Monday, January 16, 2012

The Habsburg Empire May Be Dead, but its Honest Bureaucracy's Legacy Lives On

When I think Habsburg Empire, I think of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination famously marked the beginning of World War I and less famously, the decline of the empire itself until its dissolution in 1918. However, the silhouette of the empire still marks a psychologically different part of Europe, according to research by Sascha Becker and Ludger Woessmann. In their 2011 short paper, The Empire Is Dead, Long Live the Empire! Long-Run Persistence of Trust and Corruption in the Bureaucracy, (summarized here) they compared levels of trust on opposite sides of the long-gone Habsburg Empire border within five countries. Surprisingly, they found that the border was still meaningful. Within the border, firms and people have higher trust in courts and police. Outside the border--specifically in regions that were once part of the Ottoman empire--levels of trust are relatively lower. Historians have described the Habsburg bureaucracy as “fairly honest, quite hard-working, and generally high-minded” (Taylor 1948). According to Becker and Woessman, this lies at the root of the higher trust levels.

Taylor, AJP (1948), The Habsburg Monarchy 1809-1918: A History of the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, Penguin Books (reprint 1990)