Fighting fire with fire : Countering political populism

Populism is on the rise around the world. For mainstream political parties, this trend represents an existential threat, as disenfranchised voters flock to support new populist groups. The most effective way to respond to the challenge posed by populist parties is an open question and is explored in this column using evidence from Italy. One option is to try to de-bunk the populists, unpicking their campaigns and exposing the flaws in their promises using a fact-based approach. But this can simply push voters further to the fringes, on a tide of anti-expert sentiment. The other option is to fight fire with fire and go after the populists, using their own tactics against them. But this approach, it turns out, can have concerning unintended consequences.

Shadowless theocracies: A study of religion and inheritance norms

Theocratic systems often impose strict rules on those living under them. But long-run economic effects can also be felt centuries later. This column presents evidence from the Papal States, using this case study to explore the role of theocracy in shaping future religiosity as well as political preferences. The study shows that where other pre-existing behaviours and attitudes are present, such as the need for collectivism in an agrarian society, the power of the Church is diminished, with its effect on rules and systems becoming less prominent.

Mapping honesty and migration: Lessons from Italy

Levels of dishonesty vary by region in Italy. This column measures how behaviours and attitudes relating to rule-breaking differ from place to place using childbirth registration data. By tracking where more people are falsifying birth records, it is possible to make accurate inferences about honesty in a given area. Importantly, the column also shows that migration movements can generate honesty drains or honesty gains in different areas. These changes correlate with regional economic outcomes, from human capital to productivity, to earnings growth, to the quality of local government.

Women in leadership roles: A surprising result

Female representation in senior economic and political positions is still very low in many European countries. But what happens to female empowerment when a woman ‘breaks the glass ceiling’? This column explores the extent to which female leaders appoint more women to other executive positions. Using data from Italian local politics, the research shows the opposite trend: women in senior roles are less likely to nominate women for official positions. This is a startling finding.