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, Revised in October 2017
NBER Program(s):Public Economics, Political Economy

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.

download in pdf format
   (734 K)

email paper

Supplementary materials for this paper:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20150

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Satyanath, Voigtländer, and Voth w19201 Bowling for Fascism: Social Capital and the Rise of the Nazi Party
Banerjee, Meng, Porzio, and Qian w20050 Aggregate Fertility and Household Savings: A General Equilibrium Analysis using Micro Data
Lin and Liu w20166 Does in utero Exposure to Illness Matter? The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Taiwan as a Natural Experiment
Cantoni, Chen, Yang, Yuchtman, and Zhang w20112 Curriculum and Ideology
Mocan and Raschke w20059 Economic Well-being and Anti-Semitic, Xenophobic, and Racist Attitudes in Germany
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us