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Why Culture Matters Most$
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David C. Rose

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199330720

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199330720.001.0001

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The Cultural Commons

The Cultural Commons

(p.23) 2 The Cultural Commons
Why Culture Matters Most

David C. Rose

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins with a review of a simple theory of cooperative behavior. Employing familiar arguments from Adam Smith, it explains why large-scale cooperation is the key to producing general prosperity. Large-scale cooperation invites forms of opportunism that our small-group trust genes are ill equipped to combat. Economic development therefore quickly stalls if another basis for large-group trust is not found. Certain kinds of moral beliefs can provide that basis (the precise nature of those beliefs is developed in the next chapter). The distinction between cultural beliefs and cultural practices is discussed and the role that storytelling plays in conveying moral beliefs is analyzed. Culturally transmitted moral beliefs that can sustain large-group trust are shown to constitute a commonly owned asset by members of society. Culture is therefore viewed as a kind of commons that, like commons generally, is subject to problems of abuse and neglect.

Keywords:   culture, cooperation, cultural commons, rationality, commons dilemma, economies of scale, opportunism, golden opportunities, storytelling

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