Institution At Heart Of Capitalist System Links Severe Pandemic Affects To Growth In Extremism

Studying the rise of Nazism in Germany, this new report by Kristian Blickle at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York draws a link between those regions worst affected by the 1918 flu pandemic and increased extremist voting.

The source of the work is critical. It is not a left-wing thinktank that can be attacked on partisan lines as being radical. It comes out of an institution at the very heart of capitalism, no less than one of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks of The United States of America.

I recommend readers to take in the full work, but extract the following key quotes to whet the reader’s appetite:


…influenza deaths of 1918 are correlated with an increase in the share of votes won by right-wing extremists, such as the National Socialist Workers Party (aka. the Nazi Party), in the crucial elections of 1932 and 1933… (Page 1)

following Voigtländer and Voth (2012a), we show that the correlation between influenza mortality and the vote share won by right-wing extremists is stronger in regions that had historically blamed minorities, particularly Jews, for medieval plagues… Moreover, the disease may have fostered a hatred of “others”, as it was perceived to come from abroad. An increase in foreigner/minority hate has been shown by Cohn (2012) or Voigtländer and Voth (2012a) to occur during some severe historical plagues. Regions more affected by the pandemic may have gravitated towards political parties aligned with anti minority sentiment… (Page 3)

Voigtländer and Voth (2012a) and Voigtländer and Voth (2012b) highlight the importance of antisemitism in driving extremist voters. Importantly, they show how persistent certain sentiments, especially those pertaining to hate of “others” (such as antisemitism), can be. (Page 4)


We show that the deaths brought about by the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 profoundly shaped German society going forward… we also show that influenza deaths themselves had a strong effect on the share of votes won by extremists, specifically the extremist national socialist party. This effect dominates many other effects and is persistent even when we control for the influences of local unemployment, city spending, population changes brought about by the war, and local demographics or when we instrument for influenza mortality. The same patterns were not observable for the votes won by other extremist parties, such as the communists. Our results are striking in part because they are robust to a large battery of alternate specifications despite being based on a relatively small sample

This adds another layer of complexity to decisions on opening up economies in spite of the presence of COVID-19 in communities and thus increasing the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover it adds empirical underpinning to what many of us have long understood and which formed the underlying theme of my first paper on COVID-19, “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises“, and which informs all of my writing on MacroEdgo.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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