Monday, October 31, 2011

Religion as an insurance mechanism against aggregate shocks

I have never been fond of the claims that the world is better with religion. The principal claim is that religion gives hope for people in dire circumstances, and thus in Economic terms increases their utility despite having hit the budget constraint. But one could also argue that these people are being mislead, as religion provides them with subjective probabilities that are far off the objective ones, all the while making the budget constraint even tighter because of the tithe and other material donations.

Olga Popova studies whether this effect of religion on happiness not only applies to individual circumstances, but also for aggregate shocks. Looking at the transition countries, which each suffered through substantial falls in GDP after the collapse of the Soviet rule, more religious people suffered, in terms of happiness, less than others from the large economic reforms. Of course, it is easy to understand that for most, they were happier than circumstances would indicate because it was rather obvious that things would eventually improve, likely a lot. The question is why religious would believe this more? Because they are easily indoctrinated, and it is certainly true that there was a lot of excessive pro-market rhetoric at the time. Non-religious people were probably more among the skeptics. And they were also more likely to be among those who benefited from the previous regime, which definitely oppressed religion. Unfortunately, this study does not take (previous) party affiliation into account, which is likely very (negatively) correlated with religiosity. Too bad.

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