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Highway to Hitler

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  • Nico Voigtlaender
  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Abstract

Democracy is not an absorbing state; transitions to autocratic rule have been frequent throughout history and often followed periods of instability under democratic rule. In this paper, we ask whether autocrats can win support among voters by showcasing their ability to restore order and to “get things done.” We analyze a famous case – the building of the highway network in Nazi Germany. Highway construction began shortly after Hitler became Chancellor, and was one of the regime’s signature projects. Using newly collected data, we show that highway construction was highly effective in boosting popular support, helping to entrench the Nazi dictatorship. These effects are unlikely to reflect direct economic benefits. Instead, highway construction signaled economic “competence” and an 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 particularly strongly 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 win “hearts” for autocracy when “minds” 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 Note: PE POL
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Cinnirella, Francesco & Schueler, Ruth M., 2016. "Nation Building: The Role of Central Spending in Education," CEPR Discussion Papers 11621, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. 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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