The Economics of Cultural Control and Resistance

Recent work incorporates cultural leaders and institutions into models of cultural transmission. This talk will highlight the interaction between top-down attempts at cultural influence and bottom-up forms of cultural resistance. In ‘Resisting Education’, Carvalho, Koyama, & Williams (2022) examine cultural resistance to education when education bundles human capital with cultural traits. While a policymaker can increase the spread of the mainstream trait by dynamically tuning the cultural content of education, it can never eliminate alternative cultural traits from the population due to resistance. In fact, the policymaker may have to moderate its intervention or else face a backlash. This unifies a growing body of empirical work on the unintended effects of cultural policies. In ‘Radicalization’, Carvalho & Sacks (2022) examine the conditions under which an identity-based organization (e.g., religious, ethnic, or ideological group) can radicalize a susceptible subpopulation. The warning sign for radicalization is cultural purification, i.e., the screening out of moderate types by the organization. While this shrinks the organization’s membership, it puts it on a growth path along which it becomes larger and more extreme over time. Conventional counter-radicalization policies can backfire and fuel this process of radicalization. I will discuss how these approaches can be applied to a range of current issues in Political Economy.