Culture and Native American Economic Development

35 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2020

See all articles by Jordan Lofthouse

Jordan Lofthouse

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 6, 2020


This paper explores how culture affects economic development on Native American reservations by examining how culture directs the attention of entrepreneurs and interacts with formal governance institutions. This paper combines theoretical insights from economic sociology, market process economics, and institutional economics as a basis to evaluate entrepreneurship and economic development on Native American reservations. Culture, as a web of social meanings, shapes what opportunities entrepreneurs are alert to, influences how they perceive transaction costs, and determines whether institutions achieve their intended ends. Historical and contemporary case studies are used to build analytical narratives to corroborate the theoretical approach. The federal government has imposed many formal institutions on reservations, which have disrupted traditional governance and property rights structures. If formal institutions do not comport with the underlying culture, those institutions do not facilitate positive entrepreneurship and economic growth. Despite the barriers, entrepreneurs across several reservations have leveraged their cultural and social ties to create robust informal economies. In some cases, imposed institutions have fostered rent-seeking and have given rise to a culture of rent-seeking.

Keywords: Culture, Native Americans, Reservations, Economic Development

Suggested Citation

Lofthouse, Jordan, Culture and Native American Economic Development (January 6, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Jordan Lofthouse (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

Fairfax, VA
United States


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