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Highway to Hitler

Author

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  • Nico Voigtlaender
  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Abstract

Can autocracies win electoral support by showcasing economic competence? We analyze a famous case – the building of the Autobahn network in Nazi Germany. Using newly collected data, we show that highway construction was effective in boosting popular support, helping to entrench the Nazi dictatorship. Direct economic benefits such as declining unemployment near construction sites are unlikely to explain the increase in pro-Nazi votes. In addition, Nazi propaganda used the Autobahn as a powerful symbol of successful economic policy, putting an effective end to austerity – so that many Germans credited the Nazi regime for the economic recovery. In line with this interpretation, we show that support for the Nazis increased even more where highway construction coincided with greater radio availability – a major source of propaganda. The effect of highways was also significantly stronger in politically unstable states of the Weimar Republic. Our results suggest that infrastructure spending can raise support for autocracy when voters are led to associate it with visible economic progress and an end to political instability.

Suggested Citation

  • Nico Voigtlaender & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2014. "Highway to Hitler," NBER Working Papers 20150, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20150
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Cinnirella, Francesco & Schueler, Ruth, 2018. "Nation building: The role of central spending in education," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 18-39.
    2. Cinnirella, Francesco & Schueler, Ruth, 2018. "Nation building: The role of central spending in education," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 18-39.
    3. Gregori Galofré-Vilà & Christopher M. Meissner & Martin McKee & David Stuckler, 2017. "Austerity and the rise of the Nazi party," NBER Working Papers 24106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H54 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Infrastructures
    • N44 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: 1913-
    • N94 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: 1913-
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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