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Letters...Why don’t you return to the status quo ante?

Cultural encounters

Trust Pays Off” (“Investigations,” December/04), about Professor Zingales, et al., triggered my recognition of overlap with a scholarly interest of mine. That is, how culture—with trust central—is entangled with other major determinants that influence the prospects for social and economic development in poorer, third-world nations.

I am now teaching two courses—Globalization and Cultural Encounters, and Terrorism: Roots, Responses, and Ramifications—at Kent State University, drawing heavily on my 30-odd years of development project work in Turkey, Belize, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia. Reflection and further study have led me to focus on the often fleetingly acknowledged, but little understood, role of cultural values, attitudes and beliefs in third-world development. To grossly oversimplify, I find these—including trust—embedded with just about every other major variable—the usual suspects—in contemporary analysis and prescription for economic progress.

Many of the observations in the Zingales piece overlap with my own, but apply on a somewhat different scale and context—specifically, in my case, the extent and range of trust within a third-world society, without a sufficient breadth of which essential national institutions cannot exist. A practical corollary of this view argues that foreign aid of any sort, for effective change, must be based on a deep understanding of and relatedness to the poor recipient’s cultural roots, especially the radius of trust. Failure to so approach aid efforts in the past by most donors is almost certainly a major reason for many unexpected, often disappointing, results of even good intentions (not to be taken for granted).

If any readers share similar interests, I would enjoy hearing from them.

Alvin G. Edgell, AB’48, AM’51
Kent, Ohio

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