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Federal Reserve Bank Says 'Belief in Hell' Boosts Economic Growth

"Federal Reserve Bank Says 'Belief in Hell' Boosts Economic Growth"

Alister Bull, Reuters News Service

WASHINGTON — Economists searching for reasons why some nations are
richer than others have found that those with a wide belief in hell
are less corrupt and more prosperous, according to a report by the
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.Researchers at the regional Federal Reserve bank acknowledged the
importance of productivity and investment in the economic process but
looked at some recent unconventional efforts to explain differences
in national prosperity.

The St Louis Fed drew on work by outside economists who studied 35
countries, including the United States, European nations, Japan,
India and Turkey and found that religion shed some useful light.

"In countries where where large percentages of the population believe
in hell, there seems to be less corruption and a higher standard of
living," the St. Louis Fed said in its July quarterly review.

For instance, 71 percent of the U.S. population believe in hell and
the country boasts the world's highest per capita income, according
to the 2003 United Nations Human Development Report and 1990-1993
World Values Survey.

Ireland, not far behind the United States in terms of income,
likewise has a healthy fear of a nether world with 53 percent of the
population acknowledging hell's existence.

"I'm not surprised," said the Rev. Eileen Lindner, deputy general
secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches, when told of the

"The expectation that there is a cultural belief in hell or perpetual
and eternal punishment for wrongdoing will act as a disincentive to
wrongdoing," she said.

The St Louis Fed's researchers took a two-step approach to linking
religion and the economy.

"A belief in hell tends to mean less corruption and less corruption
tends to mean a higher per capita income," they wrote. It correlated
the belief in hell findings of the World Value Series with a measure
of corruption produced by Transparency International.

It then looked at the relationship between corruption and per capita
gross domestic product and found "a strong tendency for countries
with relatively low levels of corruption to have relatively high
levels of per capita GDP."

"Combining these two stories ... suggests that, all else being equal,
the more religious a country, the less corruption it will have and
the higher its per capita income will be."

The researchers also noted the long tradition among classical
economists to equate a society's honesty, and the strength of the
rule of law, with economic vitality.

"Adam Smith wrote that one of religion's most important contributions
to the economic development process is its value as a moral
enforcement mechanism," they said.

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan offered a contemporary echo of this view,
arguing in a speech earlier this year that modern business still
relies on the word of those with whom it deals as he slammed the
recent run of corporate governance scandals in the United States for
eroding that trust.

None of which cut any ice with nonbelievers.

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists Inc., called the study
the latest gimmick from the religious establishment to drum up
government support.

"Religious people cannot rely on their theology to promote what they
do so they turn to other things," she said.

"I cannot imagine what the belief in mythological beings or things
that don't exist can do for business. What about the pornographic
industry? That is probably very good for growth."

The St Louis Fed's essay "Fear of Hell Might Fire Up The Economy" can
be found