The dead weight of culture

Screenshot 2016-09-19 02.06.35The map to the right shows GDP per capita in the European Union in 2014 broken down by regions. I’ve long observed that the wealthiest regions of Europe are disproportionately those which were long under Habsburg rule. This fact transcends ethnicity and religion. Catholic northern Italy, Catholic southern Germany, as well as Protestant Netherlands, are all notably economically productive, and were long under Habsburg rule or hegemony.

The observation is just that, an observation. I have no grand theory to explain what is going on. And some have suggested that the outlines of this productive zone of Europe might even go back as far as Lotharingia. But, these sorts of patterns rooted in geopolitical history might hint at the possibility that cultural norms and institutions can be deeply rooted in region and locale.

This is at variance with our intuition that culture is protean and can change rapidly. This is most easily illustrated by the shift from militarism to pacific evident in both Japan and Germany in the past few generations. A shift that most believe could reverse course in short order.

In a similar vein, Peter Turchin has a post up at his blog, Ghost of Empires Past, which shows how pre-modern political structures continue to live in patterns in the World Values Survey!

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