The History of Honor

Something that becomes very clear very early in anybody’s study of economic development is the importance of a solid foundation in economic history. In fact there is a recent NBER working paper that advocates for a marriage of the two academic sub-disciplines.

In light of this, one of the things I think a lot about these days is how institutions (broadly speaking) influence how we make decisions and behave. Through reading the works of Douglas North (and commentators) and through my work grappling with the optimal role of the Church in encouraging and equipping business growth, in particular, and in propelling economic development, more broadly, I’ve begun to learn something seemingly important.

Check out this short video (seriously, it’s short):

Did you catch it?

Ok, yes, of course economic liberty is important. Bla bla bla. That’s not hard to intuit or imagine. Economic liberty by itself, however, doesn’t really provide the economic pop we all like. It needs to be coupled with social honor.

This idea is obvious and easy to forget, especially to people who live in social contexts where inventiveness, innovation, and business savvy are widely celebrated and encouraged. Everywhere is not like anywhere, however. In some places these traits are translated to their negative equivalents: selfish, individualistic, and shrewd. What creates these differences?


Government and political actors. Business and economic actors. Churches and religious actors. Culture and social actors. These things all work together to create a unique zeitgeist where inventiveness, innovation, and business savvy are either thought of with honor or dishonor.

My work in Kenya with churches seeks to understand what piece churches ought to play in the development puzzle. It is starting to seem that, if nothing else, churches should start by bringing social honor to the trades and occupations that push innovation and inventiveness. Perhaps this is one way churches can bring credence to the Lord’s Prayer.

HT: @RovingBandit for the video

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