The U.S. Folklore, Proverbs, and Economic Behavior

By Abou-Zaid, Ahmed S. | Economics & Sociology, July 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The U.S. Folklore, Proverbs, and Economic Behavior


Abou-Zaid, Ahmed S., Economics & Sociology


ABSTRACT. Social scientists strongly believe that the cultural values and norms motivate, guide, and influence the behavior of each and every society. However, studying the relationship between culture and behavior, notably economic behavior, is not very popular in the literature, mainly because of the vague and broad definition of the culture. Thereby this paper provides a narrow definition of the culture as "the set of beliefs and values that are often revealed in folklore of the country, where proverbs are the most concise form of the verbal folklore genres." Using this definition, the paper attempts to relate several types of economic behaviors such as intertemporal choice of consumption, investment, risk taking, work and education, to a set of popular sayings, idioms and proverbs that are circulated in the American society. The paper finds that the observed economic behavior in the U.S. is influenced to an extent by the American proverbs and sayings.

Keywords: Culture, Proverbs, Popular sayings, Economic behavior.

Introduction

There is a consensus among social scientists that the cultural norms and values operating in a given community or society influence the behavior of the members of this community or society. What is considered rude and totally unacceptable in certain cultures might be considered acceptable and desired behavior in others. In recent years, advanced techniques and the availability of data have made it possible to identify systematic differences in people's preferences and beliefs and to relate them to various measures of cultural legacy. Guiso et al. (2006) point out that the economic researchers have been reluctant in relating cultural norms to economic behavior, since the notion "culture" is very broad and the channels through which it might influence the economic discourse are still so vague.

Establishing a relationship between culture and economic behavior, thus, needs a specific and narrow definition of culture. Meriam Webster states that culture is "the integrated pattern of human knowledge, beliefs, and values that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations." This definition points out that people's behavior is primarily influenced by a set of beliefs and values that are often revealed in the folklore of each and every culture. Mieder (2008), the widely recognized world's leading paremiologist, argues that proverbs are the most concise form of verbal folklore genres. They are the product of several cultural observations and experiences that proved to be wise and sound, and their main aim is to reveal a message passed along from one generation to another. He defines proverbs as "a concise statement of an apparent truth which has currency among the people". Whiting (1994) has quoted Apstolius in defining the proverbial saying as "a statement which conceals the clear in the unclear, or which through concrete images indicates intellectual concepts, or which makes clear the truth in furtive fashion". And further in this fashion, a proverb is "a trite phrase constantly used in popular speech or a saying that has become thoroughly habitual in our daily customs and life". In short, proverbs are popular sayings which contain advice or state a generally accepted truth. They deal with issues that border on the values, norms, institutions, and artifacts of the society across the whole gamut of people's experience. They are used to support arguments, to provide lessons and instruction, and to stress shared values (Mieder, 2008).

Lau et al. (2004) argue that since proverbs are said to be both linguistic items (possessing concrete elements of verbal and logical structure) and behavioral (possessing motives, strategies, and outcomes), it is then imperative to discuss not only what they are in linguistic and structural senses but also how proverbs can influence or reflect the social behavior of the society. Paredes (1997) has implicitly supports Lau's et al. …

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