Posts Tagged incentives

Prophet Motive: Islam and Economic Growth

The Silk Merchant, Islam, painting, merchantsThis week at Common Sense Concept, I take a closer look at John Cassidy’s recent piece in The New Yorker on Islam and economic growth (“Prophet Motive”).

Cassidy’s piece provides a good overview of Islamic economic history (or, at least, one side of it). His eventual conclusion, however, does not exhibit the degree of critical curiosity that one would hope for. In the end, I think his approach is largely limiting to our discussions about the relationship between religion and economic growth.

According to Cassidy, we are not to analyze Islam itself as a religious belief system. Instead, we should focus on more “predictable” indicators of economic activity.

Here’s an excerpt:

[Cassidy points to] more “traditional methods” of analysis, such as focusing on “the way beliefs are codified and institutionalized,” rather than dwelling on theology, philosophy or moral doctrine (as Weber and Novak do). For Cassidy, the matters related to the religion itself —the “spiritual stuff” — are largely unreliable. To make real progress in analyzing religion and economic growth, Cassidy believes we should look toward firmer, more measureable developments in the politico-religious (e.g. usury laws, business partnership, limitations or inheritance practices, etc.).

I disagree with this view and think that religion is indeed a valid investigation tool.

Here’s my response:

If we are going to analyze the merits of a particular religion as it relates to an economy, it makes little sense to toss out the fundamental features that define religious institutions and set them apart from those in the socio-political realm.

Whether formally codified/institutionalized or not, our religious beliefs and convictions fundamentally transform our perceptions, and thus they largely impact our visions. Regardless of whether the specific religion, god, or authoritative text is actually true, Islam has just as much potential to instigate such an effect as Christianity.

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Weird Parents, Weird Kids: An Overlooked Perk to Procreation

Bryan Caplan has some interesting thoughts on weird people and their kids over at EconLog. The discussion centers around whether children tend to reflect their parents’ level of “weirdness.”

As far as what he means by “weird,” Caplan leaves the door open to plenty of quirky traits, including “jokiness,” libertarianism, or a mere “fascination with role-playing games.”

Here is the initial premise:

…[S]uppose that the parent-child correlation on the trait you picked is exactly zero. Then no matter what you’re like, you should expect your kids to be at the 50th percentile. If you’re normal, that’s a pretty good deal; at least on average, your kids will be just like you. But the weirder you are, the less your kids will typically resemble you. Even if you’re at the 95th, 99th or 99.99th percentile, you can expect your kids to be perfectly average. In a world of zero parent-child correlation, weird people have little in common with their children. (emphasis added)

After providing some evidence for these claims, Caplan offers the following analysis:

Now let’s look at these facts like a mad economist. There are two ways to surround yourself with people like you. One is to meet them; the other is to make them. If you’re average, meeting people like yourself is easy; people like you are everywhere. If you’re weird, though, meeting people like yourself is hard; people like you are few and far between. But fortunately, as the parent-child correlation rises, weirdos’ odds of making people like themselves get better and better. This is especially true if the parent-child correlation largely reflects nature rather than nurture, because you won’t have to ride your kids to emulate you; they’ll do it on their own initiative. (emphasis added)

The lesson?

As your weirdness increases, so does your incentive to have kids. If you like football and American Idol, you’re never really alone. You don’t need to build a Xanadu for yourself. But if you’re a lonely misfit, oddball, freak, or weirdo, then find a like-minded Read the rest of this entry »

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Regulating Temptation: How to Cut Off Your Own Hands

I have a new post at Common Sense Concept discussing Jesus’ advice on dealing with temptation. Specifically, I look at how Christians like to implement such teachings using political force.

I focus on the following passage, which is Jesus’ response to his disciples’ inquiry on “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”:

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

So if we do try to look at this passage politically, what can we gather from it, if anything?

Here’s an excerpt of my response:

We are tempted to act on Jesus’ words by rashly rolling out some kind of policy to deal with people’s junk. We don’t try to channel human nature through incentives or think about public sins vs. Biblical sins. Instead, we rush to seize the objects of our temptations, and in our attempts to do so we instantly rob Jesus’ message of everything that makes it unique.

This is not the Quranic message of “cut off his or her hands.” We are not called to put our sisters in burqas just so the men won’t have to deal with their lust. Jesus’ message is the entirely different, non-political, non-coercive message of “cut off your own hands.”

To read the full article, click here.

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