How Durable is Trust in Public Institutions?

Posted on by

A well argued and documented post at VoxEU seems glaringly at odds with recent experience in the US. “How the long-gone Habsburg Empire is still visible in Eastern European bureaucracies today,” by Sascha O. Becker and Ludger Woessmann looks at the territories formerly occupied by the Habsburg Empire, which had a well run and fairly honest bureaucracy, particularly in contrast to the other major powers that were influential at various points in Eastern Europe (the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia). The authors identified five modern countries in which the Habsburgs had once occupied only a portion of their territory. They limited their analysis to populations living within 200 kilometers of the long-ago imperial border.

Their findings:

Our results suggest that the Habsburg Empire is indeed still visible in the cultural norms and interactions of humans with their state institutions today. Comparing individuals left and right of the long-gone Habsburg border, people living in locations that used to be territory of the Habsburg Empire have higher trust in courts and police. These trust differentials also transform into “real” differences in the extent to which bribes have to be paid for these local public services.

We complement these main findings by looking into a series of additional aspects.

First, our results are robust when restricting the comparison groups to formerly Ottoman regions (instead of any non-Habsburg Empire).
Second and interestingly, the Habsburg effect does not vary systematically with the duration of Habsburg affiliation, consistent with models that predict persistent effects of limited exposure.
Third, we analyse whether Habsburg exposure fostered trust levels in state institutions in general, i.e. also in central public institutions like the president or the parliament. We find no significant evidence of such effects, suggesting that it was the local interaction with bureaucrats that was key.
Finally, evidence from a firm dataset, the Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Survey, corroborates the general pattern of results derived from the household dataset. That is, firms on the Habsburg side of the long-gone border within the same country have higher trust in the courts.

The authors also cite other examples of long-lived impact of good governance, for instance, that differences in levels of interpersonal trust in northern versus southern Italy can be attributed to how free city-states were administered at the close of the first millennium.

This sort of durability no doubt seems inconceivable to Americans, particularly since this country not that long ago (certainly the mid 1930s through the mid 1960s) had a highly level of trust in government, and the slide into open and widespread corruption has been a comparatively recent phenomenon. But the US has also been a staging ground of an orchestrated campaign to sow distrust in government, and you can breed dysfunctional and underperforming institutions pretty quickly if you set about it.

One of the issues that seems implicit in the Becker and Woessmann post is that despite a very long span of time, communities in Europe are stable enough to retain a local cultural over very long periods of time. By contrast, with so much of America being transient, and comparatively-recently created suburbs being such an important part of housing stock, many municipalities have shallow roots. In addition, as colleague and guest poster Doug Smith has pointed out in his book On Value and Values, the old intermediate forms of social organization in the US, which not long ago were almost entirely community based, have been replaced by organizations, many of which are not local.

So does this lack of strong local anchors give America its vaunted innovativeness, but also less ability to maintain social values, in particular high levels of trust? Reader input encouraged.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. vlade

    Er.. I’m not sure, but for example the area marked 1 on the map was until 1945 predominantly German (Breslau/lower Silesia), with most of the population fleeing after Postdam. Similarly, there were significant population movements in other parts of ex-Habsburg empire, which the study seems to ignore.
    So even if study’s results are fine, the cause could be something entirely different (a simple falsification test would be to select a re-populated area and compare samples, which they didn’t seem to have done, instead picking arbitrary “inner border”)

    1. Sufferin' Succotash

      Silesia ceased being Habsburg in 1740 when Frederick the Great of Prussia conquered it. More than two and a half centuries of non-Habsburg rule is a rather long time to be influenced by the Habsburg administrative and legal culture. One possibly useful comparative approach would be to compare former Habsburg regions with regions that formerly belonged to the Prussian(Hohenzollern)state–Silesia, Posen, Pomerania, East Prussia.

  2. Foppe

    One big difference, I imagine, comes from the fact that most institutions in the US are very locally, rather than nationally, anchored, which means that there is much more variation over time, with much more influence exerted by the ruler of the day (as Lex points out, in Europe there is a very strong tradition of appointing apolitically (while judges, DAs and police commissioners are quite likely to have political views, they are encouraged to de-emphasize them, so that even when their political leanings do play a role in their decisions, there is no way for the public to tell, which helps keep up the fiction, if nothing else) rather than relying so much on elected officials. Personally, the idea that a sheriff or DA is elected on the basis of his political leanings seems to make a farce out of the idea that the justice system is supposed to be in any way neutral, or that officials should even try to behave impartially.
    Moreover, most notably in the South (against African Americans), and slightly less so in the other states of the USA (but not limited to the state and regional levels), the institutions of the state have often been used by the guardians of the cultural status quo to repress newcomers, or those who are now labeled “minorities” – be they Irish, Polish, (Russian) Jewish or ‘black’: The state apparatus has been used time and time again for political purposes, namely to repress behavior on moral grounds, because ‘new’ cultural practices were felt to be deviant – the two most recent examples being the attempt abolition (against the drinking Irish and Italians who had been entering the US in large numbers in the 3 preceding decades, and who had a much stronger drinking culture than WASPs did) and now the War on Drugs, although the latter is much more of a class war than an ethnic issue, as it is used against pretty much everyone who doesn’t belong to the (upper) middle class or higher.
    In Europe, on the other hand, if only because there has been much less ethnic migration, using the state to repress groups based on their cultural background has never been big.. We have, of course, happily repressed women, gays, gypsies, Jews, etc., but never in the same way, at least not at the institutional level (excepting, of course, the issues surrounding ethnic cleansing during WWII, which so famously caused Horkheimer and Adorno to rail against the enlightenment project).
    So i suspect the issue is less one of ‘strong local anchors’, but rather than issues concerning migration and repression that have kept Americans from putting more faith in institutions.

    1. Externality

      Allow me to respectfully disagree. Allowing states to serve as what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy” ultimately benefits progressivism and civil rights.

      Allowing local variations can enhance, not just reduce, the rights of unpopular minorities, such as LGBTs. Laws barring discrimination against LGBTs and People with AIDS, for example, originated in a few cities with large LGBT populations (e.g., San Francisco) and spread to the state level. During the 1980s, funding for AIDS research and treatment largely came from local and state governments as the neither party in DC cared about the so-called “g*y plague.” (The federal government’s first name for HIV/AIDS was G*y-Related Immune Deficiency, or GRID.) For years, California governor George Deukmejian, a conservative Republican, appropriated more funds to fight the disease than either party in Congress. Domestic partnerships went from being a local to a state program.

      (I am using an asterisk, as spelling it out triggers the hate-speech filter here, sending the post to oblivion.)

      The continuing opposition in DC to ending DADT, recognizing same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships, anti-discrimination laws, adopting modern policies regarding transgendered people, etc., show that LGBTs cannot rely on the federal government for protection.

      1. Foppe

        Oh, I don’t disagree with the idea that allowing for local variation can be beneficial. However, my point is that this variation goes both ways, and the opposite tendency (using institutions to reaffirm dominance of ‘traditional’ values) has been at least as popular. And, more to the point of Yves’s question, there has been a far stronger tendency to harness state institutions in those fights, as they are run by elected officials anyway.
        Moreover, e.g. the Dutch state has (arguably until recently) been quite willing to subsidize similar experiments to the one you mention happened at the state level in the US, so you don’t *need* states for that either, so long as there is a widely shared (in the US this is called ‘bipartisan’) willingness to spend some public money on such projects.
        My counter to Brandeis’s argument would therefore be that, at least in the US, such experiments are very explicitly political, which, while this may be similarly advantageous in the case of progressive efforts, also means that attempts at repression (sanctioned by the fact that the official has been elected) are much more virulent than they otherwise might have been. And I suspect that this whole dynamic does not help when it comes to generating trust in [the fairness of] these institutions.

        PS. Having said that, I’m quite willing to accept that similar tendencies towards politicization of institutions has been becoming more popular here in Europe. Still, it is less overtly political (which arguably makes it more totalitarian? Anyway, a mixed blessing).

        PPS: WRT ‘Ultimately benefits rights:’ comparing GINIs between the US and most other western nations makes me doubt that this is really true. Similarly with regard to AIDS/LBGT: again, in the netherlands (my country of origin) we have had national level rights for these groups for quite some time, and we never saw the same moralizing backlash wrt aids patients deserving their disease.

    2. Externality

      Re: elected DAs and judges

      In modern America, there are penal laws that criminalize almost everything. As a recent book, Three Felonies a Day, points out, the average American unknowingly commits three federal felonies every day.

      The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware the he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague.
      State laws are similarly broad, making essentially everyone vulnerable to criminal prosecution.

      Electing prosecutors allows the people to shape the way in which criminal laws are enforced. When criminal laws deviate substantially from local norms, the people stop supporting the criminal justice system and its institutions, making it harder to enforce any laws. The unpopularity of the War on Drugs, for example, has led to the “‘Stop snitching’ movement,” which discourages cooperation with law enforcement and violence against informants, incidents of juror nullification, and local populations blocking tax increases in order to reduce the size of local police departments that they despise.

      Electing prosecutors allow communities that oppose the War on Drugs, for example, to elect prosecutors who focus on serious crime (e.g., murder) while largely ignoring or offering rehabilitation to people violating narcotics laws. A prosecutor who plea bargains homicide cases while seeking lengthy prison sentences for marijuana possession can be replaced by the people in whose name criminal laws are prosecuted. This is preferable to citizens never cooperating with police, jurors causing acquittals or mistrials regardless of the evidence, and voters blocking tax increases to force police officers and other city employees to be laid off.

      Until sodomy laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003, g*y sex was illegal in 14 states. Prosecutors seldom brought cases under these laws, however, as the LGBT community, libertarians, and civil liberties groups would stage protests, aggressively litigate the case, and try to block the advancement of the prosecutors involved. Even many law-and-order conservatives complained that the police should focus on violent crime.

      1. Externality

        Should be:

        has led to the “‘Stop snitching’ movement,” which discourages cooperation with law enforcement and encourages violence against informants

      2. Foppe

        It seems that we are talking somewhat past one another. My point is that it is precisely because the US has all of these laws that propound some version of morality rather than social stability that people put so little faith in these institutions.. You seem to be under the impression that you can only have selective enforcement in a system where the justices, DAs, police commissioners are elected, but this is not the case at all. When there indeed are so many laws that there always are large minorities of the population who disagree with the content of those laws, which are furthermore randomly enforced depending on where you are and who’s gotten a majority these 4 years, then it seems to me that you’re much more likely to get sick of the arbitrary persecution that you will or won’t be subjected to than in a society where this isn’t the case, making it much more likely that you’ll stop believing that the system exists for everyone, and to defend a broad notion of society.

        1. Externality

          I agree wholeheartedly that the system we have in the US is awful and counterproductive.

          I really don’t know how to fix this mess. During my years doing AIDS, medical marijuana, and LGBT activism, winning small victories at the state and local level seemed preferable to dealing with an increasingly authoritarian, elitist, and unresponsive federal government. Many of the ill-advised state and local laws relating to alcohol, drugs, and HIV/AIDS came at the behest of the federal government, which applied pressure and/or threatened to cut off funding unless states acquiesced. A system with fewer laws that more closely reflect community values would be infinitely preferable to what we have now.

  3. psychohistorian

    I believe strongly in the ability of TV and associated media to effect consumers thoughts and views of how the world does and should work. Good government is not in the best interests of the inherited rich because it serves the public too much and not them.

    Show me a serious attempt to take all economic and social policy setting world wide away from the inherited rich and I would gladly be marching out front.

  4. Richard

    Very interesting indeed. I quite agree with the assertion that the US has very loose local communities due not only to mobility, but also the effect of immigration and (until now) a fluid class system. Constantly cycling individuals in and out will definitely prevent long-held customs from developing. Look at Detroit. At the turn of the century it was mostly working class whites. By the 60s it became black as white flight to the exurbs took hold. Today, it’s becoming more and more Arab. With all that change, can a Detroit system of values really develop?

    Contrast that with say the Czech Republic. It’s a small country with essentially one big city and radiating suburbs. Due to purely the distance, there’s not much room for local communities to develop their own set of mores apart from the national one. Heck, with the Czechs’ struggle against foreign domination throughout the centuries, they have even more incentive to hold on to pieces of their own identity, be it in language, myths, religion, names, or institutions.

  5. Kristiina

    I’ve always thought the stability of Finnish state comes from the times of Swedish rule – and that was certainly before any left/right boxes existed. I’d even say that the societies that have at some point developed some form of self-governance tend to have a more stable society and more trust in institutions. In Sweden the Vikings voted for kings, and had the ting to decide on important matters. Similar system was in place in Finland. Very interesting viewpoint: it is as if nations remember what a functioning institution looks like when they have once seen one. And the remembrance is transmitted over generations.

    And in spite of knowing this, the manufacture of failed states goes on. Of course, looting is not possible if the state has functioning, stable and trusted institutions. It is as if we were living in a new middle ages: now it is not hordes people who rape and plunder, but corporations and banks. But the result is pretty much the same: more poverty, deterioration of culture and genuine prosperity.

    It would be very interesting to make some sort of inventory of efficient and useful institutions or organisations. But not easy: everybody thinks their pet organisation is quite indispensable – how to recognise if it really is? But we’d really need this knowledge to build something to replace the kleptocracy.

  6. /L

    Europeans is much more under an authoritarian spell, the authorities are sent by God to rule the people. The French revolution was a brief occurrence the new masters pretty soon take on the old ruler’s quest for obedience. The church masters and state religions continued. Those who couldn’t stand this and wanted to be free of authoritarian spell left for America to be able to be the architect of their own fortune.

    One of the great paradoxes is that the periphery’s generally left-wing governments adopted so enthusiastically the ECB’s ultra-right wing economic nostrums – austerity is an appropriate response to a great recession. Even neoclassical economists know that the ECB’s policies towards the periphery are insane. The IMF and ECB impose pro-cyclical policies that make recessions worse.

    Why left-wing parties embrace the advice of the ultra-right wing economists whose anti-regulatory dogmas helped cause the crisis is one of the great mysteries of life. Their policies are self-destructive to the economy and suicidal politically. Lemmings don’t really follow each other and jump off cliffs – that’s fiction. Left-wing European governments, however, continue to support the ultra-right wing policies that the ECB pushes even when they know those policies will harm the economy and cause the left-wing party to be crushed in the next general election. They watch the ECB’s policies fail and their sister parties lose power and then they step forward to do the same.

    Bad Cop; Crazed Cop – the IMF and the ECB
    William K. Black

    Probably rooted in the obedience of authorities, I have hard time believing that any American political brand would survive if they obeyed to some foreign entity and advocated selling American public property to foreigners.

    1. Foppe

      Europeans is much more under an authoritarian spell, the authorities are sent by God to rule the people. The French revolution was a brief occurrence the new masters pretty soon take on the old ruler’s quest for obedience. The church masters and state religions continued. Those who couldn’t stand this and wanted to be free of authoritarian spell left for America to be able to be the architect of their own fortune.

      Is this what Americans are taught in High school about the reasons why the various groups of immigrants left Europe? I hope not. What a joke.

      they obeyed to some foreign entity and advocated selling American public property to foreigners.

      They don’t have to; US officials are doing it themselves.

      “I was in a meeting where a bunch of American investment bankers were trying to sell us the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” he said. “They even had a slide show. They were showing these Arabs what a nice highway we had for sale, what the toll booths looked like . . .”

      I dropped my fork. “The Pennsylvania Turnpike is for sale?”

      He nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “We didn’t do the deal, though. But, you know, there are some other deals that have gotten done. Or didn’t you know about this?”
      America is quite literally for sale, at rock-bottom prices, and the buyers increasingly are the very people who scored big in the oil bubble. Thanks to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and the other investment banks that artificially jacked up the price of gasoline over the course of the last decade, Americans delivered a lot of their excess cash into the coffers of sovereign wealth funds like the Qatar Investment Authority, the Libyan Investment Authority, Saudi Arabia’s SAMA Foreign Holdings, and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

  7. fresno dan

    As far as trust in government institutions (i.e., leagal):

    Early in the fianacial crisis I was willing to consider that the people who ran the banks were stupid. I have re-considered that point of view, and I now conclude that they were evil – the whole thing was a profit making scheme, and simply put, from the Fed to the Treasury to the “Justice” department, both executive, legislative, and judicial, the US simply refuses to enforce laws related to financial fraud.

  8. Canuck

    Americans complain a lot because they hold their institutions and officials to remarkably high standards. Bribery of public officials is so rare that it makes the national news when even a minor office gets caught, and most Americans trust the police to enforce the law, if not always fairly, at least not with the main goal of enriching themselves and their bosses.

    1. Trust the OCC

      This is probably the stupidest comment I’ve seen on NC in quite a while. It’s exhausting, but everything you’ve said is pure crap. Americans have little trust in public institutions, inversely porpotional to their net worth.

    2. dhoom

      Bribery is too restrictive a definition for US corruption. The problem is abuse of function, trading in influence, selective prosecution, and elite impunity.

    3. Francois T


      According to the excellent US General Social Survey, the only institution that has gained in the department of “I have great confidence in them” since 1976 is…the military!

      All (save Medicine who stay even) the other social institutions (government, media, non-profits, corporations, organized religion) have lost (you should see the media and Congress!!) people willing to state “great confidence” in them.

      There is a good reason why north of 70% of Americains consider that the country is heading in the wrong direction…trust is eroding at a frightening clip.

      How can it be otherwise? >76% of Americans want a repeal of Big Oil tax subsidies and Congress patently refuses to listen, let alone obey to those who hired them. And this is just ONE, small example.

  9. DownSouth

    Call it a failure to see the forest for the trees, but the authors very much seem to be caught up in trivial minutia. Reading the post made me recall this from Tolstoy’s War and Peace:

    The human mind cannot grasp the causes of phenomena in the aggregate. But the need to find these causes is inherent in man’s soul. And the human intellect, without investigating the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions of phenomena, any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, snatches at the first, the most intelligible approximation to a cause, and says: “This is the cause!”

    The Habsburg Empire served as a stage upon which Western Civilization played out, just like the Ottoman Empire served as a stage upon which Islamic Civilization played out. So upon the stage of the Habsburg Empire, the dialectic process that is the hallmark of Western Civilization was enacted. Medieval Christianity and feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Counter-Renaissance, the Enlightenment, liberalism, Modernism, Marxism and now Postmodernism are all part of the dialectic.

    It seems to be lost on the authors that the Habsburgs, even though humanistic, open-minded and principled administrators during the last part of the 15th and first part of the 16th centuries, were to take a 180° turn by 1570. No one was more fanatically committed to the Counter-Reformation, the Inquisition and the perpetuation of feudalism and Medieval Christianity than the Habsburgs. Bruegel’s masterpiece the Massacre of the Innocents stands as living testimony to the atrocities committed by the Duke of Alba—-the Black Legend—-and the Council of Blood in the name of the Hapsburgs’ reactionary zeal.

    And no one became more corrupt. As the Habsburg Empire’s massive wealth was squandered in its role as defender of the one true faith, fighting endless wars on two fronts—-the Protestant heretics in northern Europe and the Muslim infidels in northern Africa—-it eventually fell on hard times. It’s once highly vaunted administration succumbed to the insatiable need for money. J.H. Elliot explains:

    In Peru, traditionally a more lucrative source of revenue for the crown than New Spain, high-ranking treasury offices began to be offered for sale on a systematic basis from 1633. As the crown’s difficulties multiplied, so too did the number of offices created and put up for sale. While the sale of offices proved to be a highly profitable source of revenue, it was acquired at a heavy political price. Offices that came onto the market were snapped up by creoles or by Lima merchants with strong local connections. Large sums were diverted into private pockets by corrupt officials, and viceroys watched in despair as the sale of office drastically reduced both the efficiency of the administration and their own powers of patronage, which they considered essential for the effective exercise of viceregal authority.

    The natural beneficiaries of this process were the creole elite, for whom the crown’s troubles fell as manna from heaven. The purchase of offices and titles to land, the acquisition of new credit opportunities as royal revenues failed to cover costs, and informal alliances struck with corrupt royal officials for the clandestine distribution of state resources, enabled oligarchies throughout Spanish America to entrench themselves still further. By the middle years of the seventeenth century the crown was putting provincial governorships up for sale, and under Carlos II the last dam was breached when the crown began systematically selling the judicial posts in the eleven Audiencias of the Indies. Between 1687 and 1695, 24 such sales occurred…
    ▬J.H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World

  10. DF Sayers

    By contrast, with so much of America being transient, and comparatively-recently created suburbs being such an important part of housing stock, many municipalities have shallow roots.

    This has to be one of the biggest factors here. I’ve said this before… and I need to put together a more formal argument about the issue – but it is civil society that develops democracy. The Japanese Nuclear Reactor was positioned at locations weak in civil social power, and the Ottoman empire is a great example of how destroying civil society can create seemingly endless chaos. Recently on NPR, Zogby claimed that the problem of democracy in the middle east was a cultural one. But the history of the Ottoman Empire tells a totally different story.

  11. Ming

    Yves… I would like comment on your last paragraph …
    ‘So does this lack of strong local anchors give America its vaunted innovativeness, but also less ability to maintain social values, in particular high levels of trust? Reader input encouraged.’

    I do not beleive that lack of strong local anchors and lack of high level of trust in local institutions is a contributing factor toward greater innovation. I am certain that nations where people have a high distrust of their local institutions (because they are untrustworthy), are definitely less innovative and robust than nations that have a good degree of trust. Large swaths of Asia, south america, and Africa can be characterized as nations where ordinary citzen have a high distrust of local insttutions (and for good reason… Corruption, cronyism, and expropriation are ‘income supplemenation activities for many local officials and police)… These countries are much less innovative and robust than countries that have a good degree of institutional trustworthiness ( like japan… That evolved from a war torn country to the economic powerhouse of today). One rationale for why innovation does not grow is based on my family’s experience in Indonesia, if a good idea or business grows, it may get notIced, and if it gets noticed, officials may demand bribes or expropriate it; so better to keep things small and hidden, but comfortable:

  12. logicsorbit

    “The trust, which grows from the land of the logic, can only be real & perpetual.”

    I believe this quote/philosophy is perfectly capable to provide foundation and steering mechanism to the efforts to get the answers to the pertinent complex question of “How Durable is Trust in Public Institutions?”.

    In pertinent context, durability of trust in Public Institutions would be proportional to the degree of logical grounds upon which trust is based.

    What factors can be logical grounds for the trust in the Public Institutions ?
    some which i can think of are:
    – Kind of actors at all the levels of public Institutions. Objective, implacable, dedicated, scope-wise knowledgeable…..
    – Quality of operationalization of “negotiated and largely agreed, not the ideal, public demands/needs/rights/duties” into policies/processes/laws…
    – Quality of operations, importantly, inline with objectives.
    – Quantity and quality of logical, approachable, usable, dynamic Interfaces,for the public and internal actors, at all the levels of institutions.

    Discernibly above mentioned tangible factors seem to belong to outer/immediate causes-set for the “trust on public institutions” effect.
    Due task would be to empirically find out the tangible and intangible causes-set at the set of inner and the core level. Which is likely to bring in phenomenons like socialization, culture, regime-type (economic),normative and cognitive frames, values, ideas into the picture.

    Each sample would have varying indicators/data for these mentioned factors/causes but they will have common abstract cause at outermost level- “degree of logical grounds for the trust” for the “trust on public institutions” effect.

  13. Paul Tioxon

    The Habsburg Empire was so diverse ethnically, that fifteen languages were required to mobilize the troops in 1914. Needless to say, the tensions among the various groups over favorable treatment was a crushing burden that the other Great Powers of Europe did not carry. France was mostly French, England mostly English, you get the idea. But with a population of 52 million in 1914, half that of the US at the same time and more than Britain, France or Italy and so complex, what were the ties that bind? Repression or Inclusion? The answer lies in the reigning ideology of the Liberal State with a strong central bureaucracy, not only to collect taxes, but to socialize the populace into one nationality. And in the long standing struggle between “Guns and Butter”, butter held sway.

    “The Rise and Fall of The Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy p. 217:

    “… Vienna’s answer to all of these particularist grievances was to smother them with committees, with new Jobs, tax concessions, additional railway branch lines and so on. ‘There were in 1914 , well over 3,000,000 civil servants, running things as diverse as schools, hospitals, welfare, taxation, railways, posts, etc…so…THAT THERE WAS NOT MUCH MONEY LEFT FOR THE ARMY ITSELF.’ As a result he goes on, “Because of a lack of funds, only about 30% of the available manpower was conscripted, and many of them were on “permanent leave” or received only 8 weeks training.”

    So there you have it, the people were respected in their ethnic identities and bound together not for calls for a homogeneous national identity, but a national identity built on public service with one civil servant for every 17 citizens. We should have that student to teacher ratio today in America. And they spent the least for the military of any other great power, pouring the money instead into modernizing the economy and improving the general welfare at the expense of military preparedness. No wonder there were such fond memories, such good government, they invested in the general welfare which cut short internal rebellions, conflicts and labor strife.\

    By comparison, the US Federal Civil Service, including the Defense Department, but not the military or Post Service, has about 2 million civil servants, 1/3 of which are Defense or military related costs.

    1. Glenn Condell

      Yes, the salient point for me re the Hapsburgs is that it was an Empire that was not fired by nationalism, one of the few. Indeed it was the rise of the various internal sub-nationalisms in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th Cs that killed it. That lack of tribal pride powering the whole exercise, and the clear recognition of the danger it posed, is perhaps the main reason we can look back at it and not be revolted. It wasn’t perfect but it was from some standpoints a helluva lot better than what followed.

      I’d like to plug a very great novel here if I could, one that dramatises the decline and fall of the Empire, from the perspective of someone who as a young man railed against it’s strictures and hierarchies and fustian conservatism but who in time realised what was to be lost when it went – The Radetzky March, by alcoholic Jewish journo Joseph Roth. It is a beautiful, funny, elegiac book. Prophetic too.

      ‘One of the issues that seems implicit in the Becker and Woessmann post is that despite a very long span of time, communities in Europe are stable enough to retain a local cultural over very long periods of time. By contrast, with so much of America being transient, and comparatively-recently created suburbs being such an important part of housing stock, many municipalities have shallow roots.’

      This is one of the poles of Dimitry Orlov’s argument that the US is likely to fare far worse in the event of a Russia-style economic collapse than Russia did, and than most Euro countries would given the depth of the historical connections within and between communities there, and the lack of same in America. Quite apart from the fact that the US is disadvantaged in this by the proliferation of what James Kunstler calls the asteroid belts of suburbia, where people live well apart from each other in suburbs themsleves well apart from a living community centre. By contrast the town square and generally walkable municipal infrastructure inherited by Europeans, along with the deep sense of belonging a millennium of continuous settlement brings offers a ‘competitive advantage’ in the catastrophe-coping stakes. In some ways everyone knowing everyone else’s business is a pain but it is also a glue in times when things threaten to fall apart.

      Then there is the greater tradition of local self-sufficiency in food, textiles and other necessary goods – not just market gardens, but backyard vegies and chooks or pigs, bartering one for another. If the shelves of the local variant of WalMart are bare via an energy shock or credit crunch, there is back-up, slack built into the system to help it take the shock.

      Not to mention the fact that most Euro communities have experienced (or been credibly threatened by) real suffering in the not too distant past and this has bred a distrust of govt, media and other institutions which makes ‘taming’ them (to use a word Kissinger employed with regard to the Greeks) far more difficult than their US counterparts.

      The Europeans’ distrust of government is hard won, where Americans (whose government certainly deserves distrust, just not the selectively elite-friendly version they get) have had a narrative artfully constructed for them, reinforced thru the Pravda of the MSM. Europe has experienced history up close and personal enough in living memory not to be hoodwinked en masse as Americans are (present company excepted of course).

  14. Susan Truxes

    Which institutions? For my part I trust state institutions: state university systems, state health care systems, local school districts and municipal government; I not only trust but admire the state judicial systems, including judges and lawyers; I trust that cities and states do their best to balance budgets without harming tax payers too much and also do their best to provide the services we expect. I used to trust my local bank before WF bought it up. I never pay attention to churches but I don’t necessarily distrust them. I also don’t distrust most news outlets – I just find them vacuous. I pick and choose on the internet. What I do not trust is stuff that is primarily federal in nature. I do not trust the big commercial banksters; I do not trust the Justice Department; I do not trust the majority of members of Congress, but I do trust some senators and representatives; I do not trust any politician running for office; more importantly, I do not trust the election process; I do not trust Diebold; I do not trust the EPA, in fact I think the EPA is useless; I really don’t trust any of the Executive agencies, they are just puppets; I do not trust the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – because it is always whistling past the graveyard; I admire the scientists at NASA but I think we have better things to spend our money on; I do not trust the Federal Reserve because it is hiding its head in the sand about fraud; I don’t know much about the Federal judicial system but my guess is that I probably do not trust it; I definitely do not trust Holder; I definitely do not trust the SEC: I do not trust PBS or NPR; the list of my do-not-trusts is long depending on the definition of “institution.” I don’t trust private prisons; I don’t trust “organic” produce labels; I most certainly don’t trust drugs (legal drugs) or drug cartels or any cartels. I trust the military but not the people who give them their orders.

  15. ScottS

    There is also a selection bias in the criteria the researchers were looking at.

    The Ottoman Empire is known for a kind of benign neglect along religious lines. Christians and Jews were allowed to, by and large, govern themselves within a religious hierarchy, ultimately accountable to the Caliphate. Christians were pulled into a front-line army, but this was seen as a good way to get into the government bureaucracy, which was a “good” job. Otherwise, Christians and Jews were left to govern themselves.

    When I studied the Ottoman Empire in school, nothing was said about corruption of the bureaucracy. The fact that government jobs were generally “good” jobs might mean there was some bribery. Don’t know off-hand.

    All that to say, religious establishments have always been a “country within a country.” Trust in government institutions may not indicate what the authors thought it meant.

Comments are closed.