Most Interesting Path-Dependence Paper I Saw Today

18 February 2011 at 9:55 am 7 comments

| Peter Klein |

Just to show that econometric models apply anywhere and everywhere, check out this new Barro paper (via Danny Sokol):

Saints Marching In, 1590-2009
Robert J. Barro, Rachel M. McCleary
NBER Working Paper No. 16769
February 2011

The Catholic Church has been making saints for centuries, typically in a two-stage process featuring beatification and canonization. We analyze determinants of rates of beatification and canonization (for non-martyrs) over time and across six world regions. The research uses a recently assembled data set on numbers and characteristics of beatifieds and saints chosen since 1590. We classify these blessed persons regionally in accordance with residence at death. These data are combined with time-series estimates of regional populations of Catholics, broadly-defined Protestants, Orthodox, and Evangelicals (mostly a sub-set of Protestants). Regression estimates indicate that the canonization rate depends strongly on the number of candidates, gauged by a region’s stock of beatifieds who have not yet been canonized. The beatification rate depends positively on the region’s stock of persons previously canonized. The last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (the only non-Italians in our sample), are outliers, choosing blessed persons at a much higher rate than that of their predecessors. Since around 1900, the naming of blessed persons seems to reflect a response by the Catholic Church to competition from Protestantism or Evangelicalism. We find no evidence, at least since 1590, of competition between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Cultural Conservatism, Institutions.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard Ebeling  |  18 February 2011 at 2:54 pm

    I don’t mean to offend any Catholics, but in terms of this article — Who the hell cares about any relationship between the number of beatifications relative to the number of people previously canonized?

    It is virtually a caricature, a parody, of the econometric mindset.

    Yes, it does show a path-dependency of a method — into the cul-de-sac of absurdity.

    From his 1970s articles attempting to analyze disequilibrium adjustment processes (at least a question in the right theoretical direction), to the econometrics of saints — presumably to get research grant money — Robert Barro has fallen very far from reasonable economic “grace.”

    Richard Ebeling

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  18 February 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Well, Barro has written some explicit parodies before (e.g., “An Efficiency-Wage Theory of the Weather”). It’s hard to tell in this case, however. The authors seem to be using this case to illustrate certain features of competition (e.g., the greater the threat of Protestantism in a particular time and place, the greater the frequencies of beatification and canonization) — a sort of entry-deterrence model. But, from a quick skim, I didn’t learn anything about competition I didn’t already know.

  • 3. Richard Ebeling  |  18 February 2011 at 11:24 pm


    I understand your sympathetic “read” as to the purpose and the rationale for the analysis.

    But — and I say this even as a “licensed” praxeologist (well, would trust just any one to practice praxeology without a license?) — the fact that you can apply the logic of action and choice to virtually any imaginable setting in which human actors interact does not mean that you need to do so, without the doing so becoming a parody of itself.

    Richard Ebeling

  • 4. srp  |  20 February 2011 at 10:27 pm

    I don’t get this stance of incuriosity about the world. Lots of people study religious behavior, lots of people are interested in how organizations convey honors , etc., not to mention the question of how the Church responded to competition. There are a number of conversations where this could be an important finding. Do you complain about ichthyologists studying obscure fish? Or anthropologists studying obscure tribes?

  • 5. Richard Ebeling  |  21 February 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Like trees, if you’ve seen one fish, you’ve seen then all.

    Richard Ebeling

  • 6. Joel West  |  23 February 2011 at 11:26 am

    Hey, how many economists get to publish a paper on a 400 year time series?

  • 7. k  |  24 February 2011 at 7:05 pm

    iN 1970, the Church “decanonized “many “saints”- One of them , Santa Barbara. Santabarbara is the name for the powder depot in a ship. Slaves used that name for Chango, the evil, in santeria.So the saint lost her halo
    In the early 90 of the xx century, a unknown nun for most people but the truly catholics in Venezuela was canonized while ignoring popular claims to the finishing of the process of Jose Gregorio Hernandez, a medical doctor hit by the only car in Venezuela of the time. But Jose Gregorio Hernandez has been made part of syncretic cults that are seen as the main threats by the Church in Venezuela and the rest of Latinamerica.So that can confirm the study. But the canonization of someone known only to the insiders was seen as an slap in the face of many, especially the poor that are flocking to evangelics churches.

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