Does varying rainfall make people collectivists?

Lewis Davis has a newly published paper on that topic with the more elegant title “Individual Responsibility and Economic Development: Evidence from Rainfall Data.”  Here is the abstract:

This paper estimates the effect of individual responsibility on economic development using an instrument derived from rainfall data. I argue that a taste for collective responsibility was adaptive in preindustrial societies that were exposed to high levels of agricultural risk, and that these attitudes continue to influence contemporary social norms and economic outcomes. The link between agricultural risk and collective responsibility is formalized in a model of optimal parental socialization effort. Empirically, I find a robust negative correlation between rainfall variation, a measure of exogenous agricultural risk, and a measure of individual responsibility. Using rainfall variation as an instrument, I find that individual responsibility has a large positive effect on economic development. The relationships between rainfall variation, individual responsibility and economic development are robust to the inclusion of variables related to climate and agricultural and institutional development.

This kind of investigation is always going to be fraught with uncertainty and also controversy, given imperfections of data and methods.  Nonetheless I find this one of the more plausible macro-historical hypotheses, perhaps because of my own experience in central Mexico, where varying rainfall still is the most important economic event of the year, though it is rapidly being supplanted by the variability of tourist demand for arts and crafts.  And yes, they are largely collectivist, at least at the clan level, with extensive systems of informal social insurance and very high implicit social marginal tax rates on accumulated wealth.

Have you noticed it rains a lot in England?

Here are earlier and ungated/less gated versions of the paper.


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