Working papers available upon request.

Politics of Inequality

Odious Wealth: How History Shapes Attitudes towards Redistribution (with Nora Waitkus). [under review]

Inherited wealth has often been accumulated under circumstances seen as illegitimate by present-day standards. However, we know surprisingly little about the political consequences of wealth's history. We argue that illegitimate accumulation nurtures opposition and calls for redistribution, even after multiple generations. To test our theory, we conduct a survey in Germany, where many wealthy business owners inherited companies that made considerable fortunes during one of the darkest episodes of human history, the Nazi regime of 1933-1945. We demonstrate with a vignette experiment that individuals perceive heirs of businesses that cooperated with the Nazi regime as less deserving than other similar heirs, and are more likely to support expropriations. These results align with general views and attitudes about the German economy. Our findings add to studies on the historical origins of public opinion as well as deservingness by showing how illegitimate wealth accumulation affects political attitudes across generations.


Taxing Your Cake and Growing It Too: Public Beliefs on the Dual Benefits of Progressive Taxation (with Bruno Castanho Silva and Hanna Lierse). [under review]

Political and economic elites often warn that taxes on the rich impair economic growth. Although such warnings have a long tradition in elite discourse and election campaigns, what the public believes about the effects of progressive taxation remains surprisingly understudied. This omission limits our understanding of a basic democratic mechanism, the congruence of elite and mass opinion. To close this gap, we employ a conjoint experiment during the last German national election on a representative quota sample. Participants compare policy packages that entail changes in income, inheritance, and corporate taxes  and evaluate their impact on equality and growth. We find no evidence that the public believes in a trade-off between equality and growth. Instead participants believe that both go hand in hand, particularly for income and wealth taxation. Furthermore, such beliefs do not vary by ideology or economic status. Our findings may help to shape a more consensual approach to progressive taxation that emphasizes positive synergies between economic growth and greater equality.


Attitudes and Arguments:  Citizens' Justification of their Support for a Novel Redistributive Instrument (with Hanna Schwander).

This paper delves into the intricacies of public opinion formation by examining how citizens justify their support for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) during the nascent stages of policy discussion. As advanced democracies grapple with economic uncertainties, understanding how citizens express and justify their support for income-securing policies like Basic Universal Income in the early stages of opinion formation is paramount. We leverage a unique empirical context, a public initiative aiming to introduce a UBI in the German State Hamburg. We survey citizens repeatedly during the early mobilization period of the initiative. Given that the UBI is not established or widely discussed outside of academia, this setting provides us with the unique opportunity to investigate the relationship between individual positions on such policies and the specific argumentative strategies citizens employ, shedding light on the underlying motivations and societal factors that shape public opinion during this crucial formative phase. With this study, we make two contributions: We first contribute to the research on individual support for Universal Basic Income by linking individual position towards a UBI with explicit arguments of respondents. While the study of individual support for UBI has made tremendous progress in the last years, little is known about the motivation of citizens to support or object a UBI. Second, we advance knolwedge about the dynamics of public opinion during the early stages of a policy proposal. We link the evolution of opinions with citizens’ motivation for their position to explore whether they move in sync.

Elite - Public Opinion Feedback in the Early Stages of a Novel Redistributive Policy Instrument (with Hanna Schwander).

This paper investigates the reciprocal feedback effects between elite and public opinion within the unique context of a novel redistributive policy instrument. Attitudes towards redistributive policy instruments are usually fixed and feedback loops therefore hard to study. We make use of a public initiative that demands the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the German state of Hamburg and represents an early stage of opinion formation. We argue that opinion feedback is particularly important at this early stage of opinion formation as both politicians and citizens eye each other for informational and positional cues. We base our study on the expectation that especially during the early stages of policy formation, alignment between the attitudes of politicians and citizens, particularly along party lines, will be lacking. However, as opinions become more entrenched, we anticipate a convergence of attitudes. We explore the direction of the feedback loop, that is whether citizens form their opinion in alignment with party positions (party cuing) or whether political elites respond to the public opinion (responsiveness).  The direction of that relationship is up to empirical investigation but we assume party cueing dominates party responsiveness unless there is a high level of initial support within party bases. To explore these dynamics, our research design combines an original panel-based conjoint analysis of public opinion with elite surveys from all major parties conducted alongside the public UBI initiative. Through this approach, we assess support for UBI and identify preferred policy designs both within the public and the political elite. Understanding the feedback loop between elite and public opinion is of importance as it informs the opinion formation process in general and shapes the politicization and political feasibility of novel policy instruments.

Colonial Origins of Development

For God and Country: British Protestant Missions and the Foundations of Democracy in Africa (with Dean Dulay). [under review]

Christian missions contributed to the spread of democracy throughout the colonial world by promoting education and literacy. However, not all missions could equally count on the support of colonial governments. We argue that the national origins of missions, defined by the location of their sending societies, were decisive in determining state support in British Africa. British missions were more closely connected to the state and could therefore outperform their non-British counterparts, with lasting consequences for education and democracy. We combine novel station-level data with contemporary survey data and show that individuals residing in localities that received British missions have higher levels of education and are more supportive of democracy today. The results are robust even after an extensive set of historical confounders and potential selection biases are accounted for. We demonstrate that national origins do not affect the democratic legacy of Catholic missions or missions outside of British Africa.

"Women on a Mission: Protestant Legacies of Gender Equality in Africa?" (with Felix Meier zu Selhausen). [under review]

African Economic History Network Working Paper No. 72 [LINK] 

Christian missions, especially Protestants missions, have been shown to advance long-run education outcomes and gender equality in Africa. However, the mechanisms behind this benign legacy and the contribution of missionary women, who constituted more than half of all Western mission staff, are not well-understood. We compile a new extensive data set on the locations of missions in colonial Africa, including the gender composition of their staff. In combination with contemporary survey data on one million respondents in 29 African countries, we provide evidence of missions' equalizing effects with regards to education and a wide range of female agency outcomes. We document that Protestant missions left no more benign legacy than Catholics, questioning the Protestant exceptionalism highlighted by prior studies. We also document a strong association between missionary women and girls' school enrollment in colonial times but find no evidence of any lasting gendered effects. Post-independence expansion of public education and the secularization of school curricula may have offset persistence of Africa's earliest centers of female education. 

The Colonial Labour Question: Trade and Social Policy in Interwar Africa (with Carina Schmitt). [revise&resubmit]

Access to education as well as health systems belong to the core development goals of the United Nations since its inception. Today, almost all countries have education and health systems in place. In former colonies, the historical roots of these systems can often be traced back to colonial times. In this paper, we argue that spending on social services for the local population was seen as a necessary condition to expand the trade-based colonial economy especially in the initial stage of social services dating back to the interwar period. Using novel data on health and education expenditure in 36 former British and French African colonies during the height of their empires (1925-36), we show that trade volumes account for a large share in the variance of expenditure on early social protection schemes. Our results suggest that similar mechanisms are at play within the two empires and differences between them are in degree rather than in kind.