Professor Fisman received his PhD in Business Economics at Harvard University.
From Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala., to the "Little Rock Nine," who defied school segregation in Arkansas, most of the civil rights clashes of the 20th century played out on the turf where the Confederacy had fought to preserve slavery 100 years earlier.
If a century seems like a long time for a culture of racism to persist, consider the findings of a recent study on the persistence of anti-Semitism in Germany: Communities that murdered their Jewish populations during the 14th-century Black Death pogroms were more likely to demonstrate a violent hatred of Jews nearly 600 years later. A culture of intolerance can be very persistent indeed.
Changing any aspect of culture—the norms, attitudes, and "unwritten rules" of a group—isn't easy. Beliefs are passed down from parent to child—positions on everything from childbearing to religious beliefs to risk-taking are transmitted across generations. Newcomers, meanwhile, may be attracted by the culture of their chosen home—Europeans longing for smaller government and lower taxes choose to move to the United States, for example, while Americans looking for Big Brotherly government move in the other direction. Once they arrive, these migrants tend to take on the attitudes of those around them—American-born Italians hold more "American" views with each subsequent generation.
"Good" cultural attitudes—like trust and tolerance—may thus be sustained across generations. But the flipside is that "bad" attitudes—mutual hatred and xenophobia—may also persist.
The authors of the new study, Nico Voigtländer of UCLA and Joachim Voth of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, examine the historical roots of the virulent anti-Semitism that found expression in Nazi-era Germany...