On culture: maybe more research is needed

Inspired by this NYT story on beach behavior in Qingdao, China  to say I'm glad that economists are starting to work on social norms, culture, and development. It's moved way beyond the primitive circular reasoning whereby any poor people were assumed to have a "bad" culture. Culture is partly an endogenous choice; for example, parents decide how much effort to exert to pass their culture on to their children. For a good intro, check out the work of my NYU colleague Alberto Bisin.

PS the relevant cultural norms relevant in the picture are apparently how much female beauty involves pale skin, and on how much extreme measures are acceptable to achieve that.

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INTERVIEW: Raquel Fernández in Conversation with The Straddler

The Straddler interviews Raquel Fernandez, Professor of Economics and a DRI affiliated faculty member, on culture's impact on economic outcomes:

Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more. So, yes, it’s true that the average guy on the street doesn’t understand economics, and it’s also true that we don’t understand economics. We just have a more sophisticated lack of understanding than the guy on the street.

Read more on The Straddler.

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