The Printing Press and Early Development in Africa

I just ran across an interesting looking working paper called “The Long-Term Effects of the Printing Press in Sub-Saharan Africa” (co-authored by Julia Cage and Valeria Rueda).

Here is a preview of their results:

We find that proximity to the closest location of a mission with a printing press has a positive and statistically significant impact on the probability of reading the news. A one-standard deviation increase in the proximity to a mission with a printing press increases the probability of reading the news on a monthly basis from 3 to 14% of a standard deviation, depending on the specifications. In contrast, proximity to a mission without a printing press has no significant impact on newspaper readership. Moreover, we also find that a one-standard deviation increase in the proximity to a mission with a printing press increases contemporary economic development by around 10% of a standard deviation.

My “to-read” pile has just gotten bigger.

Religion, Education & Secularization

Sascha Becker and Ludger Woessmann had a great piece in the QJE called “Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History.”  They hypothesized that Protestant societies were richer on average because of the emphasis that Protestantism places on being able to read the Bible. Using county-level data from 19th century Prussia, the authors found that Protestantism was associated with higher average income and education levels.

I just learned that Becker and Woessmann have a new working paper (co-authored with Markus Nagler) called “Education Promoted Secularization.” It looks like it’s heading to the top of my pile of “to read” papers after I finish grading.  Here’s the abstract:

Why did substantial parts of Europe abandon the institutionalized churches around 1900? Empirical studies using modern data mostly contradict the traditional view that education was a leading source of the seismic social phenomenon of secularization. We construct a unique panel dataset of advanced-school enrollment and Protestant church attendance in German cities between 1890 and 1930. Our cross-sectional estimates replicate a positive association. By contrast, in panel models where fixed effects account for time-invariant unobserved heterogeneity, education – but not income or urbanization – is negatively related to church attendance. In panel models with lagged explanatory variables, educational expansion precedes reduced church attendance.


Religion and culture as obstacles to development?

PRI has a thought-provoking article about a town called Awra Amba in Northern Ethiopia that eschews traditional customs and religion as obstacles to development.  Awra Amba, with a population of about 500 people, has an average per-capita income of about double the national average, and lower mortality and higher literacy rates than surrounding regions.

Zumra Nuru, the founder of the town 40 years ago, dreamed of it being an economic and egalitarian utopia.  So what specifically have they done differently?

First, the population does not “follow organized religion” and thus does not rest on the Sabbath or holidays. Second, the town places a lot of emphasis on gender equality and education: “You will see women here doing what is traditionally considered ‘men’s work,’ like plowing, which effectively doubles the workforce.”

Apparently the neighboring towns were initially less than impressed and labeled the residents as heretics.  Nuru notes that “They threw a grenade right into the center of the village once, but luckily, no one was hurt. They’ve tried shooting members of our village. They’ve sabotaged our harvest on occasion.”  One neighbor from a Christian community argues that the residents are “selfish” and that he “hates them.”  Hmm, how Christian of him.

The development community of course has had a different reaction and the town has quickly become a darling of that group.  The article claims that neighboring communities are starting to be less angry and more curious about what the town is doing right and how they might be able to replicate it.  For instance, they are starting to send their kids to schools in Awra Amba, bring their corn to the town mill, and shop at the stores in town. So perhaps the message has started to spread.