Social Science in Japan Under Attack

14 09 2015

Some terrible news has come out of Japan today.

Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government.

It follows a letter from education minister Hakuban Shimomura sent to all of Japan’s 86 national universities, which called on them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

The ministerial decree has been denounced by one university president as “anti-intellectual”, while the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, regarded as the country’s most prestigious, have said that they will not comply with the request.

However, 17 national universities will stop recruiting students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to a survey of university presidents … 

I agree that it is possible for a country to produce a surplus of social scientists and lawyers. I would suggest that Japan’s economic stagnation stems from the opposite problem. More and better economists could help Japan to produce better economic policies. More and better IR scholarship could allow Japan to improve its relations with its neighbouring countries. Professors who teach about the languages and cultures of mainland Asia could help to improve understanding with these fast-growing economies. More and better professors of English could improve the generally poor level of English in the country, which would definitely help the country to be more competitive. An end to the artificial restrictions on the supply of lawyers could promote economic efficiency.

Thank god Japan has private universities that don’t have to listen to stupid ministerial decrees.

Note how the Minister responsible for this stupid decree is one of the idiotic right-wingers in the cabinet of Shinzo Abe and has defended the policies pursued by Japan during the Second World War.  Any first-year IR student in the West would be able to tell you why, say, rescinding Japan’s apology to the Korean comfort union might be bad for Japan’s economy.

What a moron!

French Regulatory Culture

13 09 2015

On 13 September 1993, the French government issued a decree specifying how the baguette de tradition française should be made. To celebrate the anniversary of the important milestone, is today greeting users with the following image.

decret pain

I find it incongruous that the French subsidiary of a company that is celebrated around the world for its disruptive innovations should commemorate the promulgation of a regulation constraining how bakers can make a particular type of bread. It’s also odd that they are marking the 22nd anniversary, since one normally marks anniversaries in years ending in zero or maybe five.

You can read the actual decree (Décret n°93-1074 du 13 septembre 1993) here.

Relevance and Academic Rigour: Why Business Historians Ought to Read Dan Drezner’s Recent WaPo Piece

3 09 2015

Dan Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His scholarly works will be familiar to those of us who research international political economy or international business history.  Non-academics will know of Drezner through his Washington Post punditry: Drezner has a knack for presenting academic research in an accessible fashion that allows the average reader of a quality newspaper to make sense of the world. Yesterday, he published a great piece on how political scientists can be academically rigorous and policy-relevant at the same time.

Addressing his remarks at younger political scientists considering their career strategies, he writes:

My own piece of advice on this question is simple.  The best way for academics to maximize their rigor and their relevance is to focus on those areas where the Beltway consensus is at variance with the academic consensus… If there is a gap, that’s fantastic for political scientists. Because that creates a pretty easy-to-write paper that demonstrates the policy consensus, then discusses the academic consensus, and ideally provides data to explain why the gap persists. Often it’s because the policymakers retain untested assumptions, like China’s holdings of U.S. debt giving China foreign policy leverage. But sometimes it might be because policymakers think about the question differently, which in turn can provoke academic reconsideration of the question.  Take, for example, the ongoing debate about the role of reputation in international crises.  The overwhelming consensus in international relations theory used to be that it didn’t matter much at all. Now, there’s a reevaluation going on.

With the possible exception of economics, every social-scientific discipline has its own debates about whether there are trade-offs between academic rigour and accessibility. Accessibility in this context means ensuring that academics are being heard by the group of real-world practitioners served by each discipline. The ultimate consumers of academic knowledge vary, but generally speaking they are policy-makers in the case of political science, working lawyers in the case of legal academics, and businesspeople in the case of management academics.  (Cass Sunstein, the great US law school professor, recently published a paper on this issue as it pertains to legal journals).

Business historians are currently engaged in a debate about the future research trajectory of our scholarly community (see here and here).  Since most business historians work in management schools, we need to give some thought as to the relevance of our research to the ultimate consumers of our academic knowledge. It seems to me that Drezner’s advice about identify gaps between the scholarly consensus and the prevailing ideas among practitioners could be adapted to the needs of the business history community.

I’m currently working with some colleagues on an book about the impact of the First World War on international business. Although the book is aimed primarily at academics, we are striving to ensuring that the manuscript we produce will be readable by and relevant to interested non-academics. I’m working on that book project today and Dan’s piece in the WaPo has intensified my belief that it is really important that we business historians reach out to businesspeople and others who live outside of our ivory towers.

“Sugar philanthropy: Redpath Sugar and Civic improvement in the Dominion Metropolis of Montreal, 1854-1888

3 09 2015

My co-author Kirsten Greer will be presenting this paper at “Canada-Quebec-Caribbean: Trans-American Connections” conference at the universite de Montreal Oct 8-9.

“Sugar philanthropy: Redpath Sugar and Civic improvement in the Dominion Metropolis of Montreal, 1854-1888”

Kirsten Greer, Assistant Professor, Departments of Geography and History, Nipissing University, Ontario

Andrew Smith, Lecturer in International Business, Management School, University of Liverpool

The connection between metropolises such as London and Liverpool in the British Isles and resource-producing islands in the tropics is a major theme in the history of the British Empire. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a city in the British colony of Canada developed similar relationships with the tropics. The metropolis of Montreal experienced rapid industrialization and became Canada’s largest city.  Previously, Montreal had been a transit point for Canadian raw materials en route to consumers in Britain. Canada’s industrialization and rapidly evolving relationship with the Caribbean allowed Montreal to join the rank of the Empire’s resource importing cities. This paper investigates the connected geographies of the island of Montreal with the sugar islands of the Caribbean by focusing on the Redpath Sugar Refinery and its reliance on raw sugar from Cuba and Brazil.  With increased profits made from slave-produced sugar until the late 1880s, Redpath Sugar Refinery invested in civic improvement projects such as museums, education, and science, all of which helped to position Montreal as the metropolis of the Dominion of Canada in the late nineteenth century.  This paper gestures towards makingbroader connections between industrialization, nationalism, race, and slavery in the histories of Quebec, and Canada more generally.

Job Ad: Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in International Business Management Grade 8/9

31 08 2015

AS: Come be my colleague. The University of Liverpool recently advertised this job.

You should have relevant research experience and be seeking to develop your research and teaching career in the broad area of strategy. For the lecturer position you should have some publications or revise and resubmit, or submitted to journals at least at 3* level. For the senior lecturer post you should have a good record of publication at least at 3* level with the potential to publish in leading business and management journals at 4*, and of obtaining research funding and engaging with the School’s impact agenda. Teaching excellence is also important at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. You should have have (or be about to obtain) a PhD in a relevant discipline and a Masters degree. ULMS has an interdisciplinary ethos that combines international business/management, strategy, institutional theory, entrepreneurship, HRM, OB, services marketing and crisis/risk management. This interdisciplinary approach to research is reflected in our commitment to knowledge platforms (KPs) which cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Job Ref: A-589300/JAC

Closing Date: 29 September 2015

Thoughts on the Case of the Queen v. Comeau

27 08 2015

For the last few days, I’ve been testifying as an expert witness in a Canadian constitutional court case that has captured the imagination of the country and which has serious implications for a number of key economic sectors. The court case is about the section of the Canadian constitution that declares that there should be free trade among Canada’s ten provinces. It’s rare for a business historian to be called as an expert witness in a court case. However, since my PhD thesis was on the role of business in the creation of the Canadian constitution, I’m qualified to speak to what the framers of the Canadian constitution intended when they inserted this section (s.121) into the 1867 constitution. My view is that since the creators of the Canadian constitution wanted to create a comprehensive economic union of the various British colonies in North America, the various laws that restrict “imports” of goods from one Canadian province to another should be considered unconstitutional. (This particular “test case” centres on the conviction in 2012 of a man who purchased some beer in Quebec, a Canadian province, and then drove this beer into New Brunswick, another Canadian province, where he was arrested by the RCMP).

I’ve been astonished by the extent to which the Canadian media is discussing this case (see here, here, and here). Last evening, Canada’s 24 hour news channels were abuzz with discussion of the case. For part of yesterday, our case was the most discussed issue in Canadian social media, ahead of the ongoing federal general election. Moreover, the topic has gone viral in ordinary conversations. As I write this I am sitting in a roadhouse in between the location of the trial, the tiny border town of Campbellton, and the nearest international airport, which is in Moncton. The other diners, who don’t know that I am involved in the case, are energetically debating its merit. One of the people I just overheard has speculated that if free trade in beer among Canadian provinces is established, the brewing companies will no longer be required to operate small breweries in each province. This individual, who appears to be of university-student age, is predicting consolidation and rationalization in the industry should the defence win in this trial. (The defence wants the court to declare inter—provincial trade barriers to be unconstitutional). His friend is talking about the implication for dairy products and the other goods that are currently fettered by internal trade barriers. The implication is that if inter-provincial free trade and a Canadian common market is established, a wide range of industries will have to be restructured. I expect that regardless of the decision by the judge, the case will ultimately make its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I’ve listened to a number of radio stations, French-language and English-language, during my drive today. Interspersed among the music and weather reports is discussion of the ongoing trial.  The DJs are also reference discussion of the trial on Facebook and other social media. A DJ at a radio station said “For anyone who is at the trial today, here is this song”. He proceeded to play a catchy pop song by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars called “Uptown Funk.” I don’t know how much meaning should be read into the DJ’s decision to play this song in honour of the ongoing trial.  It would probably be a mistake to ascribe any political significance into the verbal machine-gun fire that is commercial radio DJ blather.  However, I do know that the people in the local community I spoke to are uniformly in favour of being able to purchase beer in Quebec dépanneur.

As I prepare to fly back to Europe, I reflect that I am honoured that my academic research has been used in this way in a court case that has important implications for many companies, and individuals, in an important G-20 economy. My guess is that future economic historians may regard this case as the Canadian analogue of the Cassis de Dijon case in EU law. (That court case helped to create the European Common Market).

If you would like to read the Expert Witness Report that was submitted to the court,it will soon be available online.

P.S. I would like to thank the staff of the trial hotel, Campbellton’s Quality Inn, and Brasserie 1026, the adjacent restaurant, for all of their help during my stay in their community.

Britain’s Forgotten Slave-Owners

29 07 2015

The BBC recently broadcast a two-part documentary called Britain’s forgotten slave-owners, which is based on a research project at UCL that involved making a statistical portrait of the slaveholders who received compensation when slavery was abolished in 1834. The shows producers have  taken the admirable decision to put the entire documentary online, which means that people outside of the UK, including people in the countries most affected by the Atlantic slave trade, can watch it

The terminology used in the documentary is very much a product of our times. For instance, the compensation payments given to slaveowners are frequently referred to as “bailouts” and many of the scenes are shot in London’s financial district.  The documentary stresses the linkages between slavery and modern capitalism. This aspect of the documentary has generated considerable debate in the media was denounced by sociologist Frank Furedi.

It is interesting to see how the social memory of slavery is being used by various ideological movements for present-day purposes. History, as always, is being used.


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