Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs

13 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2017

See all articles by Nathan Nunn

Nathan Nunn

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Raul Sanchez de la Sierra

UC Berkeley (Haas)

Date Written: March 2017

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.

Suggested Citation

Nunn, Nathan and Sanchez de la Sierra, Raul, Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs (March 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23207. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2938751

Nathan Nunn (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Raul Sanchez de la Sierra

UC Berkeley (Haas) ( email )

2220 piedmont avenue
office 586
berkeley, CA 94720
United States
9174889151 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://raulsanchezdelasierra.com

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