Paper Talk: Fear is a Cool Variable

I’m keeping with the theme of popping random search words into NBER and seeing what comes up. Today’s word? Fear.

The Geography of Fear

This paper is interesting in that it establishes a variable that you don’t normally see in economics research. Just like happiness, fear is a variable that you wouldn’t normally consider to be quantifiable, but there ARE scales for those sorts of things. This paper maps out the prevalence of fear in Western European countries using various surveys and measures of fear. The paper posits that fear is highly correlated to levels of pessimism (though I can see this running both ways) and that countries that are more fearful than others are also generally much more religious, believing in Hell a higher percentage of the time.

The paper is explanatory in nature, but I’m curious as to how researchers could use things like fear as a cool explanatory variable, or perhaps an instrument. I’m curious about fear and consumption-smoothing behavior, risk aversion (and whether this could become a quantifiable characteristic), and how these translates to responses to economic and social shocks. I guess I’d like to know more about how the personality of a country affects its ability to deal with shocks (especially symmetric shocks that affect several countries or entire parts of the world.) Could be an interesting avenue to explore.

Plus, it just sounds cool when you say it – ‘I controlled for age, educational attainment, gender, ethnicity, and general fear level.’ Boom!


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