Welfare Cuts and Crime: Evidence from the New Poor Law [link]
with Martina Miotto
revise and resubmit at The Economic Journal
Media coverage: CAGE Warwick, The Long Run
[CAGE Working Paper No. 548, link]
The New Poor Law reform of 1834 induced dramatic and heterogeneous reductions in welfare spending across English and Welsh counties. Using the reform in a difference-in-differences instrumental variables strategy, we document a robust negative relationship between the generosity of welfare provision and criminal activity. Results are driven by non-violent property crimes and are stronger during months of seasonal agricultural unemployment, indicating that a combination of welfare cuts and precarious work opportunities lowered the opportunity cost of crime for economically vulnerable individuals. We use data on county police forces and individual-level criminal records to rule out alternative mechanisms related to changes in policing and sentencing.
Between 1881 and 1910, Swedish society underwent two transformative developments: the large-scale roll-out of a national railway network and the nascence of grassroots social movements which came to dominate economic, social and political spheres well into the twentieth century. Using exogenous variation in railway access arising from initial plans for the network, I show that as localities became better-connected, they were more likely to host a local movement and saw more rapid membership growth and a greater number of distinct organisations. The mobility of individuals is a key mechanism: results are driven by passenger arrivals into connected localities, not freight arrivals. I implement a market access framework to show that, by reducing least-cost distances between localities, railways intensified the influence exerted by neighbouring concentrations of membership, thereby enabling social movement spread. Subsequently — in Sweden’s first election with universal male suffrage in 1911 — localities with greater social movement mobilisation exhibited higher turnout and Social Democrat vote shares.
We provide causal evidence for the role of conflicts in the development of representative institutions in Europe. Using novel data on the universe of German cities between 1250 and 1710, we show that involvement in wars resulted in city councils that were larger, had a higher probability of being elected by citizens, and a higher probability of guild representation. Additionally, conflicts led to a substantial long-term increase in local fiscal and spending capacity. This effect persisted well after the end of the conflicts: temporary war taxes were transformed into permanent sophisticated systems of taxation, while public spending was re-directed from military to civilian spending. We use the gender of the firstborn child of the best-connected local noble to instrument for conflict: a firstborn daughter increases the likelihood of conflict relative to a firstborn son.
Creating ‘Us and Them’: Racial Propaganda and Right-Wing Voting in Interwar Sweden [link]
I explore the political impact of the State Institute for Race Biology in interwar Sweden. Results of an anthropometric classification of the Swedish population according to pseudo-scientific notions of “Nordic purity” were disseminated in a propagandistic text. I find that, following the publication, districts deemed particularly “pure” exhibited relatively higher vote shares for right-wing parties catering to race-biological ideas. Insularity (low levels of immigration) and information (good access to libraries and newspaper media) are important moderators of this effect. Race-biological ideas appear to have been absorbed locally via direct correspondence with the Institute. My findings indicate that propaganda campaigns can shape political preferences, particularly when such campaigns make salient and speak directly to identity.
Brexit and the Blitz: Conflict, Collective Memory and Euroscepticism
Book Review: Race and the Undeserving Poor by Robbie Shilliam, Economic History Review, 72(2), 2019 [link]