An Economist’s Guide to Economic History

14 08 2018

CFP: The Transmission of Financial Knowledge in Historical Perspective, 1840–1940

5 08 2018

AS: Please note the extended deadline.

The Transmission of Financial Knowledge in Historical Perspective, 1840–1940
March 8-9, 2019
Conference at GHI Washington
Conveners: Nicholas Osborne (Ohio University) and Atiba Pertilla (GHI Washington)

Call for Papers
We invite the submission of abstracts for a conference on “The Transmission of Financial Knowledge in Historical Perspective, 1840–1940,” to be held March 8–9, 2019 at the German Historical Institute of Washington. For us, “financial knowledge” encompasses how people teach, learn, and think about a variety of financial behaviors, from saving and investing to borrowing and spending. The conference takes as its starting point the idea that the transmission of financial knowledge, whether concepts like “family budgets,” practices such as the use of “pin money,” or folk wisdom about the nature of risk-taking, takes multiple forms, from everyday conversation and personal correspondence to mass journalism and works of fiction.

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, scholars in fields as diverse as history, sociology, economics, and literature have devoted new attention to how financial knowledge (whether accurate, false, or dubious) is promulgated and circulates at the local, national, and international levels, as well as its role in the creation of the modern economic order. We seek to bring together studies that address these questions in a variety of different geographic contexts during the century bracketed by the global financial crises of the Panic of 1837 and the Great Depression. Case studies of the history of knowledge have captured almost all spheres of activity except the marketplace, while historians of capitalism pay close attention to culture but have not focused on the specific techniques of how economic practices are transmitted within and across groups. We hope that inviting attention to a rich array of case studies and source materials about the creation and dissemination of financial knowledge will shed light on how both subfields can be expanded in interesting new directions.

Areas of specific focus could include but are not limited to:

financial institutions (e.g., savings banks) and financial institution publications
financial practices within families (for example, children’s allowances)
ethnic communities and immigrant diasporas (for example, remittance systems or microlending groups)
social or religious communities and mutual-aid societies
the training of financial professionals
pedagogical literature (both fictional and non-fictional)
analyses of genre, such as newspaper columns or advice books
party politics and campaigning (such as analogies between family and state budgeting)
government policy and jurisprudence (e.g., effects of regulation, policy initiatives, and legal decisions on individual financial strategies)
Scholars interested in presenting a chapter- or article-length paper at the workshop are invited to send a brief abstract of 250–300 words as well as a short CV by August 1, 2018 September 4, 2018 to Susanne Fabricius ( by email with the subject line “Financial Knowledge.” Participants will be notified by the middle of September and are expected to submit a paper for pre-circulation by February 1, 2019. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered, pending further approval, but we also encourage participants to draw on institutional funding when available.

My Panels at the European Business History Conference, 2018

28 07 2018

The 22nd Annual Congress of the European Business History Association will take place in Ancona 6-8 September 2018. I have papers on two panels.

Session F1: Paper Development Workshop (PDW): Historic Corporate Responsibility.
Chair: Christian Stutz
Judith Schrempf-Stirling (Geneva School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva), Christian Stutz (University of Jyväskylä, University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich)

The aim of this PDW is to workshop potential submissions to a special issue of Journal of Business Ethics with two of the issue’s guest editors.

Setup: 10-minute presentation and 30-minute discussion

Erica Salvaj (Universidad del Desarrollo), Valeria Giacomin (Copenhagen Business School) Reputation and Grand Challenges: CSR investment in Education in Emerging Markets
Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool Management School), Jennifer Johns (University of Bristol) The Moral Dimensions of the Emergence and Decline of a Market Category: the Case of Free-Labour Sugar

Anders Ravn Sørensen (Copenhagen Business School) CSR at the Museum: Industry identity politics and the invention of national relevance at the Danish Maritime Museum


Session F5: Concepts in Business History

Chair: Nuria Puig
Neveen Abdelrehim (Newcastle Univeristy Business School), Andrew Smith (University Of Liverpool Management School), Steve Toms (Leeds University Business School)
Seeing the Moat: Why Accountants Need to Recognize the Value of Corporate Archives

Etsuo Abe (Meiji University)
Is New Methodology in Business History Useful?: The Contrast between The Chandlerian Model and Views by Scranton and Fridenson
Juha-Antti Lamberg (University of Jyvaskyla), Jari Ojala (University of Jyvaskyla)

Strategy in Business History: Review and Future Prospects
Daniel Raff (The Wharton School, NBER)
Business History Among the Social Sciences




BH SI CfP: Nationality of the Company

20 07 2018

Organizational History Network

Call for Papers for a Special Issue of Business History

“International Business, Multi-Nationals, and the Nationality of the Company”

(latest submission by 15 January 2019, early submissions appreciated)

Business historians have stressed the international dimensions of business for a long time. Research on multinational enterprises (MNE) including the Free-Standing Company (FSC) belongs to the important contributions of Business History to the fields of international business, strategy, and management. The very question of “nationality” and which “nationality”, always present in the background, is rarely directly addressed even though national dimensions including politics evidently pervade international business activities. Corporate structure, corporate governance, and international branding are the most obvious but not the only fields in which “nationality” matters in international business. With Brexit, Trumpism and the re-nationalization of the political discourse within larger parts of Europe “nationality” that once was supposed to have lost its relevance in the global economy returns back…

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Making Managers in Canada, 1945-1995: Companies, Community Colleges, and Universities

9 07 2018

AS: I just thought I would share the news that Jason Russell has just published a new book on the history of management education in Canada. Making Managers in Canada, 1945-1995: Companies, Community Colleges, and Universities is an important book in that it contributes to Canadian business history as well as to our understanding of the more general issue of the role of higher education institutions in the creation of modern business systems. I have pasted the book blurb below.


Management education and training was a key influence on Canadian capital and labour in the post-World War II decades, however it has been the subject of comparatively little academic inquiry. In many ways, historians have frequently learned about management behavior in unionized workplaces by examining labor-management relations. The management experience has thus often been seen through the eyes of rank-and-file workers rather than from the perspective of managers themselves. This book discusses how managers were trained and educated in Canada in the years following the Second World War.

Making Managers in Canada, 1945 – 1995 seeks to shed light on the experience of workers who have not received much attention in business history: managers. This book approaches management training from both institutional and social history perspectives. Drawing from community colleges, universities, and companies in British Columbia, Ontario, and Québec, this book reveals the nature of management education and training in English and French Canada, It integrates institutional analysis, and examines how factors such as gender and social class shaped the development of Canadian management in the post-war years and illustrates the various international influences on Canadian management education.

My Papers at ABH 2018

23 06 2018

Here are the papers I have on the programme of the 2018 conference of the Association of Business Historians. Note that some papers will be presented by co-authors.

The full programme is available here.

Session 3C: Banking and varieties of capitalism

Chair: Dimitris Sotiropoulos
Debating banking in Britain: The Colwyn Committee, 1918. Mark Billings (University of Exeter), Simon Mollan (University of York), Philip Garnett (University of York)

The Court of the Bank of England: An analysis of cohort characteristics and change over time. Mark Billings (University of Exeter), Simon Mollan (University of York), Philip Garnett (University of York), Chris Corker (University of York)

Varieties of capitalism and the corporate use of history: The Japanese experience
Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool), Pierre-Yves Donzé (Osaka University)


Session 5A: Archives and methodology in Business History

Chair: Shraddha Verma
Archival Ethnography, Stephanie Decker (Aston Business School), Alan McKinlay (Newcastle University)


Moving Forward With A Transparency Revolution in the Field of Business History
Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool), Maki Umemura (University of Cardiff)

The practice of business history: Institutional contexts and intellectual identities
Peter Miskell (University of Reading)

Seeing the Moat: Why Accountants Need to Recognize the Value of Corporate Archives
Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool), Neveen Abdelrehim (Newcastle University), Steve Toms (University of Leeds)



I will also be chairing the following session:

Session 1C: Family firms and SMEs in Business History

Chair: Andrew Smith

Family Firms in England and Wales, 1851-1911. Harry Smith (University of Cambridge)

The value of social capital to family business: A case study in cultural entrepreneurship
Nicholas Wong (Northumbria University)

Memories of War and the Reorientation of Postwar Business, 1945-1960. David Paulson (University of Cambridge)

Class Bias in How The UK Government Applies Cognitive Bias Mitigation Theory

17 06 2018

Class Bias in How The UK Government Applies Cognitive Bias Mitigation Theory

I was and remain a fan of behaviour economics and the other types of social science research that help us to think more clearly about thinking itself. I’m a fan because lots of evidence suggests that human decision-making is plagued by a range of biases that range from confirmation bias to the Ikea Effect and that we have the capacity to put in place countermeasures to the improve the quality of decision-making. It seems to me that behavioural economics is a rare area of social science research that gives practitioners guidance that isn’t trivial, is rooted has a strong empirical foundation, and which is non-intuitive. I’ve sought to apply various decision debiasing techniques in my own personal life, particularly with regard to food and exercise choices, and am at work on a paper on how we can reduce the likelihood of cognitive bias in researchers who do archival research.

As someone who was initially attracted to the concept of nudging and “libertarian paternalism”, I was pleased when I learned the Coalition Government here in the UK had established, in 2010, a unit within the government,  Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) aimed at helping government departments to develop policies that  take advantage of behavioural economics insights. The BIT, the so-called Nudge Unit, helped to design a variety of policies that were aimed at making small, incremental changes to how this country operates. These policies successfully encouraged a variety of forms of pro-social behaviour, from paying road tax promptly to reducing prescription errors in pharmacies. As a citizen of the UK, was actually quite proud that the British government signalled its commitment to evidence-based, social-science informed policymaking by creating this unit. Even though the underlying research was pioneered by Israeli and US academics, the UK became a global leader in applying Nudge Theory. The UK’s BIT inspired the Obama Administration to establish its own equivalent agency, but it had a much lower profile, didn’t do as much, and was immediately destroyed by the Trump Administration. Other countries and jurisdictions have used behavioural econ a little bit in their policymaking process, but the UK is the world leader in this area, at least to my knowledge.

Recently, I’ve become disenchanted with how the UK government is applying insights from the behavioural sciences. Simply put, the UK government displays a tremendous class and power bias in how it applies this theory: it loves to use behaviour economics findings to improve/de-bias the decision-making of poor people and of people who are too young to vote, but it doesn’t apply the same techniques to the decision-making of the rich and powerful (e.g, CEOs in the private sector or generals in the army), and particularly not to members of Theresa May’s own Cabinet!

Here’s an example of what I mean by this. We know that obesity is a growing problem in many advanced economies and that poor eating and drinking choices are more common in lower SES groups.  Since 2010, BIT has worked with other UK public-sector agencies to design policies (e.g., new types of food labelling) that will tackle this problem. For instance, behavioural econ principles were applied in a 2017 pilot project designed to improve eating decisions in three deprived London boroughs (see here). That’s a worthy project, especially since an individual’s poor eating choices do create some externalities for society as a whole (e.g., higher NHS costs in the future). I’m also that behavioural science has used to help design the package labels that now inform our food purchasing decisions. But why isn’t the BIT applying the same basic principles to traders in the City of London? After all, we know that financial decision-making, even by professionals is frequently plagued by systemic cognitive biases that can distort markets and have devastating consequences for whole societies?

Most importantly, we need to think about why behavioural economics research into how to improve decision-making isn’t being applied to the really big policy dilemmas currently facing decision-makers at the very top of the British government, such as the Cabinet’s debates over the relative merits of Soft Brexit versus Hard Brexit.  At the very least, my search of the UK government website have given no indication whatsoever that the BIT has been involved in helping to de-bias the decision-making process. Maybe the BIT has been involved behind the scenes. Maybe Theresa May has gone to them and said “I want to maximize the chances that I will make the right decisions about Brexit. What advice do you have for me?” However, I have seen zero evidence of that.

So here’s the pattern I see. The UK government’s willingness to apply lessons taken from behaviour economics to improving the decision-making of a group of people is a function of the lack of power of that group. Poor people? Obese children? Apply nudge away so that we can improve their decision-making. It is also acceptable to apply behavioural economics in influencing the decisions of motorists and ordinary supermarket shoppers. But we aren’t going to apply the same medicine to decision-making by well-paid people in the City.  We sure as hell don’t apply the treatment to political leaders. Many of us who have observed the debates within the Conservative Party over Brexit and how to handle it are basically a Festival of System One thinking: lots of gut instinct thinking, mood affiliation, hubris, motivated reasoning, logical fallacies, and pretty much every cognitive bias known in the literature have been on display in the public pronouncements of the relevant players. A few years ago, someone made a handy cheat sheet with all of the known cognitive biases in it. I sometimes think that all of these biases are in evidence in the decision-making process related to Brexit.


cognitive bias cheat sheet

Created by John Manoogian III. Source:



Brexit is an Eton Mess, to allude to both the name of a dessert and the educational institution that formed some of the minds we have recently had a chance to peer into. The policy dilemmas occasioned by Brexit (e.g., “do we stay in the EEA?”) are clearly a situation that calls for intervention by experts in decision science who can introduce some cognitive debiasing techniques. However, we don’t see any evidence of “libertarian paternalism” being brought into play.

Why not? The clue is in the term “libertarian paternalism”. The whole nudge movement has been about elite people (e.g., slim, non-smoking, grad school social scientists) trying to improve the decision-making of low SES people (see here). It’s not about applying the same tools to the decision-making of their rulers.

I rarely use social class as a lens to understand politics, but in this case a bit of old-fashioned social class analysis helps us to explain who gets nudged and who doesn’t. I’m not saying that I accept all of the criticisms of libertarian paternalism that have been made by my Austrian economics friends (my priors are sufficiently different for me to embrace that line of reasoning) nor do I accept the view that Nudging is “soft totalitarianism.” However, I am certainly more sympathetic to their POV on this issue than I was a few years ago.


I don’t know if my class-based analysis of whose decisions are targeted by Nudgers has been anticipated by anyone else, but if it has, feel free to leave a link below.


P.S. I just saw that Gabriel Siles-Brügge, Associate Professor in Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick has just published a new paper on experts, affects, and the making of UK trade policy in the post-Brexit era.

Bound by Gravity or Living in a ‘Post Geography Trading World’? Expert Knowledge and Affective Spatial Imaginaries in the Construction of the UK’s Post-Brexit Trade Policy