Right vs Left: Were European fascists left wing?

The simple answer is that they were not, and pseudoerasmus has a couple of great posts explaining why.

The Nazis belonged to the National *Socialist* German Workers Party in name only. In general, fascism in both Italy and Germany was marked by fairly pro-business policies. They were also fairly conservative in orientation – getting the bulk of their support from the middle classes up, and establishment institutions such as the church and wealthy capitalists (industrialists and landowners).

Pseudoramus also presents a nice summary of a time-consistent definition of right vs left in political economy:

…… historically, ‘pro-business’ or ‘pro-property’ fits the definition of the right in politics much better than ‘laissez-faire’. Businesses everywhere and always want pro-business policies — not laissez-faire, unless that happens to be consistent with pro-business at that point in history.

For example, when tariffs were considered beneficial for business, the pro-business party in the USA supported them during the 19th century, and the more populist party wanted to reduce or eliminate them. It was the same in the UK: the liberals advocated free trade while the conservatives wanted protection. In 1901-2, the Tories sought to abandon free trade, but the liberals waged a successful populist campaign to keep it.

The common thread to the right in history is not laissez-faire, but the tendency to support business or property. The common thread to the left is to redistribute income and property.

You might also be interested in reading this fascinating story in FT on Spain’s struggle with the legacy of Franco, it’s long time dictator.

Persistence of Culture (and Institutions)

“How persistent are cultural traits? Using data on anti-Semitism in Germany, we find local continuity over 600 years. Jews were often blamed when the Black Death killed at least a third of Europe’s population during 1348–50. We use plague-era pogroms as an indicator for medieval anti-Semitism. They reliably predict violence against Jews in the 1920s, votes for the Nazi Party, deportations after 1933, attacks on synagogues, and letters to Der Sturmer. We also identify areas where persistence was lower: cities withhigh levels of trade or immigration. Finally, we show that our results are not driven by political extremism or by different attitudes toward violence.”

That is Voigtlander and Voth writing in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Their paper speaks to my previous post on the challenges of institutional engineering given the stickiness of institutions (and by extension the cultures that create and then reinforce them). Of course culture is a dicey subject that is often misused to explain economic and social outcomes. Instead of using the amorphous term “culture” I prefer to hear more about the reward systems that make it beneficial for individuals and communities to engage in certain cultural practices.

On a more positive note, the paper provides some evidence of the power of economic opportunities to dis-incentivize engagement in hateful cultural practices:

“Instead of reinforcing persistence, we argue that economic factors had the potential to undermine it…… Our results also lend qualified support to Montesquieu’s famous dictum that trade encourages ‘‘civility.’’

14th of February Edition

Click to enlarge.

Source: http://benkling.tumblr.com/

H/T Paul G.