The Hitler government built the world’s first nationwide motorway network. We examine the impact of road-building on the popularity of the Nazi regime. Using shifts in electoral support between 1933 and 1934, we conclude that ‘pork barrel’ spending worked in reducing opposition to the regime – wherever the new roads ran, fewer Germans voted against the government in elections and plebiscites. At least part of the regime’s popularity after 1934 can be explained by the popularity of the Autobahn.Previously from Hans-Joachim Voth:
‘At least he built the Autobahn’. Many Germans remember this phrase from conversations with parents and grandparents pointing to how the Nazi regime could receive such widespread support. The regime’s overwhelming popularity at home was essential for its policies, from the aggressive pursuit of war abroad to genocide. The building of Germany’s motorway network has survived in popular memory as a palpable, unambiguously benign accomplishment of the National Socialist government; in retrospect, it serves as a ready explanation for the regime’s genuine popularity from 1933 onwards.Can infrastructure spending really win ‘hearts and minds’? Are the ready explanations of elderly Germans merely an excuse – or do they capture an important reason for the Nazi regime’s early political success? Empirical studies typically find only weak support for the notion that infrastructure projects increase support for a government – spending is often targeted where it is most needed: in districts where electoral defeat threatens. Examples of papers that find some effect of pork-barrel spending include Levitt and Snyder (1997) and Manacorda et al. (2011). Berman et al. 2011 show that during the US occupation of Iraq, areas with large infrastructure spending saw reductions in violence. On the whole, however, economists and political scientists are skeptical whether pork barrel spending works in practice (Stein and Bickers 1994, Feldman and Jondrow 1984).Examining road-building in Nazi Germany is useful because the effectiveness of pork barrel spending under a dictatorship has not been examined systematically (Voigtländer and Voth 2014). Also, the regime’s rise in popularity is not well-explained. Even in March 1933, with the Hitler government already in office, ‘only’ 44% of Germans voted for the Nazi party. Nonetheless, within a few years, all the reports by opposition groups and by the regime’s own security service indicate very high approval rates (Evans 2006). How did the Nazi regime grow in popularity so quickly?
Building the Autobahn
Road-building received highest priority under the Hitler government. Within a few weeks of taking office, the regime introduced subsidies for car ownership and outlined an ambitious programme for the German motor industry. Within six months, a new company charged with building the world’s first nationwide highway system was set up; within nine months, the first stretches of motorway were under construction (Vahrenkamp 2010).Despite claims to the contrary, military considerations never played much of a role. The Autobahn plans were partly based on plans drawn up by a think tank and a private company that had mapped out road trajectories in the 1920s (the Stufa and the Hafraba projects). The new roads used much of the earlier planning, but deviated in some parts....MORE
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