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Why Being Wrong can be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs

Nathan Nunn and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra

No 23207, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: Across human societies, one sees many examples of deeply rooted and widely-held beliefs that are almost certainly untrue. Examples include beliefs about witchcraft, magic, ordeals, and superstitions. Why are such incorrect beliefs so prevalent and how do they persist? We consider this question through an examination of superstitions and magic associated with conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Focusing on superstitions related to bulletproofing, we provide theory and case-study evidence showing how these incorrect beliefs persist. Although harmful at the individual-level, we show that they generate Pareto efficient outcomes that have group-level benefits.

JEL-codes: P16 Z1 Z12 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017-03
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-evo
Note: DAE DEV EFG LE POL
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Published as Nathan Nunn & Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, 2017. "Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 582-587, May.

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