During the medieval and early modern periods the Middle East lost its economic advantage relative to the West. Recent explanations of this historical phenomenon— called the Long Divergence—focus on these regions’ distinct political economy choices regarding religious legitimacy and limited governance. We study these features in a political economy model of the interactions between rulers, secular and clerical elites, and civil society. The model induces a joint evolution of culture and political institutions (delegation of power from rulers to elites) converging to one of two distinct stationary states: a religious and a secular regime. We then map qualitatively parameters and initial conditions characterizing the West and the Middle East (separation between state and religion, initial political power of clerical elites, and predominance of religious values in the population) into the implied model dynamics to show that they are consistent with the Long Divergence as well as with several key stylized political and economic facts highlighted in the historical narrative. Most notably, this mapping suggests non-monotonic political economy strategies in both regions, in terms of legitimacy and limited governance, which indeed characterize their history.
Bisin, A., Rubin, J., Seror, A., & Verdier, T. (2021). Culture, institutions & the Long Divergence. ESI Working Paper 21-04. https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/esi_working_papers/340/