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Book Translations As Idea Flows: The Effects of the Collapse of Communism on the Diffusion of Knowledge

Aug 2010
Working Paper
09-032
By  Ran Abramitzky, Isabelle Sin
We use book translations as a new measure of international idea flows and study the effects of Communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe on these flows. Using novel data on 800,000 translations, we show that while translations between Communist languages decreased by two thirds with the collapse, Western-to-Communist translations increased by a factor of seven and reached Western levels. Convergence was full in economically-beneficial fields such as sciences and only partial in culturally-beneficial fields such as history. The effects were larger for more Western-oriented countries. These findings help us understand how institutions shape the international diffusion of knowledge.