Negative shocks and mass persecutions

Evidence from the Black Death

Originally published in Journal of Economic Growth

We study the Black Death pogroms to shed light on the factors determining when a minority group will face persecution. Negative shocks increase the likelihood that minorities are persecuted. But, as shocks become more severe, the persecution probability decreases if there are economic complementarities between majority and minority groups. The effects of shocks on persecutions are thus ambiguous. We compile city-level data on Black Death mortality and Jewish persecutions. At an aggregate level, scapegoating increases the probability of a persecution. However, cities which experienced higher plague mortality were less likely to persecute. Furthermore, for a given mortality shock, persecutions were more likely where people were more inclined to believe conspiracy theories that blamed the Jews for the plague and less likely where Jews played an important economic role.

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