In praise of the House of Habsburg!

By Razib Khan | March 2, 2011 1:27 am

One of the most annoying aspects of the post-Westphalian era is the conceit that all national administrative units are equivalent in some deep fundamental sense. So, for example, you get comparisons of per capita income for nations, and Luxembourg and Lichtenstein inevitably show up at the top of the rankings. Everyone knows that this is a farce, but a nation is a nation, and one must honor the ideal, even when it leads us to bizarre assessments like this. Luxembourg has a population of 500,000, and is a little dot of a nation. It’s really ludicrous to compare it to Italy, which spans the gamut from Milan’s value-added wealth to Puglia’s spare poverty.

But with modern statistical tools and GIS software we can disaggregate the mishmash of administrative units which coalesce together to constitute large amorphous nations, and actually compare like to like. In this way those of us who haven’t traveled all around the world, and actually lived “on the ground,” can get a sense for fine-scale variation which all the locals have as part of their background information. This is what the Eurostat Yearbook is handy for. In particular, I love their NUT2 and NUT 3 visualizations. NUT 2 specifically is good for someone like me with a modest amount of geographical knowledge, since these units often correspond to historical regions which we’re familiar with (e.g., Catalonia, Tuscany, etc.).

Below are a selection of maps which I think are informative and interesting. But please note that some of these maps are generated from mid-2000s to 2007 data. This means there are going to be some obvious inflation of values for Ireland, inflation through fraud in Greece, and the property bubble in Spain. With those caveats, here’s GDP:

My title alludes to the fact that from what I can tell the old core Hapsburg domains come off particularly well when you disaggregate from the scale of nation to region. Austria, southern Germany, and northern Italy would make Max Weber very happy, even though the Hapsburgs expelled their Lutherans and positively persecuted their Calvinists.

But GDP can be deceptive. Let’s look at disposable income:

It seems France does better, and Scandinavia does worse, by this measure. European readers might know better than I how this is calculated, as it may simply be that Scandinavians engage in more payment transfers which come back to individuals, but aren’t counted as “income.”

Now, population growth in the mid-2000s:

A lot of this has to be migration, internal to the European Union (“Polish plumbers”), as well as immigration from Asia, Latin America (Spain), and Africa. This is really noticeable as a change in Spain and Italy, which have flipped from being migration sources to destinations.

Speaking of internal migration, the movement of young people to urban conurbations and economically dynamic regions is pretty clear in this snapshot of dependency ratios (the number of those over 64, to those in the 15-64 range):

Next we move to the employment rate. I assume this is just the proportion who could be employed, who are employed (includes those who aren’t looking for work, and voluntarily do not participate in the labor force):

Here you have the northern Protestant fringe of Europe along with the old German Catholic core. Scandinavia and the Netherlands have very high labor force participation rates for women, though in the latter case apparently a lot of that is part time (by choice). I presume that in Germany you are seeing the impacts of economic arrangements which mitigate against shedding excess workers.

What about older workers? Here the pattern gets interesting and less predictable:

There are two cases where there’s a lot of labor force participation by older workers. Northern Europe, which doesn’t have low retirement ages, and underdeveloped regions in the east where presumably there isn’t a generous pension system. The “wine belt” though likes to kick back during their golden years.

Finally, let’s look at unemployment rate:

The old Communist German Democratic Republic jumps out at you on these sorts of maps. Not only is eastern Germany filled with old people, but the young who remain seem to be more likely to be unemployed. Last I checked Ossis stilled had not closed the productivity gap. But it isn’t just the Ossis in Germany, some of the western Saxon regions seem to be laggards as well. In contrast, there seems to be a low unemployment high productivity economic regime all across the core of the Hapsburg personal domain in Central Europe, from Bohemia, to Austria, down to northern Italy.

And just for kicks, here’s a more fine-grained NUT 3 map of GDP (from 2007):

MORE ABOUT: Economics, Hapsburgs
  • Åse

    Little anecdotal evidence here from this Swedish-american back to sweden again academic. I live in the far south of Sweden – about 10 miles from Malmö (of Rosengård fame), and work at Lunds Universitet. (This is specifically re disposable income). When I took the position, I calculated that my initial salary would be very similar to what I could expect from a university in US (actually better than the liberal arts colleges I interviewed at). Tax rate, slightly north of 30% which was similar to my post-doc tax rate (this is 2004). When I moved here, though, my daycare bill for two children dropped to virtually zero. Actually, having kids is a bit of a net gain. All parents of children under 16 get a kick-back from the state (this has happened since I was a child, and I was born 1959). They also have a maximum fee for daycare. It is a sliding scale, but I earn enough so that I get to pay the maximum fee. Even with the kids in the most expensive little kids care, the kickback more than covered daycare fees. This is compared to the roughly $1000 I paid a month for daycare in Indiana (and Indiana is relatively cheap when it comes to daycare). Also, there is no outlay for medical insurance, there is no co-pay for kids doctors appointments, (adult appointments would be equivalent to co-pay when you are adequately insured in the US). The medical is kidn of minor compared to daycare, but this is a little bit more disposable income for me.

    The university actually pays quite a bit more for my services than I see on my paycheck/gross pay. They contribute to a pension fund, for example. It won’t keep me wealthy in my old age (above 65 or 67, though I’m hoping they will up the mandatory retirement to 69. As long as my brain is not being eaten by tangles or other things, i expect I can perform my duties), but it does not come out of my paycheck. I can, of course, still contribute to a private pension fund, but it is still more money that I don’t feel.

    I actually live in a wealthy suburb, by the ocean. Prices are cheaper than equivalent in the US, but still fairly high. I do get a tax refund for the interest I pay (just about everybody owns their housing in sweden. Rentals are difficult to come by).

    So, lots of things are taken care of automatically – that you would have to pay for yourself out of your income in the US. I’m not sure this accounts for the slightly lower levels of disposable income in scandinavia, but personally my experience is that my pay-check doesn’t have to go to so many additional things as it had to in the US.

    I do think we have one of the more generous policies for parents.

    Very anecdotal, of course, but certainly a testable hypothesis 😉

  • TGGP

    It now has a name: the United Nations fallacy.

  • Miss Cellania

    From the post title -coupled with the blog name, of course- I came in here expecting to read about inbreeding. I’m sure you understand.

  • Razib Khan
  • Charles Iliya Krempeaux

    @Miss Cellania: There was an older post Razib wrote on that. See:

  • EcoPhysioMichelle

    Hey, Miss Cellania, did you know Razib already blogged about this?

    (Sorry, can’t pass up an opportunity to pile on.)

  • TGGP
  • Ackbark

    I want to ask Åse,

    Is it that having less money-related things to keep track of yourself contributes to a less stressful life in general and do you see this as having improved health consequences?

    Do you feel more or less in charge of things?

  • Itüpflreiter

    AFAIK all living descendants of the house of Habsburg spell their name with a “b”. (Ok, two b´s actually).
    So what is your source or reason for the “Hapsburg”-variant?

  • Razib Khan

    i don’t care, so i changed it.

  • Georg

    “Hapsburg” is a name that has an occurence in one of those “naked cannon x/y”- films.
    But in general, Your statements like “Max Weber would be very happy” or about southern germany and some conection of Letzeburg and Liechtenstein to the Westfalian treaty, are somewhat odd.

  • John Emerson

    In Google Hapsburg gets about 6-7% and in an English-only Google it’s only 3-1. I think that it sounds more idiomatic in English. But you’ll get almost that proportion in a German Google. Even “Hapsburg -Habsburg” in German gets about 10% of the hits of “Habsburg -Hapsburg”. There’s a brand-name absinthe called “Hapsburg”, which seems to be Italian or perhabs Bulgarian).

    The opinion of the powerless and insignificant Hab/psburg descendants alive today wouldn’t necessarily be decisive here.

    The scholarly consensus is for b, but b is common enough to call it a variant rather than an error.

    In short, the p version is pretty common, though b is the scholarly consensus.

  • ohwilleke

    Fantastic stuff.

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    No doubt the b/p is due to sound change that occurs in Bavarian and other forms of “highest” german. It’s not present in “standard german”. For example in Bavarian Berg has shifted to Perg. There’s some belief that such a shift was also present in lombardic at a very early stage as several lombardic names show shifts from b -> p

  • Douglas Knight

    Paul, this is a final b, while Berg is an initial b. I believe this pronunciation is standard German, while Bavarians probably pronounce it Hapspurg.

    As I understand it, terminal b in standard German sounds like p to English speakers and probably to speakers Romance languages. Often this applies to a b at the end of a syllable as well, as in Habsburg. The sound is neither voiced nor aspirated, so it is a third sound, distinct from initial p and b; Germans can distinguish it from terminal p, though I can’t. Here is wikipedia, which doesn’t seem to agree with either of us.

  • Anson E. Long

    And you spelled Liechtenstein wrong…


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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