NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Highway to Hitler

Nico Voigtlaender, Hans-Joachim Voth

NBER Working Paper No. 20150
Issued in May 2014
NBER Program(s):   PE   POL

When does infrastructure investment win “hearts and minds”? We analyze a famous case – the building of the highway network in Nazi Germany. Highway construction began shortly after Hitler’s takeover of the government, and was one of the regime’s most important projects. Using newly collected data, we show that highway construction was highly effective, boosting popular support and 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. Our results suggest that infrastructure spending can win local “hearts” when “minds” are led to associate it with visible economic progress in the aggregate.

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This paper was revised on April 12, 2016

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20150

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