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The Geography of Linguistic Diversity and the Provision of Public Goods

Klaus Desmet, Joseph Gomes, Ignacio Ortuño-Ortín

NBER Working Paper No. 24694
Issued in June 2018
NBER Program(s):Public Economics, Political Economy

This paper analyzes the importance of local interaction between individuals of different linguistic groups for the provision of public goods at the national level. The micro-founded conceptual framework we develop predicts that a country's public goods (i) decrease in its overall linguistic fractionalization, and (ii) either increase or decrease in its local learning multiplier, a measure of how local interaction affects antagonism towards other groups in the society at large. After constructing a 5 km by 5 km dataset on language use for 223 countries, we empirically explore these theoretical predictions. While overall fractionalization worsens public goods outcomes, we find a positive causal effect of local learning. Conditional on a country's overall diversity, public goods outcomes are maximized when there are a few large-sized groups and the diversity of each location mirrors that of the country as a whole. Our large-scale study, spanning the entire globe, confirms experimental micro-evidence in favor of contact theory.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24694

Published: Klaus Desmet & Joseph Flavian Gomes & Ignacio Ortuño-Ortín, 2019. "The geography of linguistic diversity and the provision of public goods," Journal of Development Economics, . citation courtesy of

 
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