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Uncommon Knowledge

Lobbyists: We make CEOs rich!

And other surpruising insights from the social sciences


When cooperation lasts for centuries

Throughout history, it’s been all too easy for ethnic and religious groups to see each other as competitors rather than as complementing each other’s prosperity. But according to a study from a researcher at Stanford, if communities can find a social arrangement with mutual benefits, the results can be surprisingly long lasting. Just such an arrangement seems to have existed in coastal trading ports in medieval India. Muslims, who had wide trading networks facilitated by pilgrimages such as the Hajj, dominated overseas trade from these ports, which gave Muslims a valuable role in the community that Hindus couldn’t easily fulfill. At the same time, Muslims could easily compete against each other, thereby making it less likely that individual Muslims would amass too much power and wealth and provoke community tension. As a result, these trading ports were able to develop local institutions that inhibited Hindu-Muslim conflict even centuries after the advantageous conditions disappeared, and went on to experience much less religious conflict during the colonial and modern era than otherwise similar towns.

Jha, S., “Trade, Institutions, and Ethnic Tolerance: Evidence from South Asia,” American Political Science Review (forthcoming).

Elite women: not so religious

Surveys of the general population have found that women are more religious than men. Yet, in a recent survey of alumni of the elite White House Fellows program, the reverse seems to be true. The elite women from this program placed less importance on religion than the men, especially if they had a graduate degree from a top university, belonged to an elite policy organization, or were in Marquis Who’s Who. “For many men, faith was seen as a resource for their professional lives. Similar notions did not arise in any of the interviews with women.”

Hastings, O. & Lindsay, M., “Rethinking Religious Gender Differences: The Case of Elite Women,” Sociology of Religion (forthcoming).

Lobbyists: We make CEOs rich!

Corporations lobby the government for their own benefit, right? That depends on what or whom you mean by “corporation.” A new analysis of corporate lobbying activity suggests that corporate lobbying is more about lining the CEO’s pocket than about boosting the earnings of shareholders. Lobbying by a corporation was associated with higher compensation for the CEO, even after controlling for company size and industry, but it was not associated with a higher profit or stock price.

Skaife, H. et al., “Corporate Lobbying and CEO Pay,” University of Texas (October 2013).

When child labor laws backfire

We’d all like to be able to simply ban society’s ills. But a new study reinforces the notion that what seems like straightforward legislation can often have unintended consequences. Economists found that a law restricting child labor in India actually made it more likely that children—especially those from the poorest families—worked. The law (whose enforcement was far from perfect) lowered the relative wages of children, forcing poor families to need more work from their children to make ends meet. As a result, school attendance dropped, while the lower wages further strained family budgets.

Bharadwaj, P. et al., “Perverse Consequences of Well Intentioned Regulation: Evidence from India’s Child Labor Ban,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2013).

Citizen babies help parents assimilate

The 14th Amendment automatically grants citizenship to US-born children of immigrants. It may also be helping those immigrant parents assimilate. At least, that’s the implication of a recent study of what happened in Germany when it passed a similar law in 1999. For noncitizen parents of children who were newly eligible for birthright citizenship, the law led to “a significant and not negligible increase in the probability of socializing with Germans, measured as visiting or being visited by Germans, and in the level of acquaintance with the German culture, proxied by the probability of reading German newspapers.”

Avitabile, C. et al., “The Effect of Birthright Citizenship on Parental Integration Outcomes,” Journal of Law and Economics (August 2013).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.