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NYU DRI 2018 Annual Conference: “Economics and Culture”

  • NYU Kimmel Center for University Life 60 Washington Square South New York, NY, 10012 United States (map)

On October 11th, NYU Development Research Institute held its 2018 Annual Conference with the support of NYU Africa House and the C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics at NYU.


There has been increasing interest over the last decade in understanding the role of culture in shaping development outcomes. The push has come from many directions: from studying economic history, from the institutions and growth literature, from political economy, and more recently from a literature that has explicitly tried to measure dimensions of culture and their evolution and their impact on economic interactions and on the process of development. Culture, defined loosely as shared ideas, customs, and social behavior, is from the perspective of economics a deeply endogenous variable, in other words, something that is determined through a history of economic, social, and political interaction. At the same time, once a culture forms, it acquires its own valence, shaping the way individuals interact, transact, and aggregate into a process of growth.

Conference Program:

MCs: Rajeev Dehejia, (New York University), and Yaw Nyarko, (New York University)

8:00 – 9:00 am Registration, coffee, and pastries

9:00 – 9:05 am DRI welcome remarks by Rajeev Dehejia, (New York University)

9:05 – 9:10 am Introductory remarks by Yanoula Athanassakis, Associate Vice Provost, Academic Affairs and Special Projects; Director, Environmental Humanities Initiative, (New York University)

9:10 – 9:50 am Nathan Nunn, (Harvard University). “The Importance of Culture and Context for Development Policy“

9:50 – 10:30 am Enrico Spolaore, (Tufts University). “Modern Fertility”

10:30 – 10:45 am Break with coffee and pastries

10:45 – 11:25 am William Easterly, (New York University). “Does Ethnicity Predict Culture?“

11:25 am – 12:05 pm Raquel Fernandez, (New York University). “Cultural Change”

12:05 – 12:45 pm Alberto Bisin, (New York University). “The Joint Dynamics of Culture and Institutions“

12:45 – 1:45 pm Lunch for audience and speakers

1:45 – 2:25 pm Gerard Roland, (University of California, Berkeley). “The Deep Historical Roots of Modern Culture”

Speaker Bios:

Nathan Nunn is Frederic E. Abbe Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Professor Nunn’s primary research interests are in economic development, cultural economics, political economy, economic history, and international trade. He is an NBER Faculty Research Fellow, a Research Fellow at BREAD, and a Faculty Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA). He is currently a co-editor of the Journal of Development Economics.

Enrico Spolaore is the Seth Merrin Chair and Professor of Economics at Tufts University, and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). His research is in the areas of political economy, growth and development, and cultural economics. His publications include articles in economics journals (American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economics and Statistics, etc.), the book The Size of Nations (with Alberto Alesina, MIT Press), and two edited volumes on Culture and Economic Growth (Edward Elgar). Spolaore received an undergraduate degree (Laurea) in Economics and Commerce from the University of Rome, a doctoral degree (Dottorato di Ricerca) from the University of Siena, and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. He lives in Lexington (MA) with his wife Deborah and their golden retriever Alfred.

William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University and Co-director of the NYU Development Research Institute, which won the 2009 BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge in Development Cooperation Award. He is the author of three books: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (March 2014), The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006), which won the FA Hayek Award from the Manhattan Institute, and The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (2001).

He has published more than 60 peer-reviewed academic articles and has written columns and reviews for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Review of Books, and Washington Post. He has served as Co-Editor of the Journal of Development Economics and as Director of the blog Aid Watch. He is a Research Associate of NBER and senior fellow at BREAD. Foreign Policy Magazine named him among the Top 100 Global Public Intellectuals in 2008 and 2009, and Thomson Reuters listed him as one of the Highly Cited Researchers of 2014. He is also the 11th most famous native of Bowling Green, Ohio.

Raquel Fernandez is a Professor in the Department of Economics at New York University. She is also a member of Equality, Social Organization, and Performance at the University of Oslo, the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), and Institute for Labor Economics. She has previously been a tenured professor at the London School of Economics and Boston University and held visiting positions at various institutions around the world. She has served as the Director of the Public Policy Program of the CEPR and is currently a Co-Director of the Inequality group at the NBER.  She has been a Panel Member of the National Science Foundation and a Program Committee Member of the Social Science Research Council, and has served as a Co-Editor of the Journal of International Economics, a Co-Editor of Economic Development and Cultural Change, an Associate Editor of the Review of Economic Dynamics, and is currently an Associate Editor of the Journal of Economic Literature. Currently, she is Vice President of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association and in the past served as Vice President of the AEA. She is the recipient of several National Science Foundation grants, of a Spencer Fellowship from the National Academy of Education, and was awarded a National Fellow at the Hoover Institute and a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation. She is a fellow of the Econometric Society and of BREAD.  Her most recent research is primarily in the areas of culture and economics, development and gender issues, inequality, and political economy.

Alberto Bisin is Professor of Economics at New York University. He is an elected fellow of the Econometric Society. He is also fellow of the NBER, CESS at NYU, and the CEPR. He is Associate Editor of the Journal of Comparative Economics Economic Theory and of Research in Economics. He is the co-organizer of the annual NBER Meeting on Culture and Institutions. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, obtained in 1994. His main academic contributions are in the fields of Social Economics, Financial Economics, and Behavioral Economics. He has published widely in economics journals. He co-edited the Handbook of Social Economics and is in the process of co-editing the Handbook of Historical Economics. Finally, he is founding editor of and contributes op-eds for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Gérard Roland is the E. Morris Cox professor of economics and professor of political science at the University of California Berkeley where he has been since 2001. He has received many honors including an honorary professorship from the Renmin University of China in Beijing in 2002. He is the author of over 150 journal articles, chapters in books, and books and has been published in leading economics journals. He wrote the leading graduate textbook “Transition and Economics” published in 2000 at MIT Press and translated in various languages, including Chinese and Russian. He co-organized with Olivier Blanchard a Nobel symposium on the transition economies in 1999. In recent years, his research has broadened to developing economies in general with special emphasis on the role of institutions and culture. He wrote a new undergraduate textbook on Economics of development (2013, Pearson Addison-Wesley).

Photo Credit: ©Goldman: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau