The International Atlantic Economic Society held its 80th biannual conference October 10 and 11 in Boston. One thing on my oh-right-now-I’m-full-time to-do list was to go to a professional conference, and this one was close by, so it seemed like a good idea as any despite the high price ($300 or so–ouch!). The conference actually started up on Friday the 9th, but my teaching schedule made that a non-starter.
Saturday there were two “concurrent sessions” where we’d choose one of 8+ rooms to hear a group of speakers. Plus there was a “Distinguished Address” on Brazil’s deveopment in the late morning and a Plenary Symposium on the Financial Crisis in the late afternoon. Sunday theere were two more concurrent sessions.
Close to half of attendees at the conference were international. Mostly from Europe, but I spotted people from China, Japan, and countries in Africa.
The first concurrent session I went to was on “Cultural Economics” Probably my favorite session, the first two speakers were awesome. The first speaker, professor Marial Khawar of Emira College (NY), had used a huge cultural database developed by anthropologists to look at growth rates as they related to culture. Her findings were that growth was helped by higher institutional quality, but by lower cultural complexity. The theory there was that higher cultural complexity meant more stratification and rigidity of social roles, leading to it being harder for people to improve their lot in life, hence less entrepreneurship and growth. It also reminded me to Why Nations Fail, and its thesis that the elite in any society will try to freeze progress, fearing loss of position.
Next up was professor Julia Puaschunder from the New School (NY), looking at trust and reciprocity and how it affects inter-generational equity, defining the latter as the commonly-held belief that future generations should live lives at least as high quality as our own. This is a belief shared by all but the most dysfunctional, collapsing societies. She tried playing a “trust game,” a variant of the Prisoners Dilemma (which I teach in class). In her version people could keep money they were given, or give it to their partner who would get double what they gave. So collectively folks were best off giving everything to the partner, while individually they were better off giving nothing. She found a statisticaly significant, though not particularly high, correlations (between 0.3 and 0.4) between how trusting someone was and how much they supported contributing toward future generations. Interestingly, similar correlations were seen by people who were trusted and their willingness to support future generations, suggesting that mantra “Be the change you want to see.”
The other two presentations were pretty forgettable, but two out of 4 ain’t bad!