How Germans changed their minds about Jews..

An intriguing post on the topic looking at how cultural economics can help understand what changes people’s minds:

How and when do people change their minds? For example, watching a popular television series like AMC’s Mad Men seems to transport us straight to another planet. It shows the lives of advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 1960s who spend their days drinking heavily (from 9am), chain-smoking, and fornicating. While not necessarily an accurate portrayal of corporate life in the middle of the 20th century, it reminds us how deeply cultures can be transformed in a relatively short space of time. In the Western world today, attitudes towards homosexuals, pre-marital sex, and women working outside the home are radically different from what they were a generation ago (Fernandez-Villaverde et al. 2011).

They look at what made Germans change their beliefs over Jews?

In recent research, we look at the persistence of Jew-hatred in Germany (see Voigtländer and Voth 2012). In earlier work, we show that towns that saw pogroms in 1350, at the time of the Black Death, were still more anti-Semitic in the 1920s and 1930s (Voigtländer and Voth 2011). In this column, we examine how much of the past still matters for the present. Specifically, we ask how much of the anti-Semitism we see based on data from 1996 and 2006 reflects attitudes in the same location as far back as the late 19th century. We also examine the conditions under which hatred of this kind can be accentuated or reduced.

Germans today are on average probably not much more anti-Semitic than other Europeans (Bergmann and Erb 1997). At the regional level, however, there are considerable differences. We use data from the German Social Survey (ALLBUS) to examine attitudes towards Jews. The survey asks a battery of questions, such as “Do you think that Jews partly brought persecution in the 20th century on themselves?” Answers range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Figure 1 shows regional differences (at the district level) for answers to this question, based on the proportion of the population giving a score of 5, 6, or 7.

They realize past plays a distinct role in beliefs but with strong policy interventions, things can be made better. In all, this remains a challenge for social science –

How can the Middle East be made safe for peace? How can Southern Europeans be convinced to pay their taxes? If there is one conclusion that can be drawn from nearly a decade of intense research in cultural economics, it is that incentives are not all that there is behind how people behave. Seemingly irrational preferences are pursued at high costs; cultural distinctiveness is preserved in the face of substantial drawbacks. How to change people’s minds is arguably the ultimate frontier for social science.

We examine what it takes to change beliefs by looking at the case of Jew-hatred in modern-day Germany. Across one of the greatest discontinuities in social norms in recorded history – the change of racism from encouraged attitude to banned belief – we find that policy can make a difference. The young can be manipulated by massive indoctrination, but only to the extent that the new, radical beliefs are not completely at variance with pre-existing norms. Policies designed to change the views of the population largely failed after 1945; we conclude that low-pressure interventions with substantial public support may be best to generate “buy-in“ from the population.

Different kind of reading..


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