May 28, 2011

Learning from experience

I think development economist in the developed world are asking the wrong questions about the developing world. Economists have been asking themselves: why some countries are poor and others are rich? Why some countries developed the "right" institutions and others do not?

Well, I just came came up with a different, and probably more relevant question: why some countries, societies, or communities, learn (or learn faster) from their mistakes and others do not? The capacity of learning from experience might be indeed at the core of the socio-economic development conundrum. 

I just came back from a short trip from the second largest city in Guatemala, called Xela, to the capital, and saw four car accidents, one of them right behind my car. It was very fogy, the road was wet, and the visibility was very low. Even with these conditions some drivers were going very fast. As a society we know that under these conditions car accidents are very likely to occur, and probably some drivers have had accidents themselves in the past, but we continue driving recklessly. Why? Probably we have a difficult time learning from experience. 

Learning from experience is something that help societies avoid car accidents but also making many other mistakes that can become obstacles to economic development. 

The question of why some societies learn (or learn faster) from their mistakes deserves farther exploration. Another one comes to mind: Is collective learning different from individual learning? 

Now when I see a car accident in Guatemala, or witness a tragedy, I say to myself, I hope somebody learns something from that . . . 

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