Thursday, March 12, 2015


Consider the following claims:

  1. Members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons) are (a) more wealthy (b) more conscientious (c) more future-oriented and (d) more personally and socially stable than comparable members of the general public.
  2. Differences in traits and outcomes between Mormons and the general public remain both large and statistically significant even after controlling for confounding variables such as IQ, race, and gender.
  3. These differences cannot be explained by selection effects. Twin and adoption studies show that church membership is a genuine treatment effect: being in the church improves not only members' productive capacity, but their personal traits as well.
If all of these are true, it follows that an all-Mormon society would be happier and more prosperous. 

If I could empirically establish that conditions 1-3 are true, would it justify mandatory conversion? Assume that conversion by the sword would produce no erosion of the institutions that give rise to the enhanced performance of the faithful.

I've posted here before that I tend to reject a strict consequentialist/deontological split. I find the moral sentiment that a consideration of outcomes is one consideration among many to be convincing. I also find dominion distasteful. But I'll put up with dominion if the price is right. I'll give the keys to the prison to a jailer who'll lock me up for murder. 

How about here? How much better than the BATNA would membership have to be to tolerate forcible conversion? Not that there are any plans, of course, but would we be willing to allow Church leadership to, say, organize mass adoptions from abroad? Or to collect sex workers in an effort to save their souls? How about to baptize dead infants in the name of Jesus and the Church? 

What's acceptable here? Why? Is a euvoluntary covenant with the Lord important enough to disregard the gains from membership?

Inspired by a tweet by Tyler Cowen.

1 comment:

  1. Imagine a fiber-optic light. Each dot of light represents a culture, and its fiber represents the path dependence that precedes the culture. If you take any particular cross section of fiber-optic lighting, some fibers will appear brighter and dimmer than others. But it's a mistake to think you can move the dim electrons laterally to the brighter light. Instead, the dim electrons have to back track down the fiber, to the base, and up the brighter light's fiber.

    It may well be true that "Mormon society" at time t can't be explained by variation in genetics, race, geography, etc. But it can be explained by variation in "Mormon society" at time t-1. Spatial cultural heterogeneity in time t is a by-product of serial persistent over a long time period. You may be able to enter an adopted child into the society, to be socialized and reared into the culture. But that socialization can't be mass produced. The cross sectional dependence is much weaker, and fades after a few remove from close kin.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?