The Commercialization of War Commemoration

28 07 2014

As the 100th anniversary to the outbreak of the First World War approaches, it is is worthwhile looking at how companies have attempted to profit from the social memory of the conflict. Jo Hawkins, a historian from Australia, has published some great images related to ANZAC commercialization in Australia and New Zealand. A number of Australian companies have recently run rather tasteless ads that refer to the anniversary of the bloody landings at Gallipoli, where the lives many Australians and New Zealanders were squandered in an attempt to establish a beachhead in Turkey.

Any readers with images of equivalent ads from the UK, Canada, or other countries encouraged to contact me via either the comments section or my work email. I’ll post all of the images I get in a special blog post.


Re the Australasian ads, my personal favourite is the one for the service that allows mobile phone users to pay for the privilege of listening to a pre-recorded minute of silence. Genius!!!





ANZAC Footballs


Why We Need to Integrate the Historiography of Colonialism and the Historiography of International Business

25 07 2014

There is a sizeable historiography on the intellectual and cultural history of colonialism. (See the book covers below). The scholars who study this topic typically work in departments such as cultural studies, English literature, postcolonial studies, as well as history. This body of literature shows that early modern and modern Westerners invented and then manipulated essentialized ideas about ethnic and racial differences to suit a variety of ends.  Among historians of colonialism, the most common narrative does something like this: medieval Europeans, much like the people of ancient Rome, did many horrible things but they weren’t racist and did not attach much importance to skin colour. Racism and the other ideologies that were part of colonialism were invented in the age of European overseas expansion and then filtered down in the cultures of all of the colonial powers, plus their oversee offshoots. People used these ideas to justify taking the land of Native Americans, enslaving Black Africans,  banning Asians from migrating to Australia, etc. In the nineteenth century, the advent of pseudo-scientific racism made racial categories seem even more important to contemporaries. This belief in the reality and importance of race peaked in the middle of the twentieth century. After 1945, most people, at least in the liberal democracies of the West, came to realise that race was just a stupid cultural construct.  Although we are still dealing with many of the legacies of colonialism, particularly the persistence of various forms of subtle racism and Orientalist modes of thought, things are much better. Today, we mainly associated bigoted comments with elderly people, which is a very good sign.






There is a large body of historiography on the history of international business. (See book covers below)  Some of this historiography overlaps with economic history, imperial history, business history, and the history of globalization. This literature shows that globalization is hardly new and that there have been successive waves of globalization and deglobalization. This literature shows that while the modern MNE has important precursors in the form of the chartered trading corporation (e.g., the East India Company) and the long-distance networks created by various mercantile diasporas, the MNE as we know it did not emerge until the late 19th century. The scholars who do research on the history of international business are employed in a wide range of departments and faculties, including economics, various management school departments, political science, plus history departments.


The problem is that these two groups of scholars don’t really speak to each other that often. If you read the standard works on the history of colonialism, you don’t see that much evidence that the authors a) understand how business operates b) are interested in how contemporary ideas about the alleged inferiority of different cultures influenced the strategies and structures of firms.  Similarly, business historians rarely engage with the topic of race. There are some important “cross-over” works that speak to both scholarly communities. Susie Pak’s new social history of J.P. Morgan is a stellar example of that, as is Maria Misra’s book on race and business in British India. But such works are rare.




We can speculate on why these two communities of scholars do not talk to each other. Perhaps business historians want to play it safe rather than touch on emotive issues such as race and ethnicity.  Perhaps cultural historians don’t feel comfortable dealing with lots of numbers and balance sheets.  Perhaps some, but not all, cultural historians have an ideological bias against studying business.  Perhaps they dislike profit-grubbing business of all types. Whatever the reason, the literature on this topic is underdeveloped.

That’s a problem for several reasons.

First, we’re missing out an opportunity to contribute to an important area in social-scientific research. Economists have recently developed some interesting ideas for thinking about how cultural constructs such as racial and ethnic identities bias and distort economic exchange. This literature can obviously be traced back to the late Gary Becker, who argued in the late 1950s that some individuals have a taste for discrimination that influences their behaviour.  A much newer perspective on the topic is provided by

Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales. “Cultural biases in economic exchange?.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 124, no. 3 (2009): 1095-1131.

How much do cultural biases affect economic exchange? We try to answer this question by using the relative trust European citizens have for citizens of other countries. First, we document that this trust is affected not only by objective characteristics of the country being trusted, but also by cultural aspects such as religion, a history of conflicts, and genetic similarities. We then find that lower relative levels of trust toward citizens of a country lead to less trade with that country, less portfolio investment, and less direct investment in that country, even after controlling for the objective characteristics of that country. This effect is stronger for good that are more trust intensive and doubles or triples when trust is instrumented with its cultural determinants. We conclude that perceptions rooted in culture are important (and generally omitted) determinants of economic exchange.



The article by Guiso et al., has over 500 citations and deals with some massively important issues of contemporary relevance, but business historians and historians of globalization haven’t really drawn on it yet. In fact, the IB literature has largely ignored, as far as I can see.

Second, looking at this issue is pretty important if we are to understand the historical processes that helped to produce our current world, which is characterized by high (but thankfully falling) income inequality between individuals.

Third, the residual legacies of the colonialist ideologies of yesteryear continue to influence how Westerners think about the world. To the extent to which such ideas create cultural myopia and prevent Western entrepreneurs from discovering opportunities for mutually advantageous trade with non-Western countries, the world as a whole will be poorer. Similarly, if anti-Black racism keeps a Chinese entrepreneur in Guangzhou from discovering a profit opportunity in Africa, everyone suffers. Studying how colonialist ideas influenced business behaviour in the past can help us to identify “missing opportunities” in the present.

I would like to propose several “ground rules” to guide how we might study this complicated and fraught topic before sketching out a possible way of proceeding to develop a research agenda and community on this topic.

Rule Number 1:  Don’t assume that when Europeans and other Westerners traded with non-Western people, they were necessarily exploiting them.  Many people in Canada assume that the fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company routinely and consistently cheated gullible aboriginal individuals out of value furs. The folk belief persists even though historical research has demolished this myth and has shown that the natives trappers were shrewd businessmen, good at bargaining, and true partners in the fur trade enterprise.

Rule Number 2: Be multi-disciplinary. Build research teams that include people from a range of disciplinary backgrounds so that you can combine qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Rule Number 3: Don’t assume that the adoption of discriminatory attitudes and practices by an economic actor necessarily impoverished them: market forces don’t always punish racists, though they often do under a regime of perfect competition. Let the historical record determine your conclusions on a case-by-case basis.  That’s what being a historian is all about. Sadly, Gary Becker’s insight the market forces will punish racists under certain circumstances has degenerated into the view that the free market will always punish those who discriminate (see video below). Alas, the perfectly competitive market is a pretty rare historical phenomenon.


Rule Number 4: Don’t assume that Westerners are more discriminatory than non-Westerners. Non-Western cultures had economically irrational systems of ascribed status long before Western explorers showed up. Moreover, while modern scientific racism may have been a Western invention, it was exported to other parts of the world and adopted by local. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the liberal democracies around the North Atlantic that led the world in passing laws that banned racial discrimination in economic transactions. Hong Kong, which has a problem with discrimination against its South Asian minorities, only banned job discrimination on the basis of race in the private sector in 2009. (A ban on such discrimination in the public sector was brought in in 1996).

Rule Number 5:  Ask the following question: can the subject of the history of colonialism can be written as a comedy rather than just a tragedy?  A Canadian historian of aboriginal history recently argued that the problem with the existing historiography on the relations between whites and natives was that it was always written as a tragedy. The basic plot of this tragedy goes like this: the Natives had their own societies and lived well,  then the greedy whites showed up and killed them and gave them smallpox, and now they are a poor underclass. This historian did not dispute that there was a lot of truth in this way of viewing history and that it is certainly a good way of thinking about the histories of some of Canada’s 500-plus First Nations communities. Some of these communities are indeed characterized by massive poverty and social problems. In other cases, the First Nations communities are now doing quite well by many statistical measures. In such cases, it may sometimes make more sense to view the community’s historic relationship with whites as a comedy of errors: two groups of individuals who were separated by a massive language and cultural barrier came into contact, some mayhem ensued, but by Act V the two groups had learned to get along and to laugh at their previous misconceptions.

It seems to me that the history of colonialism, particularly in countries that are now quite prosperous (e.g., Singapore) might be written as a comedy. Whether we write the history of colonialism as a tragedy or a comedy has obvious implications for how we view MNEs founded in the heyday of colonialism.


Here is a road map about how we could move ahead.


Step 1. Assemble an inter-disciplinary team.

Step 2. Write a meta-analysis of the existing secondary literature on colonialism and international business. Look for secondary sources that talk about colonialist discrimination in international companies. Even though this is an under-developed area of research, there are enough books and articles on the topic to allow you to write an article doing a meta-analysis. After compiling a list of the publications on this topic, go through and see what the author has said about the impact of the colonialist attitudes on the financial performance of the firm or firms being discussed.

Step 3. Crowd-source your intellectual development. Try to organize workshops and informal gatherings where ideas can be kicked around. Try to attract real bright people who don’t have emotional or ideological hang-ups about the issues being discussed.  Go for bright ambitious people who don’t have an axe to grind and who simply want to publish in lots of top-tier journals, generate research income, and maybe pick up some consulting income from MNEs.

Step 4. Think about how this research could be useful to a wide range of people outside of the academe.

Step 5. Start by analysing the impact of colonialist ideas on economic exchange in the British Empire, which was the largest and best documented of the European colonial empires.


If you are interesting in being involved in such a project, please email me.

Bigger Government Doesn’t Always Mean Less Entrepreneurship

24 07 2014

Harvard Business Review:

I’ll have to read the full report. It will be interesting to see if they discuss the impact of safety nets on the willingness of people to engage in entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

Conventional wisdom holds that there is a tradeoff between an expansive welfare state and the dynamism of a country’s economy. Bigger government gets in the way of entrepreneurship, the thinking goes, thereby holding back innovation and job creation.

There is data that seems to bear this out; research has found a negative correlation between a country’s level of government spending and its rate of new business creation. But a new paper from a researcher at The World Bank adds some much-needed nuance to the conversation, making the point that not all government spending is equal.

It’s intuitive that different types of spending would have different effects on entrepreneurship. A dollar spent on university R&D might stimulate it while a dollar spent subsidizing an incumbent firm might do the reverse.

With that in mind, the study seeks to distinguish between spending on corporate subsidies vs. everything else. That’s hard to measure…

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EH.Net Review of Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods

22 07 2014

EH.Net has published my review of Marcelo Bucheli and R. Daniel Wadhwani, editors. Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. xii + 338 pp. $83 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-19-964689-0.

How should history be incorporated into the curriculum of business schools? What type of historical research should be published in top-tier management school journals?  What can mainstream organization studies scholars learn from the research methodologies of historians? These are some of the fundamental questions that this edited collection raises.

Read more here.


Ronald Kroeze and Sjoerd Keulen on Why CEOs Value History

21 07 2014

In their great article on organizational memory and invented traditions in Dutch multinationals, Ronald Kroeze and Sjoerd Keulen discuss the interviews they had with Dutch CEOs. They report that all of the executives they spoke to “acknowledge the usefulness of history when managing organisations.” In other words, thinking historically made them better businesspeople.  

Moreover, all of their interviewees were pleased that academic historians were willing to listen and give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Kroeze and Keulen suggests that this “proves the demand for a historical approach towards business leadership and organisations.”

This is very encouraging news. It fits with my understanding of how many CEOs in other countries operate.  Moreover, it speaks to some of the issues discussed in Behlül  Üsdiken and Matthias Kipping. “History and organization studies: A long-term view.” Organizations in time. History, theory, methods (2014): 33-55.

Ronald Kroeze and Sjoerd Keulen, “Leading a multinational is history in practice: The use of invented traditions and narratives at AkzoNobel, Shell, Philips and ABN AMRO,” Business History 55, no. 8 (2013): 1265-1287.

Call for Papers – “Canada and the Great War”

21 07 2014

Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex, April 28th-30th, 2015


The UK campus of Ontario’s Queen’s University’s (see picture above)  is hosting a conference entitled “Canada and the Great War”. The conference will take place in April of 2015, 100 years after the first use of gas by Germany at the Second Battle of Ypres. The conference will explore a broad range of subjects associated with Canada’s role in WWI and the war’s impact upon a young nation at a crossroads. Established scholars, graduate students and professionals are all invited to submit proposals on topics related, but not limited to, any of the following:

  • Canada and Mobilization
  • The Canadian Experience in the Trenches
  • Canada and the Literature of the Great War
  • Canada’s Role in Relation to Its’ Place within the British Empire
  • Provincial Differences in commitment to the War Effort
  • Newfoundland and the Great War
  • The Battles of Ypres, Vimy and Passchendaele
  • The Canadian Homefront
  • Canadian Training and Leadership
  • Canadian Identity and the Great War
  • The Canadians in Britain

Proposals (250 word Maximum) should include a working title and brief overview of the paper’s aims and objectives, along with a short biographical note. The deadline for submissions is October 15th, 2014. Proposals for full panels (3-4 papers) and round tables are welcome. It is expected that a selection of the papers will appear together in published form.

Proposal submissions and requests for further conference details should be sent to: 

Dr. Scott McLean, Queen’s University – Bader International Study Centre, Herstmonceux Castle

Hailsham, East Sussex, United Kingdom, BN27 1RN



1864 and 2014: Charlottetown and Quebec City

20 07 2014

This year marks the 150th anniversary of two crucial meetings that led to Confederation in 1867. I’m referring to the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, political scientist Antonia Maioni notes that the while Charlottetown is going into overdrive to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown conference, much less has been done to commemorate the equally important meetings in Quebec City. She writes:

Indeed, this year is historically important because it marks the 150th anniversary of the two conferences that would shape the form and content of what we know as Canada. In PEI, the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 has become a cottage industry: The scene of Sir John A. Macdonald and his Canadian colleagues crashing the Maritime union party with a boatload of champagne is the stuff of legend. And Charlottetown has made sure that those iconic whiskered gentlemen live on and on, with the federal government’s help.

Still, if the devil is in the details, it’s the Quebec Conference of 1864 that should be riveting our attention. Quebec, the capital of the then United Canada, is where the resolutions about the actual constitutional framework were hammered out..,

Which may be why, at least compared to Charlottetown, there is relatively little in the way of celebration in Quebec City to mark this historic date. 

Professor Maioni’s point is basically correct, but I think that she is overlooking the conference on the Quebec Conference that will be taking place at Quebec City’s Museum of Civilization, October 16-18.

I’m going to be presenting on business, capitalism, and resistance to Confederation in the third session.

I’ve pasted the programme below.




First Session: The Legal and Political Context

Janet Ajzenstat
Writing Constitutional Law

Rachel Chagnon
The Founders of Confederation and the B.N.A. Act : their Visions and Models of Constitutionalism

Marc Chevrier
Making a Dominion, or the Completion of a Conquest

Phillip Buckner
Canadian Constitution-Making in the British World


Second Session: The Key Actors

Éric Bédard
The Anguishes of Joseph Édouard Cauchon

Guy Laforest
Georges-Étienne Cartier and the Renaissance of Quebec’s Autonomy

Christopher Moore
A Large Group in a Small Room: Multi-Party Dynamics at the Quebec Conference

Bruce Ryder
The Quebec Resolutions and the Birth of a Quasi-Federal State

Paul Romney
George Brown and Oliver Mowat on the Quebec Resolutions and Confederation : What They Said and What They Meant

Third Session: The Opponents

Louis-Georges Harvey
Confederation and Corruption : The Republican Critique of Canadian Confederation in Quebec

Stéphane Kelly
The Opposition to Federal Union in Lower Canada: Economic Arguments

Speaker to be confirmed


Fourth Session: The Moral Foundations

Robert Vipond
The Quebec Resolutions and the Ideas Left Behind

André Burelle
Perspectives of a Personalist-Communitarian Philosopher on the 1864 Quebec Conference

François Rocher
Opposing the 1864 Confederation Project : some Critiques of the Goals of the Regime


Fifth Session: Assessing the Historiography

Michael Behiels
« Déjà vu all over again » : Revising the English-Language Historiography of Canada’s Confederation Movement, 1865-1867 and beyond

Claude Couture
French-Language Historiography and the Quebec Conference

Anne Trépanier
Imaginations of a Canada in Becoming

Closing Remarks

The Industrial Revolution That Never Was

19 07 2014

Harvard Business Review:

Marc Levinson tells us the tale of an ironworks that was ahead of its tim.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

Every schoolchild learns that the industrial revolution began in England. Forests have been felled to demonstrate why England, and only England, had the culture and institutions to be the birthplace of modern industrial capitalism in the late 1700s. Yet the creation of large-scale factories nearly began not in England, but in Great Britain’s American colonies, 250 years ago. The American version failed miserably, because culture and institutions were not enough to kindle an economic revolution.

It was in June of 1764 that a merchant named Peter Hasenclever landed in New York with plans to build a network of factories unlike any the world had seen. Hasenclever, then 48, had been an international businessman almost since birth. He had grown up in northwestern Germany, where his father owned mills that heated small amounts of charcoal and iron together to make steel that could be hammered and sharpened into knife blades. He…

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James C. Scott, F.A. Hayek, and Organization Studies

18 07 2014



Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson have been posting a series of blog posts on the ideas of James C. Scott, the author of  Seeing Like a State and The Art of Not Being Governed. I believe that Scott is one of the most important social thinkers around today.  Scott’s paradigm blends the best of conservative and left-wing insights. Scott transcend the left-right political spectrum we use to categorize thinkers.  As Brad De Long has shown, Scott’s ideas incorporate a variety of insights from F.A. Hayek and Austrian economics.






Back in 2007, De Long wrote this about Scott’s Seeing Like a State:

 Heaven knows that I am no Austrian–I am a liberal Keynesian and a social democrat–but within economics even liberal Keynesian social democrats acknowledge that the Austrians won victory in their intellectual debate with the central planners long ago.


This book marks the final stage because it shows the spread of what every economist would see as “Austrian ideas” into political science, sociology, and anthropology as well.


No one can finish reading Scott without believing–as Austrians have argued for three-quarters of a century–that centrally-planned social-engineering is not an appropriate mechanism for building a better society.

De Long mentions that Hayekian ideas have gone mainstream in political science, sociology, and anthropology.  I’m convinced that the ideas of Scott and Hayek also offer a lot to management academics in the field of organizations studies. (I’m actually working, on and off, on a paper on that subject. I suppose I’ll present it at EGOS next year). Anyway, there are signs of growing interest in Scott’s paradigm on the part of people who study large companies. Consider this article:

James Ferguson, “Seeing like an oil company: space, security, and global capital in neoliberal Africa.” American anthropologist 107, no. 3 (2005): 377-382.

As the title suggests, the author draws on Scott’s ideas to understand not a state but another type of organization that replaces market with hierarchy, namely, a big vertically-integrated oil company.

Last year, Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein published a paper called “Hayek and Organizational Studies.” I have tremendous respect for both Foss and Klein and I liked this paper, which discussed the impact of Hayek’s ideas on people in Organization Studies. They listed Hayek’s direct and indirect influence on the field. For instance, they show that the knowledge management concept and knowledge-based view of the firm are based on Hayekian ideas. There was, in view, a serious omission from their paper in that they don’t mention Scott, who has been a conduit for the transmission of clearly Hayekian ideas to a range of scholars of organization, particularly those who are associated with the Critical Management Studies tradition.  I’ve often thought that the intellectual traditions of Austrian economics and CMS are very similar in a number of ways. I think that Scott is a bridge between these two camps.


Update: I’m including this cool video in which Scott talks about his research.

Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America’s Future

17 07 2014


I’m reblogging this Time article about the Maker Movement by Tim Bajarin. Most of the article is pretty boiler-plate stuff that were hear from supporters of the Maker Movement: it’s going to revitalise the economy, liberate the Little Guy, dethrone Big Business, and allow the US to compete with China. The really interesting part of the article is where Bajarin uses historical analogy to understand the current state of the Maker Movement. He writes:

One of the people who really understands the Maker Movement is Zach Kaplan, the CEO of Inventables, which is an online hardware store for designers in the Maker Movement. I think of his site as a kind of Amazon for Makers.

I met Kaplan at the recent TED conference in Vancouver, where he told me about the history of the Maker Movement and its culture… he likened the Maker Movement at the moment to where we were with the Apple II back in 1979. He said that in those days, the computer clubs and tech meetings fueled interest in tech and got thousands interested in software programming, semiconductor design and creating tech-related products. Of course, this begat the PC industry and the tech world we live in today.

Notice how Bajarin is using history to understand the current state of the Maker Movement and to predict its future.

Originally posted on TIME:

I grew up in the age of Tinker Toys and Erector Sets. Both were meant to inspire me to be a maker instead of a consumer.

My first real tool was a wood-burning engraver that had such a short chord it was almost impossible to use. When I started using it, I burned myself more than once and nearly started a fire at the house. How in the world they sold this to kids in those days is now a mystery to me.

I was in Silicon Valley in the late 1970s, and I started to get more interested in the Homebrew Computer Club and similar user groups where people could get together and talk about tech-related interests. This was how I first got interested in computers.

Along the way, the idea of creating technology got sidelined as I instead started to write about it, chronicling its history. This led…

View original 1,552 more words


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