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 social movements which came to dominate social and political spheres well into the twentieth century. Using event-study and instrumental variables methodologies, I document the causal impact of proximity to the newly constructed railway network on the spread and growth of membership in these social movements. Well-connected municipalities were more likely to host a local movement organisation and saw more rapid growth of membership per capita. The movement of individuals is key: results are driven by passenger arrivals into connected municipalities, not freight arrivals. I implement a market access framework to uncover the mechanisms underlying this result: by reducing least-cost distances between municipalities, railways intensified the influence exerted by neighbouring concentrations of membership, thereby enabling social contagion. I explore the interrelationships between movement types, and show that railway access reduced levels of strategic substitutability between different groups.
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.
Wars, Taxation and Representation: Evidence from Six Centuries of German History
[CAGE Working Paper No. 395, link]
with Sascha O. Becker, Andreas Ferrara and Luigi Pascali
This paper provides causal evidence for the effect of conflicts on the development of representative institutions in Europe. We use novel data on the universe of German cities between 1200 and 1750 to show that cities that experienced higher exposure to conflict subsequently had increased political participation through more electoral power for citizens and larger city councils. In response, citizens provided rulers with their consent to raise taxes. Hence affected cities developed more sophisticated tax systems but also increased spending on public goods. Exogenous variation in conflict intensities comes from changes in German nobles’ positions within the European nobility network which we use to instrument for conflict.
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]