Rescuing Jews is a normal good

by on February 17, 2011 at 2:24 am in Economics, History | Permalink

From Mitchell Hoffman, based on Holocaust data:

I find that (1) Richer countries had many more rescuers than poorer ones, and (2) Within countries, richer people were more likely to be rescuers than poorer people. The individual-level effect of income on being a rescuer remains significant after controlling for ease of rescue variables, such as the number of rooms in one's home, suggesting that the correlation of income and rescue is not solely driven by richer people having more resources for rescue. Given that richer people might be thought to have more to lose by rescuing, the evidence is consistent with the view that altruism increases in income.

Hat tip goes to BPS Digest.

1 Matt February 17, 2011 at 12:43 am

"Given that richer people might be thought to have more to lose by rescuing, the evidence is consistent with the view that altruism increases in income."

Oh *come on*. What about social networks? There's a massive selection effect of "being rescued" – those that got rescued are more likely to have social ties to the rescuers. Richer might have more to lose, but they are also probably better connected and better able to protect the rescue from discovery.

The study has huge issues – it's even not a random selection of either rescuers or non-rescuers. Let's include a little bit more analysis of the paper next time.

2 n=1 February 17, 2011 at 1:32 am

Maybe we need a chart of 'perceived rigor of analysis' vs. posting time on Tyler's posts.

3 Tyler Cowen February 17, 2011 at 2:30 am

People, I am not endorsing the "altruism" hypothesis, I am supporting the "normal good" hypothesis, as my post title suggests, plus linking does not mean endorsement per se. I've never seen a paper on this topic before, it's quite interesting, and it's in a top economics journal.

4 @Pembrokian February 17, 2011 at 3:05 am

In Poland, Bohemia and Ukraine, the punishment for saving a Jew was death penalty for a whole family. In Germany and France it was jail. So the alternative costs are different

5 anon February 17, 2011 at 4:41 am

"controlling" for a variable seems to be the biggest scam in quantitative social sciences these days.

6 TGGP February 17, 2011 at 5:36 am

In 21st century America, Jews are one of the highest income demographic groups (Indian-Americans are higher, from what I recall). Does anyone know if that was the case in mid-20th century Europe? That would produce some of the social network effects cited above. And if @Pembrokian is right, it is a horrible idea to use country-level data.

7 Right Wing-nut February 17, 2011 at 7:17 am

Under Nazi rule, hiding Jews might well get you a one-way ticket to the camps. The "more to lose" observation is robust.

I do think that the strong negative correlation between wealth and "othering" (hatred for outsiders of one kind or another) played a significant role. (Note: it is easy to see that as one moves down the economic scale, an increase in othering is rational, at least short-term.)

I also think that moral pondering is correlated with wealth. The more wealth are also more likely to observe a wider swath of what is happening in a society.

So… you have people more capably to effect results, more likely to see what is happening, more likely to object to it for multiple reasons. What do we expect?

But if the study focused at the national level, it should be trashcaned immediately. Cultural and political differences make far, far more difference (anyone remember the Dutch?) at this scale.

8 KevinH February 18, 2011 at 7:36 am

Very odd. They are trying to tease apart income and resources….

I guess they are really trying to dissociate income and capital. So, my guess they are really looking at temporal discounting, or impulsivity, as they are basically looking at people who are less likely to buy durable goods.

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