Online Survey of Business Archivists

15 12 2017
Are you an archivist who works within a company? If so, read on!
Last week, my co-author Dr Wim van Lent of Montpellier Business School presented our paper at the International Council of Archives-Section on Business Archives workshop in Mumbai (see here). Our research is on the performance effects of using a corporate archive. In other words, we are trying to learn more about the various ways corporate archives contribute to the bottom lines of the firms that own them.  We see a lot of potential for expanding on this research, and with your help we will be able to take the first steps in that direction!

If you can take a few minutes of your time, please follow the link below and complete Wim’s online survey:

This survey is for business archivist anywhere in the world! We are interested in hearing from archivists who work in a wide variety of companies– big companies, little companies, SOEs, family firms, etc.




The Leninist Theory of the First World War

12 12 2017

Did increasing inequality in the capitalist powers cause the First World War? That was the argument the Lenin famously advanced in Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Subsequent academic research has not been kind to the Leninist theory that greedy bankers pushed their respective governments to war in the summer of 1914. Painstaking archival research by fellow business historians helped to show that pretty much the exact opposite was closer to the truth– the bankers, far from wanting war, sought to restrain bellicose governments — for a survey of this literature, see Jonathan Kirshner, Appeasing bankers: Financial caution on the road to war. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Since I tend to believe in Capitalist Peace Theory and have applied in my business-historical research on Anglo-American relations in the 1860s, I am generally inclined to accept the view that Kirschner’s theory is much more accurate than the Leninist one.  However, I have approached the newly-released working paper by Thomas Hauner, Branko Milanovic, and Suresh Naidu on the origins of the First World War with an open mind. Their paper, Inequality, Foreign Investment, and Imperialism, revives a modified form of the Lenininst theory of the origins of the war. The paper expands upon a short comment that Branko Milanovic made in his justly famous book on trends in global inequality, where he had suggested that rising inequality c. 1900 had caused the First World War.  In that book, Milanovic wrote:


I argue that the outbreak of World War I and thus the reduction of inequality subsequent to that war are to be “endogenized” in the economic conditions predating the war, by which I mean that domestic inequalities played an important role in the run-up to the war. In making this argument I go back to an older, and in my opinion, most persuasive, interpretation of the outbreak of World War I. According to this interpretation the war was caused by imperialist competition, embedded in the domestic economic conditions of the time: very high income and wealth inequality, high savings of the upper classes, insufficient domestic aggregate demand, and the need of capitalists to find profitable uses for surplus savings outside their own country.

Here is the Abstract of the new paper:

We present an empirical restatement of the classical economic theory of imperialism and
the origins of World War I. Using recent data, we show 1) inequality was at historical highs in all the advanced belligerent countries at the turn of the century, 2) rich wealth holders invested more of their assets abroad, 3) risk-adjusted foreign returns were higher than riskadjusted domestic returns, 4) establishing direct political control decreased the riskiness of foreign assets, 5) increased inequality was associated with higher share of foreign assets in GDP, and 6) increased share of foreign assets was correlated with higher levels of military mobilization. Together, these facts suggest that the classic theory of imperialism may have some empirical support.

My reaction to the paper is that it contains a great deal of evidence of correlation without much proof of causation. I think that a mixed methods paper that included qualitative material taken from the archives of Europe’s largest banks and its foreign ministries might have produced a more convincing case for the author’s thesis.

On more theoretical grounds, I’m not at all convinced that so-called “surplus savings” and capital exports are associated with colonialism, militarism, and imperialism? In the 1980s and 1990s, Japan, which was then a famously pacific country with strict constitutional limits of military expenditure, exported lots of capital to the USA. These capital exports were due, ultimately, by the thrifty nature of many Japanese housewives. Was Japan militarist then? Or did it just focus on exports cars and VCRs? The United States of the Trump era, is a net capital importer and the adults in the room in the Oval Office know that much of this money is coming from China. In the nineteenth century, Spain, Portugal, Turkey,  and, famously, Russia, were all capital importers. (I will concede that Russia’s close ties to the Paris Bourse, and thus the savings of many French families, did indeed influence diplomacy in the years leading up to assasination of the Archduke).

I’m certainly not denying that too much economic inequality, particular economic inequality of the source type documented in  the new book by Lindsey and Teles on The Captured Economy can indeed be a very bad thing. Rising inequality can be linked to many objectively bad phenomena. However, I don’t think it is fair to associate market-created economic inequality with the chain of events that led to the First World War. Indeed, while many of the named individuals whose decisions collectively led to the First World War were indeed very wealthy and certainly within the top 1% of their societies, few of them enjoyed wealth that stemmed from the operation of the market economy. They were hereditary aristocrats, not LeBron James or Bill Gates.


Francis Savage Reilly (1825-1883)

7 12 2017

Today was the second day of the Supreme Court of Canada hearings into the Comeau case. I’ve been following some of the hearings on Twitter thanks to the live tweeting by Paul Braunovan, a partner at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall., who is in the Court Room. He is also President @brownvanbrewing, an Ottawa’s craft beer company.

A few minutes ago, Paul noted that one of the lawyers  (Brown) disputed my interpretation of the historical origins of s. 121 of the Canadian constitution. I gather that there was a request from someone in the courtroom for more information about the actual individual who drafted the British North America bill before it went through the UK parliament. Well it was Francis Savage Reilly (1825-1883).

You can read more about his individual, his role in drafting s. 121, and his probable reasons for phrasing it in the way he did in right here.

David Davis Inadvertently Shows Why Transparency in All Forms of Research is Important

7 12 2017

Michel Barnier, Chief Negotiator and Head of the Taskforce of the EC for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the TEU receives David Davis, British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

In the last 24 hours, academics, executives, and other cerebral people here in the UK have been astounded by the revelation that the UK document did not actually produce the Brexit sectoral impact studies it had previously claimed to.have produced. The  earlier position of David Davis, the hapless minister in charge of exiting the EU, was that impact assessments for 57 or 58 different sectors of the economy did exist, but that he couldn’t show them to either the public or to his fellow MPs. Davis’s previous position had fed intensive speculation that the studies would show that Brexit would damage most or all of the 57 sectors surveyed.  Testifying before a parliamentary committee yesterday, Davis announced that no actual studies had been conducted. Davis remained sanguine that Brexit would be very good for the overall UK economy, and for all 57 sectors of it, but he refused to elaborate on what sort of research methods allowed him to come to this conclusion. Davis continues to maintain that Brexit will be a net benefit, although he seems to have modified his view that a hard Brexit (the so-called Canada Option) would confer more benefits that a soft Brexit (the so-called Norway Model). Of course, Davis never presented anything resembling a coherent social-scientific study regarding the costs and benefits of either of these models for structuring the future EU-UK relationship.

In fact, he declared that commissioning experts to write detailed forecasts and scenario plans was useless, since experts can’t really provide helpful advice to policymakers. He declared
I am not a fan of economic models as they have all been proven wrong. When you have a paradigm change as in 2008, all the models are wrong. As we are dealing with here [with a] free trade agreement or a WTO outcome, it’s a paradigm change.

Davis’s remarks, which are further evidence of rising skepticism about academic expertise and “System 2 thinking” more generally, have generated a storm of debate, particularly from those of us who believe in evidence-based policy.    Davis’s remarks were a reminder of Michael Gove’s now infamous statement that the UK had had “enough of experts” and the people who prioritize feeling, “gut instinct,” and faith over science and reason in dealing with issues ranging from GMOs to global warming.

The non-existence and non–publication of the 57 sectoral studies is certainly an important issue, since such reports can help to guide policy decisions (e.g., the choice between the Norway and Canada models) and provide valuable information to investors, firms, and households that can allow them to adjust their own strategies prior to Brexit. [If the reports said that a hard Brexit would likely destroy jobs in car manufacturing but would likely create them in fish-processing, that intel could be valuable to estate agents in Sunderland or to young peoople currently deciding which skill sets to acquire]. Governments can help markets to work better by supplying people with useful information. However, I’m not writing this post to point out the various ways in which commisioning and publishing the 57 studies would improve either policy decisions or the functioning of markets. Instead, I want to make a more fundamental point about why increased transparency in all forms of research, academic and governmental, is desirable.

By increased research transparency, I mean the people who present findings need to show their work– to show in greaters detail than has hitherto been the case how they arrived at a given set of conclusions, whether those conclusions are “Brexit will be good for the UK economy” or “avoid carbs” or “CO2 emissions will likely cause sea levels to rise”. Norms in many academic disciplines and in  policymaking have shifted in recent years in favour of greater transparency.

For those academics who do research that informs public policy and/or private-sector (that includes me in a modest way, as today’s hearings at the Supreme Court of Canada show) increased research transparency is doubly important. In my own field of business history, I have been advocating for Open Data and the adoption of a form of Active Citation. Andrew Nelson, a qualitative researcher at the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon, has been advocating more or less the same thing in his home field, which is organization studies (see here).


For several years, the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences has been working to promote the adoption  of more rigorous research transparency institutions in the social sciences. Their annual conference, which concluded yesterday, included a paper that deals with precisely the issues that have been raised by David Davis’s shambolic performance in parliament yesterday, namely the ways in which transparency and reproducibility can increase the credibility of policy analysis. The  paper, which is by Fernando Hoces de la Guardia, is about the US context and the battles over how to interpret the results of Seattle’s famous experiment with a $15 per hour minimum wage, but there are lessons of broader applicability that should be observed by both, or rather all sides, in the various debates related to Brexit. More importantly,  it supports my contention that all researchers, whether academic or in government, need to be more transparent if we are to re-gain the trust of stakeholders.


How Transparency and Reproducibility Can Increase Credibility in Policy Analysis: A Case Study of the Minimum Wage Policy Estimate
Fernando Hoces de la Guardia

Abstract: The analysis of public policies, even when performed by the best non-partisan
agencies, often lacks credibility (Manski, 2013). This allows policy makers to cherrypick between reports, or within a specific report, to select estimates that better match their beliefs. For example, in 2014 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) produced a report on the effects of raising the minimum wage that was cited both by opponents and supporters of the policy, with each side accepting as credible only partial elements of the report. Lack of transparency and reproducibility (TR) in a policy report implies that its credibility relies on the reputation of the authors, and their organizations, instead of on a critical appraisal of the analysis.

This dissertation translates to policy analysis solutions developed to address the
lack of credibility in a different setting: the reproducibility crisis in science. I adapt the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines (Nosek et al, 2015) to the policy analysis setting. The highest standards from the adapted guidelines involve the use of two key tools: dynamic documents that combine all elements of an analysis in one place, and open source version control (git). I then implement these high standards in a case study of the CBO report mentioned above, and present the complete analysis in the form of an open-source dynamic document. In addition to increasing the credibility of the case study analysis, this methodology brings attention to several components of the policy analysis that have been traditionally overlooked in academic research, for example the distribution of the losses used to pay for the increase in wages. Increasing our knowledge in these overlooked areas may prove most valuable to an evidence-based policy debate.



A Historical Perspective on the BitCoin Bubble

6 12 2017

Dr Natacha Postel-Vinay, a financial historian and assistant professor at LSE, has appeared on CNBC to discusse cryptocurrency bubbles and regulation. It’s great to see someone put cryptocurrency  into historical perspective.

Natacha‘s PhD, which was completed in 2014, was “Sitting Ducks: Banks, Mortgage Lending, and the Great Depression in the Chicago Area, 1923-1933.” Her thesis examiners: Charles Calomiris (Columbia University) and  Forrest Capie (Cass Business School)

Precursors of the Bottom of the Pyramid Strategy: Dan Wadhwani on the Origins of US Savings Banks

5 12 2017

The ABS 4* venue Journal of Management Studies has just published a new paper by Dan Wadhwani that is based on his PhD thesis research. Poverty’s Monument: Social Problems and Organizational Field Emergence in Historical Perspective offers a new perspective on the history of US savings banks that also helps us to think more clearly about the general phenomenon of how organizational fields emerge which is a . The savings banks discussed by Dan emerged in the early twentieth century to allow people at the bottom of society to have a safe means of saving for a rainy day. Social reformers created a new category of financial institution. Dan’s paper shows how these banks, which originally had a social-enterprise type of function evolved into quite large and sophisticated financial institutions. (I suppose that people who have read John Wilson et al.’s excellent history of the Cooperative Group may say “that’s a movie I’ve seen before’”). In fact, the “field drift” discussed by Dan is even more extreme—while the Cooperative Society and the Cooperative Bank still regard themselves as distinct from, and morally superior to ordinary for-profit supermarkets and banks, the savings banks discussed by Dan had, by 1900, evolved into pretty standard, profit-seeking banks.


One of the really neat empirical findings in Dan’s paper is these banks that were set up to serve the poor developed innovative techniques that were later adopted by financial institutions that serve the non-poor. Perhaps the most important of these innovations was the counter that separates customers from staff in most retail banks today. We now take this spatial arrangement for granted but it was actually pioneered by the savings banks as the struggled to cope with growing numbers of customers. Older banks, which had fewer but richer customers had no need for such counters.





This article draws on historical institutionalism as an approach to studying the relationship between business institutions and major social problems. Using the historical case of the emergence of savings banking as an organizational response to poverty in the nineteenth-century United States, I develop three conceptual claims about how social problems shape the processes of institutional and organizational change. First, I show how the “historical framing” of social problems shapes the processes of problematization, design, and legitimation related to institutional change. Second, I demonstrate how the dynamics of cooperation, competition, and alignment between an emerging organizational field and other fields shape the evolution of institutional responses to social problems. And finally, I illustrate how historical revisionism as a methodological approach can help management scholars re-consider settled empirical and theoretical claims in a way that takes social problems into account.

Dan presents some interesting insights into organizational field emergence. The savings banks are a particularly interesting case because the straddle the category of “profit-making financial institution” and “philanthropic organization.” Indeed, they are similar in that respect to the hybridized organizational forms discussed in a new(ish) paper by Janette Rutterford and Josephine Maltby. Nineteenth-century Britain saw the growth of charitable provision by limited-liability companies that are similar to today’s “social enterprises”. The social enterprise movement that emerged in the 1990s and which still won’t stop talking about its own novelty is actually really just a re-invention of some of the nineteenth-century organizations discussed by Wadhwani, Rutterford, and Maltby. (Actually, Rutterford and Maltby weren’t the first to point out the similarity between modern social entrepreneurs as their nineteenth-century precursors such as Octavia Hill–during David Cameron’s premiership, the memory of Octavia Hill was invoked by some of the proponents of the Big Society concept).


Although they may not be terribly interested in his important (to me) theoretical contribution, financial and banking historians such John Turner, etc should certainly take a look at Dan’s important paper.

Dan has chosen to interpret his sources in light of a set of theories drawn from organization studies. It occurs to me that one could also re-interpret his material in light of the late C. K. Prahalad’s concept of the Bottom of the Pyramid strategy. Prahalad looked at the seven billion people on the planet and realised that the people at the bottom of the pyramid (the two billion or so people living on less than 2 dollars a day) should be regarded by firms not charity cases but an important untapped market. His concept, which attracted the attention of both practitioners and academics, has helped to generate interest in this end of the market. I think that one could look at the US savings banks of the 19th century as having pursued a BoP strategy. Seeing these firms in this light actually makes some sense, since the US in the 19th century was, most metrics, much like today’s developing countries—GDP per capita in 1820 was $1,257 in 1990 dollars and many regions of the US had somewhat inclusive institutions, to use Acemoglu-Robinson terminology.

Come Hear About My Research in Mumbai

1 12 2017

AS: As you can see, I’ve got a paper on the programme of the Annual Conference of Section of Business Archives (SBA) of the ICA, 4th-6th December 2017, Mumbai.  Our paper is about how having an archive can be an important source of competitive advantage for firms. We will be presenting some robust statistical evidence that having and using an archive allows executives to make better decisions. More details and photos will follow after the conference. 


Check out the conference website.


Venue: Godrej Auditorium, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd., Pirojshanagar, Vikhroli (E), Mumbai 400079, India


‘Going Back to the Future: The Role of Corporate Archives in Reshaping Brand Identity and the Corporate Culture’

Corporate archives have always been a golden repository of historical stories for the brand. But are we exploring the potential of these archives to the fullest, what is the real value of this storehouse of knowledge? Over two days, we will discuss the future role of business archives and the part it can play in charting the course of brand identity.

Contrary to popular belief, corporate identity comprises much more, and runs far deeper than the visual identity of a brand. It is a combination of the brand’s history, heritage, core philosophy, its technology choices, and critically – its people. In a scenario where businesses view corporate identity as a crucial strategic differentiator, company archives, as a storehouse of organizational knowledge, is well poised to facilitate the creation of a brand’s unique identity.

The legacy that a brand leaves behind in its evolutionary process is vital to its corporate identity, if it is to be truly representative of the business and its philosophy. An enriched corporate identity, powered by historic legacy becomes a tool for building an understanding of business and instilling a sense of belonging among stakeholders. This ensures their commitment to the overall business vision and gives a sense of direction and purpose – eventually contributing to the success and sustained growth of any business.

The conference aims at exchanging ideas with archivists, marketers and brand custodians from across cultures and countries to explore the vital connection between the past and the future.


Role of business archives in building organisational identity
Lessons from history: Corporate legacy as a leadership tool
Understanding the DNA: Corporate memory as an educational tool
Localising the global: Building corporate identity in emerging markets
Re-imagining the DNA: Role of corporate memory in the future business strategy
Merged Identity: Mergers, acquisitions and issues of corporate identity
Preserving corporate memory: Recording corporate voices


Alexander Bieri (Roche, Switzerland)
Anders Sjoman (Centre for Business History, Stockholm)
Andrea Hohmeyer (Evonik Industries AG, Germany)
Wim van Lent (Montpellier Business School) – Joint paper with Andrew D. Smith (University of Liverpool Management School), Diego M. Coraiola (University of Alberta)
Aspey Melanie (Rothschild Archive)
Bruce Smith (Historian, Australia)
Cai Yingfang (The Section of Business Archives, The State Archives Administration of China)
Chinmay Tumbe (Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, India)
Henning Morgen (A.P. Moller – Maersk, Denmark)
Indira Chowdhury (Centre for Public History, India)
Jason Dressel (History Factory, USA)
Niles Lichtenstein (Enwoven, USA)
Rajndraprasad Narla (Tata Central Archives, India)
Rob Perks (British Library, UK)
Tobias Ehrenbold (Historian, Switzerland)
Tony Nilsson (Inter Ikea Group, Sweden)
Tracey Panek, (Levi, USA)
Yuko Nagai Matsuzaki (Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation, Japan)