Cool Article on the 1867 Reform Act

2 09 2014

AS: I’ve stumbled across an interesting article on the impact of the 1867 Reform Act on the price of shares on the London Stock Exchange. Essentially, passage of this legislation caused share prices to dip, which suggests that investors thought that expanding the franchise might result in socialistic legislation that reduced profits. It seems to me that you could adapt the author’s methodology for looking at the impact on the stock market of other events in this period. For instance, what was the impact of the passage of the British North America Act on the London prices of shares in Canadian companies. That’s something that needs investigation.

Turner, John D., and Wenwen Zhan. “Property rights and competing for the affections of Demos: the impact of the 1867 Reform Act on stock prices.” Public Choice 150, no. 3-4 (2012): 609-631.

Abstract: The 1867 Reform Act in Britain extended the electoral franchise to the skilled but propertyless urban working classes. Using stock market data and exploiting the fact that foreign and domestic equities traded simultaneously on the London market, this paper finds that investors in British firms reacted negatively to the passage of this Act. We suggest that this finding is consistent with investors foreseeing future alterations of property rights arising from the pressure that the large newly enfranchised group would bring to bear on government policy. We also suggest that our findings appear to be more consistent with the Tory political competition explanation for the Act rather than the Whig threat-of-revolution explanation.

The unrecognised benefits of grade inflation

28 08 2014

As a new academic year approaches in much of the world, it is worthwhile thinking about grade inflation. In an innovative essay Raphael Boleslavsky and Christopher Cotton challenge the widespread viewer that grade inflation is detrimental because it compromises the quality of education and reduces the information content of student transcripts for employers. They argue “that there may be benefits to allowing grade inflation when universities’ investment decisions are taken into account. With grade inflation, student transcripts convey less information, so employers rely less on transcripts and more on universities’ reputations. This incentivises universities to make costly investments to improve the quality of their education and the average ability of their graduates.”

Key paragraph:

This analysis therefore reveals an important tradeoff in the debate over grade inflation. Allowing grade inflation increases investment in education (by both schools and students), increasing average graduate ability. But at the same time, it introduces noise into transcripts, making it more difficult for employers or other evaluators to identify the most qualified graduates for their positions. We show that the beneficial effect on investment may dominate the costs of increased noise. Allowing grade inflation may actually increase the chance that the employer selects a high-ability graduate. That suggests that even if a policy intervention could eliminate grade inflation, doing so is not necessarily the most socially desirable course of action.

Bad PR Move By British Embassy in Washington

25 08 2014

Bad PR Move By British Embassy in Washington 

A few days after a man with a British accent beheaded a US citizen on YouTube, the British Embassy misused Twitter in a spectacularly bad way by making a joking reference to the burning of the White House in the War of 1812. 

: Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!


The tweet generated an immediate and hostile reaction from Americans. Judging by the twitter handles and avatar images, many of the offended individuals are fans of the Tea Party and the NRA. See here, here. and here.

The British Embassy later issued a grovelling apology for the tweet.

The tasteless tweet was made at a poolside party that featured a White House cake (see above). My guess is that a British embassy employee with a smartphone in one hand and a beer in another thought it would be a funny thing to post on twitter. 

Talk about bad PR! It’s also out of character for the British diplomatic corps, which had avoided any displays of triumphalism in its recent commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War: although one individual in the British Cabinet (Education Secretary Michael Gove) spoke about the First World War as a conflict between good and evil, the UK’s Foreign Office’s commemoration depicted the outbreak of the war as a terrible tragedy caused by bumbling politicians of many different nationalities. This non-jingoistic approach to remembering 1914 doubtless helps Britain’s relations with its EU trading partners today.

I note with interest that the Canadian government has discontinued its commemorations of the War of 1812, likely out of fear of antagonizing its largest trading partner. 

Economists Dissing Economics

23 08 2014


Some amusing one-liners here.

Originally posted on Unlearning Economics:

For whatever reason, I found myself compiling a list of 20 or so quotes, mostly from well known economists, criticising mainstream economics. What’s most interesting is that although the quotes come from a wide range of economists, with different political views and from different times, they seem to have a lot in common.

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.

― Joan Robinson

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

― John Kenneth Galbraith

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.

― John Kenneth Galbraith

…the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.

― Thomas Piketty

View original 458 more words

Port City Lives Conference 2014, 11-12th September 2014

20 08 2014

AS: The University of Liverpool will be hosting a fantastic conference on maritime history next month. I’ve pasted the programme below. 


Port City Lives Conference 2014, 11-12th September

Vectors: Port Cities as Gateways, Channels and Conduits


DAY ONE: Thursday 11 September. Venue: Blackburne House, Liverpool (off Hope St, L8 7PE)

Welcome: 8.45 – 9.30

Coffee, registration, and welcoming remarks

Session 1: 9.30 – 11.00

Place and identities


Emma Goldsmith (Northwestern), ‘Liverpool’s Elites at Home and Abroad 1870-1930.’

Alex Gillett (York) and Kevin Tennant (York), ‘Football, Local Identity, and (S)port Cities Lives.’

Kirsty Hooper (Warwick), ‘Heritage, Houses and Hospitals: Material Traces of 19th-century Anglo-Basque Maritime Networks.’

Coffee: 11.00 – 11.15


Session 2: 11.15 – 13.00

Trade and networks


Barbara Hahn (Texas Tech/Leeds), ‘Ports, Imports, and Manufacturing: The Emergence of the Sectors of Production During the Industrial Revolution.’

Sheryllynne Haggerty (Nottingham), ‘Structural Holes and Bad Ideas: Liverpool’s  Atlantic Trade Networks 1711-1713.’

Derek Janes (Exeter), ‘“for the very purpose of running them onto this country in defiance of the Law:” The Importance of Smugglers to their Suppliers and Distributors.’

Eberhard Crailsheim (Universität Hamburg), ‘Seville and Manila: Two Port Cities and the Phenomenon of Illegal Trade and Corruption in the 17th and 18th Centuries.’

Lunch: 13.00 – 14.00


Session 3: 14.00 – 15.30



Jane Stevens Crawshaw (Oxford Brookes), ‘Healthy Water: Environmental Channels in Renaissance Genoa.’

Robert MacKinnon (Aberystwyth), ‘The Maintenance of Flows as Threatening and Threatened with the Water-world: Hydraulic Modelling, Tool-power, and the Becoming of Power-tools.’

Kathleen Tyson (Independent scholar), ‘The Great Lost Port of English Conquest.’

Coffee: 15.30 – 15.45


Session 4: 15.45 – 17.15

Encounters: forced and chosen


Simon Hill (Liverpool John Moores), ‘Port Cities as Gateways & Threats: Prisoners of War in Liverpool, 1775-1783.’

Cameron White (University of Technology, Sydney) and Jacqueline Lorber Kasunic (University of Technology, Sydney),‘“A Half Way House’: The Global Context of Migration from Sydney to San Francisco during the Californian Gold Rush, 1849-1851.’

Ben Inman (Warwick), ‘Within and Beyond Galicia’s Fifth Province: Spanish Galician Immigrants in Buenos Aires.’

Session 5: 17.15 – 18.15

Keynote Speaker Horatio Clare (author of Down to the Sea in Ships), Title: TBC

Reception: 18.30 – 20.30

The Clove Hitch, Hope St, Liverpool


DAY TWO: Friday 12th September (co-hosted with the Envisioning The Indian City project)

Venue: The Library, 19 Abercrombie Square, University of Liverpool




Session 1: 9.30 – 11.30



Nilanjana Deb (Jadavpur University), ‘“The Tide of Migration Ebbs and Flows”: Labour Migration from the Colonial Port of Calcutta.’

Jessica Hanser (Yale-NUS College, Singapore), ‘The Madras-Canton Connection: Debts Crises and Political Instability in the British Empire.’

Catherine Eagleton (British Library), ‘Currency Flows and Trade Routes: Connections and Disconnections between Port Cities in the Western Indian Ocean

Atiya Habeeb Kidwai (Jawaharlal Nehru), Gloria Kuzur (Jawaharlal Nehru) and Sarmistha Roy (Ambedkar University, New Delhi), ‘The Role of Gateway Ports in the Evolution of Extroverted Hinterlands and Trade Blocks in Colonial India (1850 – 1945).’

Coffee: 11.30-11.45


Session 2: 11.45 – 13.15



Simon Mollan (York), ‘The Port of Suakin, Sudan, Entrepreneurialism, and the Imperial Gothic.’

Christine Atiyeh (Kutztown) and Alicia Walker (Bryn Mawr), ‘The Ports of Carthage (Tunisia) as Symbol of Empire.’

Edward Collins (University College, Dublin), ‘Knowledge Transmission and the Creation of Empire: The role of Seville in sixteenth-century Spain.’


Lunch: 13.15-14.30


Session 3: 14.30 – 15.45



Steven Gray (Warwick), ‘‘‘A Mixture of Races, Customs, and Manners, such as can Scarcely be Found at any Other Place:” The Culture of a Victorian Coaling Station.’

Günter Warsewa (Universität/Arbeitnehmerkammer Bremen), ‘Shifting Relations Between Ports and Cities: The Postindustrial Maritime City.’

Gina Balta (University of Greenwich), ‘The Port of Piraeus and its Function as the Hub of the Greek Shipping Industry.’

Coffee: 15.45-16.00


Session 4: 16.00-17.30

Cross-roads and Exchanges


Nuno Grancho University of Coimbra (IIIUC, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and CES-UC, Center for Social Studies)) and Foundation for Science and Technology, Portugal, ‘Cross-cultural Encounter in Portuguese colonial India’.

Abhijit Gupta, ‘A Note on Portuguese Print-house Personnel in Colonial Calcutta’.

Sidh Losa Mendiratta, Coimbra University, Portugal, ‘Framing Identity: cityscapes and architecture of Mumbai’s catholic communities (19th and the 20th centuries)’.




Banks and the First World War

19 08 2014

War Memorial in Office of Barings Bank


The centenary of the First World War has prompted a number of British banks have created websites about their experiences during the First World War.

They include: Baring Archives;  Midlands Bank Royal Bank of ScotlandLloyds Banking Group,and Barclays. The Bank of England also has a section on its website about the First World War.


The US Federal Reserve has posted an essay on The Federal Reserve’s Role during World War I.


I’ve noticed that the historical sections of the websites of leading Canadian banks studiously avoid references to the centenary of the First World War. This is true of the website of the Bank of Montreal, which has its nominal headquarters in the province of Quebec. The historical section of the website does mention that the bank established temporary branches to serve soldiers during this divisive war.


Over in the Eurozone, banks have said much less about the war on their websites. The history section of the Banque de France does not include any materials related to centenary of the First World War, even though the Banque de France was in existence in 1914. Neither the Bundesbank nor the European Central Bank mention the war on their websites, although these are newer organisations.


H/T to The Exchange.

Quickly Noted: Constitutional verbosity and social trust

13 08 2014


AS: According to a new article, countries with longer written constitutions tend to have lower levels of social trust. Countries with short written constitutions tend to be high-trust societies (e.g., places where people leave their doors unlocked). Other research has suggested that the most trusting societies are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada.


I’m noting this article for the benefit of my Canadian readers. I’ll note that Canada’s written constitution is silent on some of the most important features of the political system (e.g., the job of Prime Minister isn’t even mentioned, let alone defined). Before 1982, there wasn’t even a Bill of Rights. The constitution is isn’t exactly the equivalent of a blank cheque, but it does suggest a high level of trust. The US constitution is much more complex and leaves less to custom. Canadian provinces don’t have written constitutions, unlike US states, some of which are very lengthy. 

Interpersonal Trust Index

Constitutional verbosity and social trust by Christian Bjørnskov and Stefan Voigt Public Choice October 2014Volume 161Issue 1-2pp 91-112

Abstract: A common argument in the trust literature is that high-trust cultures allow efficient commercial contracts to be shorter, covering fewer contingencies. We take this idea to the topic of social contracts. Specifically, we ask whether social trust affects the length and detail of constitutions. Cross-country estimates suggest that national trust levels are indeed robustly and negatively associated with the length of countries’ constitutions.


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