Linguistic assimilation and ethno-religious conflict

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Book Chapter

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The Theory of Externalities and Public Goods: Essays in Memory of Richard C. Cornes


I examine the consequences, of integrating large minorities into productivity-relevant majority ethno-linguistic conventions, for income distribution and ethnic conflict. I develop a two-community model where such assimilation generates social gains by: (a) facilitating economic interaction, and (b) dampening ethno-religious or racial conflict over symbolic and normative contents of the public sphere, measured by the proportion of total output allocated to such conflict. However, integration shifts the distribution of both material and symbolic goods against the minority. It also expands income inequality within the minority community. Total resource wastage due to conflict may go up in absolute terms. My analysis explains why attempts to integrate large minorities into majority ethno-linguistic conventions may meet with strong resistance, even if there are potential gains from such integration. Results suggest that minorities may be more open to assimilation in productivity-relevant majority cultural (especially linguistic) conventions when assimilatory policies are bundled with measures to secularize or de-racialize the public sphere, in the sense of closing a larger part of it to ethno-religious or racial contestation. Many of the ideas explored in this paper have their roots in conversations with the late Richard Cornes, but no acknowledgement is adequate for my intellectual debt to him, accumulated over many years. I have also benefited immensely from detailed comments by an anonymous referee on a previous draft.

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