Thursday, March 15, 2007

Economic debate on the role of democracy for economic growth and on the role of human capital for democracy

... hosted by the Wall Street Journal. The two debaters are established stars of the Economics academe, despite being relatively young still, Daron Acemoglu and respectively, Edward Glaeser (by the way, I bet on Ed Glaeser winning this edition's (2007) John Bates Clark Medal- it is also his last chance, given the rules regarding the age of the recipient; Daron Acemoglu was the latest winner, two years ago). There are also plenty of references in the WSJ text, for those who want to read more about the topic(s).

As for the main disagreement ("healthy disagreement" though, as Daron Acemoglu calls it) of this debate, I agree with Acemoglu in that it is not "low education", per se, that impedes the birth of democracies but rather "deep social and economic divides that create intense conflicts" (that is rather vague as well, but a good catchall term). However, what was not at all discussed in here, and where Ed Glaeser might have a point, is what kind of education are we really talking about. There is a lot to discuss here of course, but just shortly, to motivate the idea launched above, think about Europe's postcommunist countries (I am focusing on what I know best, Romania, but the situation is very similar in the other former European communist states). The education there was both broad and deep, but only on the very abstract, highly theoretical disciplines (guess what, all of us always excelled in Maths, for instance), or only on this side of all disciplines- and the situation did not significantly change for many years after, since the system had already roots, tradition.... When you have no clue about why you learn what you learn -and you should have no clue- it is pretty likely that you will not be able to contribute to any "higher goals". Hence, very high level, very sophisticated, education, but missing the "liberal arts" approach, to try a catch-all term, under a dictatorship, say, will not necessarily bring democracy. Au contraire, this education, combined with "ideology training" and the like, worked against democracy. Witness the many years in which communist dictatorships all over Eastern and Central Europe resisted- it certainly wasn't a sudden increase in the already "high" education level that brought them down, finally (no correlation between the changes in education levels and the changes in democracy levels, as Acemoglu rightly puts it). Of course this was an oversimplication, there are many factors at play there, but what I meant to bring to the discussion is really the fact that 'education', if we just take it as a whole, can make you a very technical, competent, person, an expert, a specialist, but it might not raise your "awareness" (by the way, this immediately makes a connection, although it is not direcly related, to "Je suis aware", the funny videoclip of Jean Claude Van Damme - for French speakers only!- oh, well, he isn't necessarily the best to teach us about high level education, but we must admit he does a pretty good job here, in teaching us about awareness, which I believe to be equally, if not even more, important). If we talk about the "other side" of education, "nurturing the awareness" (and provided everybody has equal opportunities for education, here we talk again about social and economic inequalities- empirically the spread, the variance in the education levels, rather than its mean- otherwise- again, oversimplification), Glaeser cannot be wrong.

The link to the Glaeser vs. Acemoglu piece is from Greg Mankiw.

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