This is a strange one. We found it at EurekAlert, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Their headline is Do witchcraft beliefs halt economic progress? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Believing in witchcraft is a salient feature of daily life in many parts of the world. In worst-case scenarios, such beliefs lead to murder, and they may also cause destruction of property or societal ostracism of the accused witches. The first large-scale economics study to explore beliefs in witchcraft, broadly defined as the use of supernatural techniques to harm others or acquire wealth, links such beliefs to the erosion of social capital.
Well now, there’s a topic which needed study. Let’s dig in:
Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of social capital relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.
Witchcraft has a negative relationship with religious participation? Let’s read on:
It’s long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman’s statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman’s results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.
Ah, this is social science. Now it’s starting to make sense. We continue:
A major focus of Gershman’s findings involves regions of sub-Saharan Africa. …. A respondent is assumed to believe in witchcraft if she claims to believe in either “witchcraft” or “that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.”
That seems reasonable. Here’s more:
Witchcraft may be alone among supernatural beliefs for having a negative correlation to trust. Beliefs in heaven, hell, reincarnation, angels, miracles, and evil spirits have no relationship to trust, Gershman found.
Oh? Do you trust, say, someone like ol’ Hambo, or a Discoveroid, more than you trust someone who believes in witchcraft? Moving along:
Gershman, who studies the social costs and benefits of culture, has also published research on the “evil eye,” a cultural belief that a person’s envious glance leads to property destruction. The evil eye belief is also harmful to economic progress but in a different way, Gershman said.
What’s different about the evil eye? We’re told:
“Witchcraft beliefs are likely to erode trust and cooperation due to fears of witchcraft attacks and accusations. The evil eye leads to underinvestment and other forms of unproductive behavior due to the fear of destructive envy, where envy is likely to manifest in destruction and vandalism involving those who own wealth,” Gershman said.
Okay, that’s enough. We don’t write much about social science. Perhaps you can see why.
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