Friday, December 30, 2011

On the superiority of secularism

The US presidential election season in upon us, and of course religion will again be a major factor. While this is rather unique in the Western world that the religion of a candidate would matter, this fact seems very natural to Americans. The basic logic is that a god-fearing politician is less likely to abuse his power, especially in the position of president, where he cannot vie for a better position through exemplary behavior. That seems to be a slam-dunk for religious candidates, yet experience from the rest of the Western world seems to contradict this. In fact in many other countries, overtly religious candidates are suspected of having allegiances primarily with the religion, not the country.

Pavel Ciaian, Jan Pokrivcak and d'Artis Kancs go one step further and try to compare developed economies, that generally rely on secular institutions to enforce laws and rules, to developing economies, that more frequently draw on informal institutions, in particular religious ones. They find that religion-based institutions are weaker because thy hinge on credibility which is difficult to build and easily lost. Secular ones have an explicit and formal legal enforcement mechanism that can also adapt to changing circumstances. The latter means also that religious enforcement systems are best for static societies, while dynamic and growing economies should adopt secular systems. I am not quite sure causality goes this way, but correlations certainly support this.

1 comment:

Kansan said...

Your title is misleading. Secularism is dominated in static (or regressing) societies. Get the causality right.