How do reductions in interaction costs shape the diffusion of social movements? In this paper, I use a natural experiment from Swedish history to answer this question. During the thirty-year period 1881-1910, 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 well-connected municipalities were more likely to host a local movement and subsequently saw more rapid membership growth and a greater number of distinct organisations. The mobility of individuals is key: results are driven by passenger arrivals into connected municipalities, not freight arrivals. I implement a market access framework to show that, by reducing least-cost distances between municipalities, railways intensified the influence exerted by neighbouring concentrations of membership, thereby enabling social movement spread.
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, Insularity and Right-Wing Ideology [link]
What determines the efficacy of identity-based propaganda, and how long-lasting are its effects? To shed light on these questions, I study the impact of the Swedish State Institute for Race Biology’s popularisation of race biology on right-wing ideology in the short and long run. In a popular book edition of its systematic classification of the Swedish population according to “Nordic purity”, the Institute identified particularly “pure” areas of the country. Implementing a differences-in-differences strategy, I document the effect of the publication on right-wing ideology: following the publication, election districts of above-median “Swedishness” exhibit a 3.4 percentage point relative increase in the vote share of right-wing parties. This effect is concentrated in areas with little immigration, suggesting that insular communities may be particularly susceptible to this type of racial rhetoric. Using data on library funding as a proxy for the accessibility of the book, I show that districts with good access drive the results. Media is critical in propagating the effect: the “Swedishness” effect is present only in regions with high levels of exposure to race-biological news media. I corroborate my findings with data on the complete incoming correspondence of the Institute, showing that above-median “Swedish” regions become more directly involved with the Institute after the publication of the book. Finally, the rightward turn appears to persist over time: present-day municipalities in formerly above-median “Swedish” regions exhibit a higher relative vote share for the Sweden Democrats, a populist party with roots in the extreme right.
Austerity and Crime: Evidence from the New Poor Law
with Martina Miotto
Book Review: Race and the Undeserving Poor by Robbie Shilliam, Economic History Review, 72(2), 2019 [link]