Homogeneity and Cooperation
| Peter Klein |
Why are Scandinavians so cooperative? Nicolai and Lasse might suggest it’s their superior moral character. La Porta et al. (1997), Putnam et al. (1992), and others point to Protestantism: hierarchical religions like Catholicism and Islam, it is argued, tend to discourage trust and retard the development of social capital. The Protestants, who already have Max Weber in their corner, seem to be piling it on.
Not so fast, says Kevin O’Rourke in a recent paper, “Culture, Conflict, and Cooperation: Irish Dairying Before the Great War” (Economic Journal, October 2007). O’Rourke compares the Danish and Irish dairy industries before 1914 and argues that cultural and ethnic homogeneity, not religion, explains the success of Danish cooperatives. Unlike recent large-sample econometric work on trust, the paper uses deeper, more robust indicators of cooperation. Key findings:
At first sight, the contrast between Protestant Ulster and the Catholic South (as well as between Denmark and Ireland as a whole) seems a striking confirmation of the LLSV hypothesis that culture matters for the ability to cooperate, and that hierarchical religions such as Catholicism undermine both trust and cooperation. However, on closer examination it appears that politics, not culture, was responsible for the lower Irish propensity to cooperate. Suspicion between Catholics and Protestants, and tenants and landlords, spilled over into Nationalist suspicion of the cooperative movement and hindered its spread, despite the efforts of the [Irish Agricultural Organisation Society] to remain apolitical. To this extent, the results are more consistent with the stress on [ethnolinguistic fractionalisation] in Alesina and La Ferrara (2000) than with the cultural perspective of LLSV, Knack and Keefer (1997) and Zak and Knack (2001).
Denmark benefited from several relevant advantages that Ireland did not enjoy during this period. In particular, it was an extremely homogeneous country, ethnically, religiously and linguistically. There was no conflict over who should own the land, since land reform in Denmark had been underway since the late eighteenth century. . . . Nor was there any ethnic conflict, or disputes over where national boundaries should lie (all such controversies became redundant following the loss of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864). The results suggest that this homogeneity of Danish society is what explains the success of cooperation there.