Forget investment and savings rates, worker productivity and wage scales to determine which countries will become richer or poorer. What really stimulates economic growth is whether you believe in an afterlife -- especially hell. \nAt least that's what two Harvard scholars have found after analyzing data collected in 59 countries between 1981 and 1999. \n"Our central perspective is that religion affects economic outcomes mainly by fostering religious beliefs that influence individual traits such as honesty, work ethic, thrift and openness to strangers," the researchers, Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary, wrote in the October issue of American Sociological Review. They also happen to be married. \n"For example, beliefs in heaven and hell might affect those traits by creating perceived rewards and punishments that relate to `good' and `bad' lifetime behavior," they wrote. \nThe data comes from six international surveys, including ones by Gallup, the World Bank and researchers at the University of Michigan. They include questions about attendance in places of worship and religious beliefs. There were four measures of economic development: per capita GDP, educational attainment by adults, the urbanization rate and life expectancy. \nOddly enough, the research also showed that at a certain point, increases in church, mosque and synagogue attendance tended to depress economic growth. Barro, a renowned economist, and McCleary, a lecturer in Harvard's government department, theorized that larger attendance figures could mean that religious institutions were using up a disproportionate share of resources. \n"It's all been rather surprising," McCleary said."People didn't believe you could quantify aspects of religion. We wanted to be intellectually provocative. We see about five more years of study to get out all the stuff we want. We're trying to raise interesting questions in a different way." \nSince the German sociologist Max Weber wrote about the Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism, social scientists have argued that culture -- including religious habits -- is part of the complex mix that determines a country's economic health. What distinguishes the work of Barro and McCleary, some scholars said, is that it uses a sophisticated analysis of a huge set of data to quantify the arguments of anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists. \n"The study's important less for what they found than that they looked," said Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. "They are not the first to look at this but they are the first to look at this as systemically and as rigorously as they have. For forever, people have been saying that culture matters in analyzing economies." \n"I think this is a new beginning for the rigorous relationship between religion and economic development, " added Chaves, whose forthcoming book examines how religious congregations influence politics and culture. "They've given us a data set and some tools to examine this in a new way." \nOne of the motivations for undertaking the study, McCleary said, was that empirical research on economic growth typically neglected the influence of religion. \nThe research team also wants to look at how religion affects other political and social issues like democracy, the rule of law, fertility and health. At the moment, they have a paper on government and the regulation of religion that is under review by the American Journal of Sociology at the University of Chicago on government and the regulation of religion. \nSome of their findings, which have been written about in The Economist and The Christian Science Monitor, first appeared in 2002 as a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. \nAs the couple began their study, McCleary said, it was clear that the widely discussed secularization thesis -- the idea that a country becomes more secular as it becomes richer and more industrialized -- did not apply to the US, one of the most religious nations in the world. \nAnd over the last 30 years, many East Asian countries, including Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, have experienced both rapid economic growth and the spread of Christianity, Barro said. \n"South Korea is a good example of that rapid growth and more religion," he said. There the number of converts from Confucianism and other Eastern religions to Christianity is growing rapidly, he explained. \nSome of the lowest levels of religiosity were found in China and North Korea. The lowest levels of economic growth were in sub-Saharan African countries. The former East Germany (which includes Weber's birthplace) was one of the lowest in both religiosity and growth. \nBut one of the major challenges to such research is that countries that vary in their religious beliefs and practices also vary in ways that have nothing to do with religion, said Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at Northwestern University. \n"Are you really picking up religion or something that correlates with it, like certain laws or social and economic institutions?" she asked. \nLast year, in the Journal of Monetary Economics, Sapienza and her colleague Luigi Zingales at the University of Chicago, and Luigi Guiso, of the University of Sassari in Rome, published a paper that did not compare countries but looked at the relationship between religious beliefs and the attitudes shown to foster economic growth. \n"On average," they wrote, "religious beliefs are associated with good economic attitudes, where good is defined as conducive to higher per capita income." \nBut that study found that more religious people were also less tolerant of other races and nationalities and had more negative attitudes toward women. The study based its findings on World Values Surveys data collected at the University of Michigan. \nBarro and McCleary also used data from the World Values Surveys, which Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, has been taking for more than 20 years. His surveys of 78 countries show strong links between widespread public values and beliefs, or political culture, and motivation to work, sexual and religious norms and the presence or absence of democratic institutions. \n"I find that belief factors play a major role in economic growth, but here is one of the world's leading economists saying so," Inglehart said, referring to Barro. "When Weber argued that big breakthroughs in economic growth were in Protestant countries, it was at a time when many cultures were shaped by Protestant institutions. His notion in the broadest sense is that belief factors play a role in economic factors." \n"This is a revised view of the Protestant ethic," he continued. He noted that many mostly Protestant, wealthy countries were now more interested in quality of life, and that many Eastern countries were now more focused on economic growth -- with some populations even converting, as Barro noted, to Christianity and specifically to Protestantism. \n"Confucian countries are now the most Protestant countries on earth, in terms of a moral imperative to work hard, save money, to do well," Inglehart said.
PHOTO: NY TIMES PHOTOS
Swedish Member of Parliament Hampus Hagman is pushing for changing the name of the nation’s trade office in Taipei to signal improved relations with “Asia’s perhaps foremost democracy.” Hagman on Wednesday last week proposed renaming the Swedish Trade and Invest Council to “Sweden’s Office in Taipei,” following similar changes by other nations. The Swedish Trade and Invest Council, part of Business Sweden, is owned by the Swedish government and Swedish industry. Taiwan and Sweden share important values such as respect for democracy, human rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech, Hagman said in the motion, adding that the two nations
TWO CASES: The five allegedly conspired with conglomerates, threatening the nation’s governance and subverting the rules of ethical conduct, a deputy chief prosecutor said Taipei prosecutors yesterday charged three legislators and one former lawmaker with contravening the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例) in a case linked to former Pacific Distribution Investment Co (太平洋流通) chairman Lee Heng-lung’s (李恆隆) battle with the Far Eastern Group (遠東集團) over ownership of the Pacific SOGO Department Store (太平洋崇光百貨) chain, while independent Legislator Chao Cheng-yu (趙正宇) was indicted in a separate case involving two funeral services companies and a plot of land in a national park. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) and Sufin Siluko (廖國棟), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) and former New Power Party legislator
PENGHU INSPECTION: Taiwan cannot let its enemies strut around in its airspace, Tsai said, one day after a Chinese spokesman denied a median line exists in the Taiwan Strait Following China’s assertion on Monday that there is no “median line” in the Taiwan Strait, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday pledged to defend the nation’s airspace during a visit to an air force base in Penghu, saying that Taiwan cannot allow others to flex their military muscle in its territorial airspace. Tsai praised the “heroic performance” of the pilots of the Indigenous Defense Fighters who have been intercepting Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force planes in recent days. “I have a lot of confidence in you. As soldiers of the Republic of China [ROC], how could we let enemies strut
EFFICIENCY: The rules for Philippine arrivals were revised after 17.6% of arrivals with symptoms tested positive, compared with 0.7% of those with no symptoms Starting today, Chinese spouses who hold a reunion permit can apply to enter Taiwan and travelers without symptoms from the Philippines do not need to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, but are to be tested after a 14-day quarantine, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that from today, Chinese who are married to a Taiwanese citizen and hold a reunion permit can apply to the National Immigration Agency for entry into Taiwan. Chinese who are married to a foreign national and hold an accompanied reunion permit