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Evil values are also long-lasting

Academic development economists have become newly interested in cultural values, and one of their most common findings is that cultural differences between regions and towns last a very a long time. I confess I’m a fan of this research.

But even I was surprised when a paper at NYU’s Development Seminar yesterday showed that if your (regional) ancestors persecuted Jews in 1348-50, you were more likely to become a Nazi in the 1920s and 1930s.

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  1. rjs wrote:

    human nature wont change…

    unless we’re genetically engineered by then, we can expect repeats of genocide hundreds of years into the future..

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  2. Pierre-Louis wrote:

    how do we know it is not that jewish communities didn’t migrate, and hence caused both pogroms and nazis?

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  3. Chike wrote:

    It’s also taboo to say that religion matters too. The Pew Forum survey on religion in Nigeria estimates that about 20% of muslim women of child bearing age are literate opposed to more than 70% of christian women.

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink
  4. joe wrote:

    So let me get this straight – some wisecracking academic has taken two historical events, 500 years apart and concluded that one is connected to the other.


    So by the same logic, the pogroms of York, England in 1190 would still have anti-Semitic resonance today.

    Or the several centuries of state sponsored burning of heretics-at-the-stake would have led to present day religious intolerance today.

    Or the practice of centuries of poor prison housing and deportation would have led to a present lack of care for the rights of the individual.

    Or maybe these events are not linked in any way.

    I mean, really.

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  5. Stephen wrote:

    The thing that gets me here is that there are some European countries that experienced pogroms during black death and yet never voted for Nazi’s.Indeed, they went to war to get rid of them but, and research shows that the perpetrators back then, say the peasants of England, have remained in the same “station” in life to this day:”And… according to a Times article, if you have a surname descended from Norman ancestors like Darcy and Mandeville, you are still wealthier than the general population 1,000 years after their ancestors conquered Britain. If you have artisanal names like Cooper or Smith, you are still less wealthy than your Norman surnamed counterparts.” Go figure!

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  6. William Easterly wrote:

    Commentators force me to admit that linking to this paper is insufficient to either (a) have a General and Comprehensive Explanation of Anti-Semitism, or
    (b) have a General and Comprehensive Explanation of History.

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  7. joe wrote:

    True, Bill, but linking to it suggests you find it interesting rather than, say, entirely fallacious and nonsense research.

    Someone needs sit them down and explain logic to them – specifically cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

    Posted April 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  8. kabcity wrote:

    Thank you Joe.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  9. David Barry wrote:

    To put what others are saying in a different way: what would the regressions say if you included data from towns across Europe, rather than biasing the sample by only looking at towns in the country that elected the Nazis?

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 1:19 am | Permalink
  10. Troy Camplin wrote:

    The commentators here are making the mistake, I think, of thinking that there is a hard causal relationship being argued, when there is merely tendency. It may be that some people have a genetic propensity for xenophobia, and that gets expressed under the right conditions. Or there may be a cultural residue in certain towns that are more isolated than others, and thus maintain that residue. The latter may combine with the former. One would have to look at whether there were changing demographics, if towns became more cosmopolitan nor not, etc. Such research is interesting because one can begin to parse out these things.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 1:56 am | Permalink
  11. joe wrote:

    No, sorry Troy, the authors are deliberately presenting information to suggest that two events 500 years apart are correlated and the further that they can be considered causal.

    This is nonsense.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  12. Brian wrote:

    I agree with Joe 100%, this is pure rubbish. Frankly, economists are notorious for this sort of foolishness.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  13. betsybounds wrote:

    I think in this case post hoc, ergo propter hoc is the more appropriate fallacy to cite.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink
  14. Troy Camplin wrote:

    My point is that there may be conditions in which two events 500 years apart are correlated and can be considered causal. Not in any simple, reductionist fashion, but thorugh a set of complex feedbacks. No doubt more work needs to be done along these lines to find out if the correlation is in fact causation, and what those various causes are, but it is not impossible that the connection is real.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink
  15. joe wrote:

    Troy, just think for a second what this would mean if it was true. Many countries in Europe experienced anti-Semitism 500 years or more ago. Not all of them experienced Naziism. So if it is true, we’re saying that there is something about Germans which meant that racism is ingrained to the extent that it continues even over 500 years.

    I don’t believe there is any truth in the idea that anyone of any nationality have a prevalence to racism. So in that sense this report is plain dangerous.

    But more to the point, any two facts can be written up in such a way as to suggest that they’re linked. There could be many simple explanations: for example the main towns that existed 500 years ago were where the Jewish minority lived and those are the main conurbations in the early 20 century. Or that there were reasons for them to live in those places – such as very old Jewish cemeteries or whatever.

    Just saying ‘this then that’ is rubbish. Not evidence of anything other than very poor scholarship.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  16. William Easterly wrote:

    Critical comment is always useful.

    It helps to interpret the comment to know whether the commentator has read the paper — could all of you please disclose this?

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  17. joe wrote:

    Yes, I’ve read it several times now.

    Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  18. Troy Camplin wrote:

    I read it. The argument is basically the spontaneous order culture of a town or region has a certain level of stability over long periods of time. Heidegger romanticized this as the Germans’ “rootedness”. I was arguing that subtle genetic variations across populations can also be emphasized by such spotaneous social orders. We know that a person’s political views are strongly influenced by genes, and we know that xenophobia is an inherited part of human nature (as is xenophilia — which gets emphasized is influenced by local culture).

    Posted April 22, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  19. Cameron Colbert wrote:

    Why would the author of the paper use two events that are so far apart for comparison? The fact that these events are over 500 years apart reduces the credibility of the argument. I have not read the whole paper and so I am not sure exactly how strong of a connection was found between the people of both time periods, but I can not imagine that it is strong enough to prove a causal correlation between the two, especially with such a long time gap. However, this does not change the fact that human nature does not change, and so there may actually be some correlation worth taking note of.

    Posted April 22, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  20. Gabrielle Green wrote:

    All of these comments are very interesting. It sounds to me that this could have happened on the basis of genetics in some people and others it may be that they were raised to have hatred towards a certain group of people in which they maybe heard stories about them and what there ancestors had done. But on the other hand I don’t believe that there is any connection between the two especially 500 years later.

    Posted April 22, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  21. Jim H wrote:

    Actually, one of the best predictor of whether or not an area will experience armed conflict is previous history of armed conflict–a similar principle could apply here. The authors are just presenting a correlation that they say might be causal as well, no need to castigate them just because the time events are so far apart. What is really not proven is this “human nature” theory–where exactly did anyone find a gene or a genetic predisposition for specific xenophobia?

    Posted April 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  22. JV wrote:

    folks, I am one of the authors of this paper. I appreciate some of the thoughtful comments. I also realize that we need to explain more carefully what we have in mind. Both the Black Death and the rise of anti-Semitism after 1918 lowered the threshold for violence/attacks on Jews in Germany; where these occurred was partly determined by what had happened in the same location 600 years earlier. In that sense, we have no problem with the fact that there were no Nazis elected in Basle — we just argue that if circumstances allow the expression of similar sentiment, then we find a high degree of similarity even over a relatively long period.

    Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  23. joe wrote:

    @JV “Both the Black Death and the rise of anti-Semitism after 1918 lowered the threshold for violence/attacks on Jews in Germany; where these occurred was partly determined by what had happened in the same location 600 years earlier.”

    Nope, you can’t even say that. The best you could say is that there is some geographical overlap between events which happened in the 20 century and those which occurred centuries earlier. Which is kinda convenient use of data – if you’d looked at a load of other data they’d be no overlap whatsoever.

    You are projecting – there is no ‘partial determination’. It is on the level of saying that ‘this’ bunch of Walmarts were built on ancient religious sites, therefore they must have experienced similar selection criteria. For one thing, it ignores the majority of religious sites which are not now occupied by Walmarts and for another ignores the facts that the criteria used by residents in the different time periods are entirely different.

    Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  24. JV wrote:

    Joe – I am not sure what your problem is, exactly. Look at table 3 in the paper. You get a pogrom in the 1920s in 1 out of 79 towns that didn’t have one in the 14th century; and in those that did burn their Jews, you get one in 18 out of 214. That’s 1.3 vs 8.4% – a factor of six. Of course, it can’t be do to with where the Jews are in the 1920s — we know that, and control for it. We try a whole bunch of other indicators… and they all look very similar. That’s is what the evidence shows, like it or not. We make no claims about genetics etc.

    Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  25. NV wrote:

    I’m the other author of the paper. Some of the previous comments suggest that we should clarify what we do in terms of statistics. In a nutshell: We look at two periods during which the threshold for anti-Semitic violence was lowered: (1) following the Black Death in 1348-50, where the Jews were blamed for the outbreak, and (2) Germany after WWI, where Jews were the scapegoats for the lost war, and anti-Semitism intensified with the rise of the Nazi regime. There are about 300 German cities with Jews in both medieval times and post-WWI. Two thirds of the cities in period (1) persecuted and burned their Jews, while Jewish communities in the remainder were spared those horrors. Suppose that those early attacks occurred randomly at the different locations (e.g., in each town you roll a dice in 1349. If it shows numbers between one and four, you have a pogrom, for five and six you spare the Jews). In this case, there would be no informational content in pogroms for underlying anti-Semitism (actually, this would be similar to Joe’s previous point about Walmart locations – so, unwillingly, he made a point in favor of our argument). If this was true, we would expect no correlation whatsoever with indicators of anti-Semitism in period (2). Statistically speaking, this is the null hypothesis. However, we reject the null hypothesis for all five indicators (pogroms in the 1920s, Nazi votes, deportations, anti-Jewish letters, and attacks on synagogues). In plain words, we find strong statistical evidence for the fact that anti-Semitic violence in periods (1) and (2) tends to break out in the same towns. For the record: (i) We do not say that pogroms in (1) cause violence in (2). Rather, we show that they are correlated at the local level. (ii) By no means do our results indicate that Germans are more anti-Semitic than other people – our analysis exploits variation within Germany but not across countries. The correct way of putting the result is that Germans in some towns appear to have been more anti-Semitic than in other towns, and that this pattern persisted over a very long horizon.
    If you grew up in the US with its high level of mobility, this finding is hard to believe. But once you consider that the median town in our sample is small, with only a few thousand inhabitants, little migration, and marriages occurring largely within the same location, long-run persistence becomes a reasonable interpretation of our findings.

    Posted April 28, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

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