of two distinct stationary states: a religious and a secular regime. We then map qualitatively parameters and initial conditions characterizing the West and the Middle East into the implied model dynamics to show that they are consistent with the Long Divergence as well as with several key stylized political and economic facts. Most notably, this mapping suggests non-monotonic political economy dynamics in both regions, in terms of legitimacy and limited governance, which indeed characterize their history.

Religious leaders and rule of lawJournal articleSultan Mehmood et Avner Seror, Journal of Development Economics, Volume 160, pp. 102974, 2023

In this paper, we provide systematic evidence of how historical religious institutions affect the rule of law. In a difference-in-differences framework, we show that districts in Pakistan where the historical presence of religious institutions is higher, rule of law is worse. This deterioration is economically significant, persistent, and likely explained by religious leaders gaining political office. We explain these findings with a model where religious leaders leverage their high legitimacy to run for office and subvert the Courts. We test for and find no evidence supporting several competing explanations: the rise of secular wealthy landowners, dynastic political leaders and changes in voter attitudes are unable to account for the patterns in the data. Our estimates indicate that religious leaders expropriate rents through the legal system amounting to about 0.06 percent of GDP every year.

Child Development in Parent-Child InteractionsJournal articleAvner Seror, Journal of Political Economy, Volume 130, Issue 9, pp. 2462-2499, 2022

I present a model of child development that highlights the effect of parent-child interactions on the formation of skills. Through the parent’s affection, the child learns and builds mental representations of the self as loved and competent. These mental representations shape the child’s noncognitive skills and foster learning. I show that this model provides a unifying explanation for well-established evidence on child development. The model also sheds light on how early exposure to media devices can negatively impact skill acquisition. I discuss implications for the design of policies to reduce inequalities in child development.

A theory of cultural revivalsJournal articleMurat Iyigun, Jared Rubin et Avner Seror, European Economic Review, Volume 135, pp. 103734, 2021

Why do some societies have political institutions that support productively inefficient outcomes? And why does the political power of elites vested in these outcomes often grow over time, even when they are unable to block more efficient modes of production? We propose an explanation centered on the interplay between political and cultural change. We build a model in which cultural values are transmitted inter-generationally. The cultural composition of society, in turn, determines public-goods provision as well as the future political power of elites from different cultural groups. We characterize the equilibrium of the model and provide sufficient conditions for the emergence of cultural revivals. These are characterized as movements in which both the cultural composition of society as well as the political power of elites who are vested in productively inefficient outcomes grow over time. We reveal the usefulness of our framework by applying it to two case studies: the Jim Crow South and Turkey’s Gülen Movement.

Religious Legitimacy and the Joint Evolution of Culture and InstitutionsBook chapterAlberto Bisin, Avner Seror et Thierry Verdier, In: Advances in the Economics of Religion, JP. Carvalho, S. Iyer et J. Rubin (Eds.), 2019-06, pp. 321-332, Springer International Publishing, 2019

Religious legitimacy is becoming a central concept in historical economics, in comparative studies of the political economy of preindustrial societies in particular. In this short chapter, we provide some preliminary insights on the emergence of religious legitimacy in the context of the general theory of the evolution of institutions and culture. We show that it is the interaction of institutions and culture that is responsible for the most relevant implications of religious legitimacy in terms of economic growth and prosperity.

A theory on the evolution of religious norms and economic prohibitionJournal articleAvner Seror, Journal of Development Economics, Volume 134, pp. 416-427, 2018

This paper provides a theory of religious prohibition against usury and innovation and its consequences on economic activities and occupations. As an economic prohibition from the majority religion is sustained by a threat of social exclusion from that cultural group, it has less effects on religious minorities. It then creates an occupational pattern where only the religious minorities choose activities that transgress the prohibition. By creating resentment against the religious minorities, this occupational pattern strengthens the diffusion of the majority religion in the population. An economic prohibition is then instigated by the clerics in the majority religion, because it allows them to consolidate their norms and to increase the scope of their control over popular masses. This work also demonstrates that an economic prohibition lasts longer when religious clerics can legitimize secular rulers and when the competition on the religious market is weaker.