The origin of this special issue of The Annals lies in a conference on the interaction between economics and other disciplines held under the auspices of the Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics at San Diego State University. One example of fruitful interaction between economics and other disciplines is found in the study of economic development and cultural institutions such as language, prescribed gender roles, and ethnic identity. The articles in this volume offer fresh perspectives on the possible effects of cultural institutions on economic performance and politics. Many of the articles also investigate reasons why particular institutions arise and, in particular, how economic development affects cultural institutions.
This issue of The Annals offers new perspectives on various aspects of culture related to politics and the economy, including democracy, corruption, women's rights, wedding expenditures, and ethnic cleansing. The articles show that the analyses of economists can be useful in these new areas of application. To the extent that these are empirical analyses, research by economists does not necessarily differ from that performed by political scientists or sociologists studying similar issues. Some of the contributions to this volume show that some ideas found in economic theories, even though they were developed in the West, are applicable universally and can help us understand cultural institutions.
While the articles in this collection indicate that applying economic analysis to the study of culture is a productive avenue for research, this special issue raises more questions than it answers. We are still very far from understanding why cultures differ so dramatically. There is room for much further research into the multiple interrelationships between various economic, political, and cultural institutions. In this endeavor, we may benefit not only from more economic analysis but also from sociological and anthropological analysis and from cooperation between disciplines.
We also need more studies of investments in cultural capital by individuals, firms, families, and other groups, in part because such studies can help up design strategies and policies that work effectively to promote economic and social development. It is hoped that this volume of The Annals reveals the inevitability of dealing with cultural differences between countries and cultural changes over time.