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The Political Economy of Nation-building and Repression

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM (CST)

New Orleans Marriott, Preservation Hall Studio 2
Hosted By: Association for Comparative Economic Studies
  • Chairs:
    Brian Deutsch, University of Pittsburgh
  • Guo Xu, University of California-Berkeley

Charismatic Leaders and Nation-Building

Lydia Assouad
London School of Economics


This paper investigates the role of individual leaders in constructing a national identity. I study the activities and legacy of Mustafa Kemal “Atat ̈urk”, the founder of modern Turkey. I create a novel historical database containing information on the locations and dates of Ataturk’s propaganda visits to over a quarter of Turkish cities between 1923 and 1938. Using variation over time and across space, and information on incidental visits to districts lying along Ataturk's road, I find that Ataturk's visits caused an increase of 7 percent in the use of first names in “Pure Turkish”, the new language introduced by the state as part of its homogenizing endeavor. I argue that this measure indicates a successful diffusion of the new national identity locally. The effect is persistent, growing in magnitude up until fifteen years after the visit before disappearing. Two main channels can explain this pattern of propagation. First, the visits provided the ground for institutional reforms, as they led to the formation of local branches of Ataturk's party. Second, the effect is stronger in districts with more nationalistic associations, higher literacy rates and where Ataturk met with local elites, suggesting that co-optation of the elite is a key driver of the effect. My findings provide new evidence on the ability of an individual leader to construct a national identity, by rallying the elite and by fostering institution building, which in turn contribute to influencing people more broadly.

Bureaucracy as a Tool for Politicians: Evidence from Weimar and Nazi Germany

Leander Heldring
Northwestern University


This paper asks whether an effective bureaucracy acts as a brake on or a catalyst for repression. I compare former Prussian to non-Prussian municipalities within unified Germany in a regression discontinuity framework during the Weimar republic and the Nazi regime. During the Weimar republic, when Jews were legally protected, violence against Jews is lower in former Prussian areas. During the Nazi period, Prussian areas implemented deportations of Jews more efficiently. In both periods, Prussian areas raised taxes more effectively and spent more on public goods. These results are driven by a dual effect of the organization of local bureaucracy: Prussian areas had more specialized bureaucracies, which increased efficiency. I argue that specialization diffused responsibility, and created the moral wiggle room to implement repugnant directives. Specialization motivated the famous `cog in the wheel' defense for Nazi crimes.

The Political-Economic Causes of the Soviet Great Famine, 1932–33

Natalya Naumenko
George Mason University
Andrei Markevich
New Economic School
Nancy Qian
Northwestern University


This study constructs a large new dataset to investigate whether state policy led to ethnic Ukrainians experiencing higher mortality during the 1932–33 Soviet Great Famine. All else equal, famine (excess) mortality rates were positively associated with ethnic Ukrainian population share across provinces, as well as across districts within provinces. Ukrainian ethnicity, rather than the administrative boundaries of the Ukrainian republic, mattered for famine mortality. These and many additional results provide strong evidence that higher Ukrainian famine mortality was an outcome of policy, and suggestive evidence on the political-economic drivers of repression. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that bias against Ukrainians explains up to 77% of famine deaths in the three republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and up to 92% in Ukraine.

School, Language, and Nations: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in France

Guillaume Blanc
University of Manchester
Masahiro Kubo
Brown University


This paper studies nation-building. We explore the role of state-sponsored education in the adoption of a standard language and the formation of a national identity during the emergence of a modern nation-state. In France, at the time of the French Revolution, only ten percent of the population spoke French, the common language today. We digitize a novel historical dataset on spoken languages at the municipality level and document the process of homogenization in nineteenth-century France. Using a regression discontinuity design, we demonstrate that state-sponsored education brought about the homogenization of language. Then, we study the geographical origins of the French language and the heterogeneous effects of schools. We find that elites were an important driver of homogenization. Finally, we document a persistent impact of nation-building on social interactions,
national identity, and preferences for political centralization, with
increased participation in the Resistance during World War II and
votes against the 1969 referendum on regionalization.
JEL Classifications
  • N0 - General
  • H0 - General