Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When superstitious are good...

I just read the following paper:
Nunn, Nathan, and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra. Why Being Wrong can be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs. No. w23207. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2017.
and I find it very interesting. Basically it is about why superstitions are good in certain cases. In this paper the author analyzes a case of a village in a Democratic Republic Congo. Namely, due to the unstable political situation there are lot of violence done  by different military groups that regularly attack villages. To protect themselves people in some villages believe they can be made resistant to bullets by strictly following a special magical procedure. It's obviously false but in case someone dies they prescribe the fault to not following this special magical procedure. This sounds crazy, but the effect is interesting. While it hurts individuals, it helps the collective since more people are willing to engage in defending villages with the end result of having 2 years of peace in this specific village that was brought as an example.

The key is that the utility of individual increases by everyone contributing to defense, but decreases when individual invests more. This, in effect, means that everyone will not invest the best he can and thus the collective will suffer! The superstition encourages everyone to give the best they can thus helping the collective. This is brilliant!

This result provokes some thinking as to whether some superstitions that I find annoying are actually beneficial, like religion for example. 

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