AOM PDW: Frontiers of Digital History Methods

26 06 2017

This PDW at the Academy of Management on Digital Humanities is rather interesting. I’m looking forward to attending! Even though I once taught a course on digital history, that was ages ago and I’ve lost touch with this fast-moving field. I welcome the chance to learn about new research techniques, even if I probably won’t be able to use them in my own research.

The organizers are Robin Gustafsson, Aalto University, Mirko Ernkvist of the Ratio Institute, a market-oriented thinktank in Sweden.


Source: AOM PDW: Frontiers of Digital History Methods

Tyler Cowen on the Resurgence of Economic History

23 06 2017

Tyler Cowen has published an interesting piece on the resurgence of economic history. In the last decade, this area of research, which was previously extremely niche, has received much more attention for both social scientists and the wider public. Tyler is trying to explain two separate yet related phenomena: the fact that economic-historical  research is increasingly important in the ivory tower, especially within the disciplines of economics, management, and history, and the fact that more and more non-academics are thinking about economic history, broadly defined. Economic-historical debates such as Great Divergence are now starting to filter down into the popular historical consciousness and the makers of bank strategy are starting to pay attention to the research of scholars of such as the late Angus Maddison. In 2012, Michael Cembalest, chairman of market and investment strategy at JP Morgan, used the following chart in a research newsletter. The chart went viral2000-years-of-economic-history-by-cembalest in the investment community and attracted a great deal of attention, which suggests that investors may using long-term trends in economic history to try to predict the future.

So what explains this (apparent) surge in the popularity of economic history. Tyler offers us eight possible explanations, some supply-side, some demand-side.

1. We now know much, much more about the earlier economic histories of China, India, and some other locales.  The rise of more and better graduate students from the emerging economies, or for that matter from Europe, has been essential here.

2. Some of the turn toward economic history came with the financial crisis, and the search for longer-term parallels, which meant looking back in history, most of all to the Great Depression.

3. Although the advance of cliometrics started a long time ago, we are now finally at intergenerational margins where economic historians are as quantitatively well-equipped as most parts of the applied micro spectrum.

4. The stranger the time period, the more people will have to look to broader stretches of history for understanding.  Yes, this one is an uh-oh.

5. Some applied micro fields have become a little more boring, so that has helped a partial shift of status to economic history.  Public data sets have been exhausted, and a lot of economic history data sets are “weird or idiosyncratic” data sets, which now are “in” and I predict will stay “in” for a long while to come because they offer the possibilities of both new discoveries and moats.

6. An academic trend that hasn’t yet been exploited usually ends up exploited, sooner or later, once the right nudge comes along.

5b, 6b. In chess, the top players are opting for the Giuoco Piano once again.

7. Competing economic models are more “allowed” in the subfield — not everything must be neoclassical — which has opened economic historians to more wide-ranging questions.  Economic history remains a good place to pursue the questions about economics that initially interested many people as undergraduates.

8. Academic attention is more media-driven these days, and good economic history papers usually have a story of some kind, and perhaps also a historical personage, event, or institution of broader interest.


The supply-side explanations made by Tyler are pretty straightforward: better access to economic historical data from non-Western countries, growing number of trained economic historians from such countries (think of the first-class economic historians at LSE who can read Indian and Chinese primary sources).  Tyler writes:


1. We now know much, much more about the earlier economic histories of China, India, and some other locales.  The rise of more and better graduate students from the emerging economies, or for that matter from Europe, has been essential here.


The demand-side factor identified by Tyler are, however more interesting to me, as they relate to the apparent increasing level of interest in economic history on the part of members of the reading public: policymakers, private-sector decision-makers, and the rest.

2. Some of the turn toward economic history came with the financial crisis, and the search for longer-term parallels, which meant looking back in history, most of all to the Great Depression.


4. The stranger the time period, the more people will have to look to broader stretches of history for understanding.  Yes, this one is an uh-oh

The demand-side explanation that Tyler is giving here is congruent with a huge body of literature in behavioural economics and cognitive science. This literature shows that people are more likely to use the heuristic of analogy during periods of elevated uncertainty (i.e., crises). This research also suggests that as the crisis intensifies, people are more likely to turn to historical analogies that are increasingly distant from them.

A few years ago,  Barry Eichengreen’s important new book Hall of Mirrors The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History   drew on the literature in behavioural economics in trying to explain why so many policymakers used historical analogy as a cognitive tool during and immediately after the Global Financial Crisis.  Eichengreen makes the theoretical foundations of his book clear in the first paragraph of the conclusion of the book, which I’ve pasted below.

The historical past is a rich repository of analogies that shape perceptions and guide public policy decisions. Those analogies are especially influential in crises, where there is no time for reflection. They are particularly potent when so-called experts are unable to agree on a framework for careful analytic reasoning. They carry the most weight when there is a close correspondence between current events and an earlier historical episode. And they resonate most powerfully when an episode is a defining moment for a country and a society. For President Harry S. Truman, in deciding whether to intervene in Korea, the historical moment was Munich. For policymakers confronted in 2008-9 with the most serious financial crisis in eighty years, the moment was the Great Depression.

There is a lot going on in this paragraph, so let’s unpack it. Note how Eichengreen is here employing Daniel Kahneman’s distinction between thinking fast and thinking slow. Eichengreen isn’t saying that historical-analogic reasoning always has a massive influence on policymakers, merely that its influence is more pronounced during crises.

Eichengreen’s remarks suggest that Tyler Cowen’s demand-side explanation for the rising level of interest in economic history is accurate.




What Should Replace the TEF?

22 06 2017

Today, the UK government will publish the results of the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework), a massive bureaucratic exercise designed to measure teaching quality in UK universities. The creation of the TEF was prompted by the belief that teaching quality in the UK was falling behind the US and other countries. The main data point that supported the belief that university teaching in the UK isn’t quite as good as it is the US were the growing numbers of wealthy young Britons who were bypassing Oxbridge and going to the Ivy League. As the headmasters of schools such as Eton and Harrow reported to the media about a decade ago, they were doing so in the belief that the higher quality of education on offer there was worth the higher tuition fees and travel costs.

Rather ironically, the TEF has resulted in the re-direction of resources away from classroom activities towards systems designed to measure the quality of classroom activities!

I would like to suggest a much more efficient and administratively elegant policy the UK government could use to drive up teaching quality in universities: mandate that the children of faculty get free undergraduate tuition, but only at the university that employs their parents. This rule, which could be embodied in a statute of about two pages,  would incentivize the parents of under-18 children to monitor teaching quality and to speak up whenever they see teaching practices that are so bad that they fail what I call “The Parent Test.”  What that means is that if a professor hears about  something really awful going down in a colleague’s classroom, they will say “Hey, my kid is only 8 years old now, but in a decade that could be him in there!”  The academics at the university would then discipline the bad teachers in their midst through various informal measures that could be begin with offers of mentoring and advice and could then escalate all the way to denial of tenure and, in the case of bad professors who already have tenure, total social ostracism in the form of the Silent Treatment. This mode of punishing colleagues who are bad teachers is particularly effective, I’ve been told, when there is an active Faculty Club on campus where the professors hang out to exercise, eat, and socialize.


I’m privileged to work in a department with well-rounded academics who are good at both teaching and research and who actually care about students. However, I’ve got lots friends who are lecturers at other UK universities and I often hear horror stories about awful teachers. My awful, I don’t mean well-meaning incompetents who are ineffective. I mean truly malicious, cruel, and warped people. The rule I am proposing would improve UK university teaching by inducing such individuals to either leave academic work or perhaps to emigrate to developing countries where universities will hire anyone with a PhD and a pulse.


Now it is true this policy would cost the university sector a bit of money—there are tens of thousands of lecturers in the UK and if each of them has two children, the policy of free tuition at your parent’s university would end up costing tens of millions of pounds. That’s because each kid pays the university £9,000 per year for three years.  However, not all parents would end up sending their children to their own university, as we know from countries that have this system, many professors pay for their child to have the experience of living and studying at a university in a different city.

I know that the optics of giving the children of faculty free tuition might be awkward and I certainly recall from my own undergraduate days resentment when it was realized that “faculty brats” were being educated for free. I distinctly remember the reaction when the son of a professor foolishly mentioned at a party that he wasn’t paying to study at our university.  However, I think that this system would, on balance, work well in driving up teaching quality. Since not all faculty families would avail themselves of the offer of free tuition at the parent’s university, the system might costs less than the TEF. I would note that the estimates of the full economic costs of the TEF, which include lost faculty time, have never been released by the government.

The UK government should scrap the TEF, introduce the “Free Tuition at Your Parent’s University” rule for faculty children, and then wait for the rule to work its magic. In five or ten years, university teaching will improve dramatically. The rule I have proposed is in place in many of the US universities that have been poaching the graduates of Eton and Harrow and other top-performing British youngsters. The rule works well because it harnesses one of the most powerful forces at work in society—the desire of parents to protect their children from harm. In designing a policy to boost teaching quality, you want to a policy that works with human nature, not against it.

A UK university could adopt this rule independent of the government, as long they factored it into their long-term financial planning. Having this rule and then letting everyone know about it would serve as an important signal of teaching quality to prospective students – “Look. Our teaching is so good even the children of faculty attend this university!” Moreover, such a rule might help with faculty recruitment and retention.


Note that this post represents only my own views and reflects the views of neither my employer nor any of the scholarly organizations in which I am involved. I would be most happy to provide consultancy services to any UK organization that wishes to discuss the ideas in this blog post.


“Berle and Means’ The Modern Corporation and Private Property: the Martial Roots of a Stakeholder Model of Corporate Governance”

20 06 2017

Tomorrow, my co-author Kevin Tennent will present this paper at EURAM in Glasgow. Our paper is part of the Corporate Governance Track.  Here are the full details of our panel:

Session Type : Competitive
Chairperson  : Ken Starkey

Papers :
Xavier Hollandts – KEDGE BS
Bertrand Valiorgue – UCA





The image below speaks to many of the issues dealt with in our paper, particularly the role of academic ideas in changing practitioners’ ideas about the ultimate social purpose of the business corporation: is it to make as much money as possible for the shareholders or something else, as Berle and Means argued?

purpose of corporations




150 Years of Canadian Business

20 06 2017

Date:   September 11-12, 2017

Location:  Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Sponsors:  Historica Canada, Deloitte, TD Bank Group

Co-Presenters: Historica Canada; Canada’s History Society; Michael Lee Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship; Oral History Centre, University of Winnipeg; Department of History, University of Toronto; Economics Department, University of Toronto.

8:00 am – 8:45 am        Registration, coffee/tea and Continental Breakfast

8:45 am – 9:00 am        Introductory Remarks, Professor Dimitry Anastakis, CBHA
Welcome, Tiff Macklem – Dean, Rotman School of Management

9:00 am – 10:30 am      Plenary Session

Session One: Plenary Session – Regions and Provinces in Canada’s Business History

Prairies: Bill Waiser (University of Saskatchewan)
Central: G. Taylor (Trent University)
Quebec: Thierry Nootens (Universite du Quebec a Trois Rivieres)
Atlantic: Don Nerbas (Cape Breton University)

10:30 – 10:45 am        Comfort Break

10:45 am – 12:15 pm  

Session Two – The Role of Women in Canadian Business History
Melanie Buddle (Trent University)
Tabitha Fritz (Rotman School of Management)

Session Three – Journalism, the Press, and Canada’s Business History
Gene Allen (Ryerson University)
Gordon Pitts (DeGroote School of Business)

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Luncheon

Keynote Speaker TBD –  Robert McIntosh, Director-General, Library & Archives Canada  Archives and Canadian Business History 

1:45 pm – 3:15 pm

Session Four: Indigenous Canadians and Canadian Business History
Brian Gettler (University of Toronto)
David Newhouse (Trent University)
Alison Kemper (Ryerson University)

Session Five: Global Trading and Investment (Multinational Investors, FDI)
Walid Hejazi (Rotman School of Management)
Stephen Azzi (Carleton University)

3:15 pm – 3:30 pm Comfort Break

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Session Six: The Importance, Relevance and Necessity of Teaching of Canadian Business History
Joe Martin (Rotman School of Management)
Red Wilson (Business Executive, Co-founder: Historica)
Lauren Epstein (Director of Investments, Epstein Enterprises)

Session Seven: Advertising and Marketing, and R&D, to Canadians over 150 Years
Daniel Robinson (Western University)
Janis Thiessen (University of Winnipeg)
Bruce Smardon (York University)

5:30 pm Reception and Dinner

Announcement of CBHA/ACHA Book Prize Winner

Keynote Speaker Mr. Jim Leech,  –Former Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Teachers Pension Plan,  Pension Plans in Canadian Business History

DAY TWO: September 12th, 2017

8:00 am – 8:45 am    Coffee, Tea and Continental Breakfast

8:45 am – 9:00 am    Chris Kobrak Memorial

9:00 am – 10:30 am

Session Eight: Plenary Session – The Resource Sector and Multinationals in Canadian Business History
Robin Gendron (Nipissing University)
Stan Sudol (Communications Consultant)
Mark Kuhlberg (Laurentian University)

10:30 am – 10:45 am Comfort Break

10:45 am – 12:15 pm

Session Nine:  150 Years of Canadian Banking Industry -Domestic to Global Growth, and Banking Oversight

Helen Sinclair (Former President, Canadian Bankers Association)
Robert Wright (Augustana University)
Laurence Mussio

Session Ten:  A Conversation About Corporate Law, Accounting and Canadian Business History
Jim Baillie (Retired, Torys)
Jim Goodfellow (Former Partner & Vice Chair – Deloitte)

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Luncheon

Keynote Speaker Mr. Perrin Beatty, President & Chief Executive Officer – Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Commerce in Canada’s Business History

1:45 pm – 3:15 pm

Session Eleven: 150 Years of the Canadian Financial Industry
Amy Young (Upside Consulting) – Stock Exchanges
Patricia Best (Author) – Trust Companies
Mark Bonham (Massey College) – Insurance Companies

Session Twelve: Canadian Rural Business History
University Professor Emeritus Doug McCalla (University of Guelph)
Simon Berge (University of Winnipeg) – Co-Operatives
Catherine Wilson (University of Guelph)/Beatrice Craig (University of New Brunswick)

3:15 pm – 3:30 pm Comfort Break

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Session Thirteen: Archives Session  TBD


Session Fourteen:  New Trends and Issues in Canadian Business History
Donica Delisle (University of Regina)
Jason Russell (Empire State College)
Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool Management School)

5:15 pm                     Closing Cocktail Social and Thank You
CBHA Chris Kobrak Research Fellowship Announcement
Dean, History Department, University of Toronto
Comments from Historica, Ann Dadson

Contingencies of Company Law: On the Corporate Form and English Company Law, 1500-1900

19 06 2017

I’m sharing another excellent review piece from Nep-Hist blog run by the multi-talented Bernardo Batiz-Lazo.

The NEP-HIS Blog

The Development of English Company Law before 1900

By: John D. Turner (Queen’s University Belfast)

Abstract: This article outlines the development of English company law in the four centuries before 1900. The main focus is on the evolution of the corporate form and the five key legal characteristics of the corporation – separate legal personality, limited liability, transferable joint stock, delegated management, and investor ownership. The article outlines how these features developed in guilds, regulated companies, and the great mercantilist and moneyed companies. I then move on to examine the State’s control of incorporation and the attempts by the founders and lawyers of unincorporated business enterprises to craft the legal characteristics of the corporation. Finally, the article analyses the forces behind the liberalisation of incorporation law in the middle of the nineteenth century.


Ditributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-02-19

Review by Jeroen Veldman (Cass Business School, City University)


View original post 1,669 more words

On the rise of unproductive entrepreneurs like Travis Kalanick

16 06 2017

Izabella Kaminska of the FT’s Alphaville Team has written a great piece that applies Baumol’s typology of entrepreneurs to the present and the past. However, I’m not at all convinced that Unproductive Entrepreneurship is new. The article kinda suggests that there was a long period between the end of the Roman Empire and the present in which Unproductive Entrepreneurship went away and the “good” type of entrepreneurship was predominant. I’m convinced that this was really the case, even during the thirty years of high growth after 1945, although I would concede that there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that Unproductive Entrepreneurship is becoming more frequent today.