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Meet David Brat

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Among the many things 36,110 people found charming about Cantor-slayer David Brat, one of the most prominent was certainly his plucky stand-uppity-ness to the elite, be they the U.S. House Majority Leader elite or the “intellectual elite at Princeton” that his campaign bio so proudly notes he stood in opposition to.

As Gail Collins points out, this could be a slippery little bit of bait-and-switch: Brat didn’t go to the Princeton you’re thinking of, but to the adjacent Princeton Theological Seminary, which is indeed an elite seminary, but that’s probably not the elite that Brat was expecting the voters of Virginia’s seventh to rail against. On the other hand, Brat did stand up to one very eminent Princetonian, indeed, for failing to see what seems so very obvious when one attends an elite Presbyterian seminary.

In a 2005 paper, which he presented at an economics conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., he took on Mr. Bernanke, the former Fed chairman, Fed governor, and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates….

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

Not, perhaps, terribly relevant to the running of a central bank, you might think, and perhaps maybe even a little offensive to its Jewish then-chairman. But you’ll have to forgive Dr. Brat (he did eventually earn a Ph.D., just not at Princeton): He’s built an academic career on such arguments.

Mr. Brat, who just notched a stunning upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary race in Virginia, wrote his doctoral thesis on “Human Capital, Religion and Economic Growth.” The Wall Street Journal obtained a copy of the thesis from the American University library.

In the three-part thesis, Mr. Brat analyzed the determinants of economic growth, with a focus on the 19th century where some countries became vastly wealthy and others languished….

Mr. Brat concluded that Protestantism expanded education, broadened patterns of thought and improved governments in ways that led to a swifter advancement of science. The dissertation primarily compares Catholic France with Protestant Britain and Germany.

David Brat to Bernanke: Don’t Underestimate the Value of Protestants [WSJ Real Time Economics blog]
David Brat’s PhD Theses: “Human Capital, Religion & Economic Growth” [WSJ Real Time Economics blog]
Putting a Cap on Cantor [NYT]


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