CFP: Varieties of Capitalism and Business History

15 02 2018

AS: I’m sharing the CFP for a special issue of the journal Business History on Varieties of Capitalism. The editors of the SI will be running a PDW at Stirling Management School in Scotland in early June.  My sense is that this special issue will complement and update the SI on VoC that appeared in the Business History Review back in 2010. As someone who helps to teach a course on comparative capitalism, this CFP is quite interesting to me.

Business-Government relations and national economic models: how do varieties of capitalism emerge and develop over time?

Special Issue Editorial Team

Niall G MacKenzie, University of Strathclyde (
Andrew Perchard, University of Stirling (
Neil Forbes, Coventry University (
Christopher W Miller, University of Glasgow (

The varieties of capitalism concept and literature has been dominated by conceptual
institutional modelling (Hall and Soskice, 2001; Hancké et al, 2007; Whittington and
Mayer, 2002; Whitley, 1999). Business and economic historians have undertaken a
number of significant works on varieties of capitalism in the form of empirical
transnational firm and sectoral case studies (Chandler 1990; McCraw, 1997;
Musacchio and Lazzarini, 2015; Cassis, 2002; Fellman et al, 2008; Sluyterman,
2014). A special issue in Business History Review in 2010 sought to bring a number
of prominent business historians together to offer their thoughts on how business
history can contribute to the varieties of capitalism literature which has been
described as “ahistorical, at least in its original formulation” (Friedman and Jones,
2010). This call for papers seeks to extend and complement the work produced in
that issue to consider how varieties of capitalism evolve in relation to governmentbusiness relations, building on and extending recent work by Thomas and
Westerhuis on networks of firm governance and national economic models (2014),
by elucidating how business-government relations affect the development and
promulgation of different types of varieties of capitalism.


The focus of much of the existing canon on varieties of capitalism is centred on aggregated models of institutional environments, and less on the critical interactions between principal actors within the economy, of which both businesses and governments are key.
Indeed, recent work has been critical of the relatively static conceptualization and
narrowness of the varieties of capitalism idea (Baccaro and Pontusson, 2016). To
this end, business historians are uniquely placed to comment on the specifics and
wider relevance of the role of both businesses and governments, the character of
their interactions, and motivations, in the formation and development of varieties of
In the political science field, the conceptual institutional modelling of varieties of
capitalism has been exemplified by the work of eminent political economists Hall and
Soskice (2001) who have advanced what they term as the five spheres in which
firms must develop relationships to resolve co-ordination problems in their core
competencies: industrial relations; training and education; corporate governance;
inter-firm relations; and employee relations.


We are seeking to understand the dynamics of such engagements beyond simple
firm-level competence and into the nature, structure, flows and intensity of
interactions between firms and governments across different contexts and time as a
way of explaining the development of different forms of capitalism. To this end, both
descriptive and analytical analyses are welcome in submissions.
We posit that varieties of capitalism (VoC) develop in different ways, partly as a
result of the complex interactions between government and business over time and
in different contexts.


An example of the demonstrable opportunities, and the current
gap, are to be found in the lack of engagement between international political
economy discourses on development (for e.g. Acemoglu and Robinson, 2013), and
detailed historical studies of business in the decolonizing world (e.g. White;
Stockwell; Butler, 2008; Decker, 2005). Similarly, detailed business historical studies
of elites and networks within specific commodity markets offer to provide valuable
insights to models of VoC (e.g. Ingulstad et al, 2014) and how they emerge, are
impacted by, and impact on business-government relations. A further illustration of
this can be found in the emergence of a particular form of capitalism in post-Soviet
Russia where well-documented business-government interactions created a number
of super-wealthy oligarchs against a backdrop of economic change and upheaval. To
this end, we propose that VoC act as a framework for analysis of such relations in
submitted papers, both focusing on individual countries, and companies operating
across countries where appropriate.

We encourage new historically informed reflections on national
economic models and institutional environments, especially from under-represented
territories (for example, South Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America), or
during scenarios such as war, disasters, or other exogenous crises, or on the role of
family wealth in developing forms of capitalism (for example the influence of the
Wallenberg family in Sweden, or the Rothschilds’ financial influence). The proposed
special issue will raise the profile and awareness of the potential contribution of
business history to wider debates on capitalist systems of economic organization by
utilising the unique insights gleaned from historical enquiry into the actions and
motivations of business and government actors to interrogate the efficacy of the
varieties of capitalism concept. In turn, this will have wider value beyond business
history and offer a demonstrable contribution to a range of other disciplinary studies.
We welcome innovative submissions that combine empirical studies with conceptual
literature both on business-government relations and national economic models
(including different conceptualisations of national and regional economies).
Submissions may adopt a local, regional, and/or national, foci. Whilst we welcome
submissions focusing on any country, we particularly encourage those covering
relatively under-researched regional models of capitalism (such as Eastern
European, African and Latin American areas). All manuscripts will be expected to
demonstrate an active engagement with historical approaches and methods,
conceptual models, and be based on substantive use of historical sources (public
and private archives, oral history and other personal narratives). Articles that engage
with both the political science and business history fields are particularly welcome.
Amongst the topics and themes suggested are:

 The development of varieties of capitalism and national economic
 Governments as business actors in terms of rule setting and
participation in business activities;
 How and why firms engage with government within different national
and transnational contexts;
 The different experiences of businesses and sectors of industry under
national governments during wars and major conflicts and the resultant
impact on national economic systems;
 Theorising on national economic modelling and institutional
environments from historical perspective; and
 Different forms of capitalism and regulation.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather an indicator of the types of
work the editors are provisionally interested in seeing.

Submission instructions:
Articles should be based on original research and should not be under consideration
by another journal. Abstracts of articles of up to 1,000 words should be submitted by
30 April 2018 via ScholarOne, using the drop down to select submission to the
Special Issue on Business-government relations and national economic models:
How do varieties of capitalism emerge and develop over time?

The abstracts initially selected for the Special Issue will be presented as full papers
in a workshop that will take place at the Stirling Management School, University of
Stirling, Scotland, in early June 2018, sponsored by the Stirling Management School
and the Business History Editors’ Fund. The final version of the papers, to be
submitted via ScholarOne by 15 August 2018, should be the result of this workshop.

All abstracts and articles will be peer reviewed and, therefore, some may be
rejected. Authors should ensure that their manuscripts comply with the Business
History formatting standards. Authors who are not English native speakers are
responsible for having a native English-speaking copyeditor check and correct their
texts before final acceptance.


Research Transparency Valentines Twitter Feed

14 02 2018

Academics who support the open data/research transparency movements have been having fun on Twitter this Valentine’s Day by composing #opensciencevalentines.

I’m sharing three of my favourites:

Sanjay Srivastava aka @hardsci:  Roses are read Violets are blue Show me your data And I’ll show you mine too.

Jim @n_equals_42 Will you be my PLOS One? #opensciencevalentines

Cassie Brandes @cmbrandes: Control group is red, Experimental, blue, The authors posted their data, I recommend this for review!

Why Libertarians Like Historical Research That Shows That What You Know About Tulipmania is Wrong

12 02 2018

Tulipmania didn’t exist, at least not in the fashion you think it does.

That’s the argument of Anne Goldgar, Professor of Early Modern History at King’s College London. Back in 2008, Professor Goldgar  published a study that debunks many elements of the pop-history account of Tulipmania that many observers applying in discussing financial bubbles in the present.

The conventional view is that Tulipmania was the first of the many episodes in financial history in which irrational exuberance on the part of investors resulted in a bubble. Tulipmania is often referenced by those of us who question the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) and the belief that financial markets always set prices correctly. Whenever people see bubbles, references to Tulipmania are sure to follow. Although I can’t find the reference right now, I believe that Warren Buffett has used the historical example of Tulipmania when speaking to investors at his annual Berkshire Hathaway conference.


The recent BitCoin bubble has, of course, see frequent invocations of Tulipmania.  As Prof. Goldgar writes:

Right now, it’s Bitcoin. But in the past we’ve had dotcom stocks, the 1929 crash, 19th-century railways and the South Sea Bubble of 1720. All these were compared by contemporaries to “tulip mania”, the Dutch financial craze for tulip bulbs in the 1630s. Bitcoin, according some sceptics, is “tulip mania 2.0”.

Prof. Goldgar argues that contrary to the convention wisdom, Tulipmania in the Netherlands did not result in a frenzy of speculation that involved large numbers of people and which inflicted long-term damage on the Dutch economy. She shows that relatively few people were involved, the inflation of asset prices was modest, and that the bursting of the bubble resulted in neither a widespread recession in the Netherlands nor a wave of suicides.



I’m not disputing the accuracy of Prof. Goldgar’s historical research, which received fairly positive reviews by other scholarly experts on the 17th century Netherlands (see here). However, I’ve noticed that her research has being press-ganged into service by hardcore libertarians, a group that includes many people who subscribe to a very hard version of the EMH and who tend to regard the market as infallible, and therefore not requiring regulation by the state. When Goldgar’s book appeared in 2008, it received a highly favourable, indeed enthusiastic review from the libertarian economist Deirdre McCloskey, who praised the book for demolishing a historical narrative used by so-called “anti-capitalist” writers. Today, the libertarian website CapX has published an article that showcases her research.

I’m left wondering why libertarians appear to be so interested in Prof. Goldgar’s research. What rhetorical purpose does citing her research actually serve? I suspect that libertarian like her research because it shows that one of the many data points used to prove the existence, and harmful social consequences, of financial bubbles didn’t really exist.

“So you’re saying … we should live like lobsters?” or: Why does politics make us stupid?

9 02 2018

That’s the title of a very important and interesting blog post by Pascal Boyer, a French anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist who was discussing a now infamous interview of an academic by a UK journalist. I would encourage anyone whose job involves reasoning and persuasion to read the post.

Boyer discusses the damage that “politics inflicts on people’s intellects. Living among academics, it is of course always a wonder to witness how people who display great sophistication in understanding multiple intertwined factors, or the way some variable modulate the interaction between tow other factors, etc., suddenly turn into four-year olds when they talk about politics. It is a wonder that the same people, who are so careful with the logic of arguments, suddenly get into a passionate refutation that b could possibly imply a, when all you suggested to them was that perhaps a implies b.”

I’ve long noticed the same phenomenon: otherwise smart people suddenly become stupid and ignorant when talking about politics. If you talk to someone about their parenting strategy, or the relative merits of two different cars, or their investments, they will be calm, judicious, and will tend to base their statements on evidence. The moment the conversation turns to politics, the IQ of everyone in the room drops.

Boyer advances one explanation for why smart people say really stupid things when the subject is political, namely, that people are engaged in furious signalling of affiliation when they are in the political sphere.

I tend to support a somewhat different explanation for why politics makes people stupid that relates to the sheer size of most of the political units that are controlled by our collective decision-making processes. (I’m thinking especially of nations, not municipal politics here). When we make decisions individually, or in very small groups, we often suffer the consequences of our negative consequences of poor decision-making. For instance, if I indulge my emotions and whims too much when making consumer decisions, I will soon run out of money. If I convince myself that eating lots of sugar will make me thin, I will get fat. I am, therefore, held accoutable for my decisions. But when I am asked to participate in an election or some other decision-making process involving millions of other people, I can free ride on the intelligence of others. If I fail to vote or make voting decisions based on stupid considerations, I am most unlikely to face any consequences, given that the chances of my casting the decisive ballot in a national election are slim indeed.

Bryan Caplan develops this idea in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter.

A New History of Management: CUP

8 02 2018

AS: I’m sharing a  video that introduces some of the ideas developed in  A New History of Management, which has been published by Cambridge University Press. The authors are John Hassard (Manchester Business School), Michael Rowlinson (University of Exeter), Stephen Cummings (Victoria University of Wellington), and Todd Bridgman (Victoria University of Wellington).

Book description: Existing narratives about how we should organize are built upon, and reinforce, a concept of ‘good management’ derived from what is assumed to be a fundamental need to increase efficiency. But this assumption is based on a presentist, monocultural, and generally limited view of management’s past. A New History of Management disputes these foundations. By reassessing conventional perspectives on past management theories and providing a new critical outline of present-day management, it highlights alternative conceptions of ‘good management’ focused on ethical aims, sustainability, and alternative views of good practice. From this new historical perspective, existing assumptions can be countered and simplistic views disputed, offering a platform from which graduate students, researchers, and reflective practitioners can develop alternative approaches for managing and organizing in the twenty-first century.


Historical – Analogic Reasoning, Sensemaking, and Sensegiving: the Impress of the Past on Entrepreneurial Cognition

6 02 2018

That’s the title of the co-authored paper I’ll be presenting tomorrow at the University of Exeter Business School.

My co-author is Dr Jennifer Johns, University of Liverpool Management School. Here is the paper abstract.

Our paper integrate Ricoeur’s (2004) insights on the use of historical knowledge and analysis into the existing literature in entrepreneurship on analogical reasoning. We find evidence that entrepreneurs use historical reasoning and their use of historical analogy differs according to the entrepreneurs’ technical capabilities and intended entrepreneurial outcomes.The empirical basis of our paper was research in the FabLab in the British city of Manchester. FabLabs are facilities that allow emerging entrepreneurs and other users to access new distributed manufacturing technologies such as 3-D printers. Through analysing in-depth interview data with entrepreneurs using this digital fabrication space (FabLab), we explore how users of this entrepreneurial space utilize historical analogy to make sense of the digital technologies and the entrepreneurial opportunities they offer. We summarise with the implications for academics and managers.. Our conclusion, which is that historical ideas influence how entrepreneurs understand the entrepreneurial opportunities created by new technologies, has implications for future research on entrepreneurial cognition. Our research also has managerial implications, as it can serve to make entrepreneurs aware of the fact that they are using historical ideas to make sense of the present. Many businesspeople use historical analogy without actually realizing that they are engaged in a form of historical reasoning. By becoming more conscious of the fact they are using historical knowledge in making business decisions, reflexive entrepreneurs can potentially improve their awareness of their own thought processes.



Details about time and location can be found here.

Towards a More Credible Economic Freedom Index

5 02 2018


Three days ago, the Heritage Foundation published the 2018 edition of its Economic Freedom Index, which ranks the world’s nations according to their level of economic freedom. For methodology, see here. In many countries, the local media have reported on how the nation’s ranking has moved compared to last year. For instance, the Dhaka Tribune reports that Bangladesh’s ranking remains unchanged, while the media in Kazakhstan are evident proud of the country’s “great strides” in the rankings.  In the US, the media has noticed that the alleged level of economic freedom has increased during President Genital-Grabber Trump’s year in the White House. According to the Heritage Foundation’s press release,  “The United States managed to halt its recent slide, recording a score of 75.7, more than half a point above its 2017 score (its lowest score in Index history).” Freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace is not included in this overall index.

In previous years, the publication of this index generates a fair bit of discussion in the economics blogosphere about methodological issues. This year, the recent scandal about the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business country rankings (see here and here) has prompted even more people than normal to reflect about the Heritage Economic Freedom Index. As many readers of this blog are likely to know, two think-tanks, the conservative Heritage Foundation in the US and the neoliberal Fraser Institute in Canada have long sought to measure economic freedom in nations with indices that based on 12 and 5 components, respectively. Some of the components in both indices relate to institutional quality a measure things like rule of law, the protection of property, and the inflation rate. More controversially, the indices also penalize countries for have large welfare states, which many academics regard as odd since generous social safety nets can actually build support for free enterprise. As Jan Ott of Erasmus University has pointed out, “levels of government spending, consumption, and transfers and subsidies appear to correlate positively with the other indicators related to institutional quality, while this correlation is close to zero for the level of taxation as a percentage of GDP.”


In the eyes of many academics, these two economic freedom indices are highly suspect. I suppose the dominant view here in the ivory tower is that far from being objective and social-scientific, these indices simply reflect the personal opinions of the individuals who created them and the plutocrats who pay for the whole operation.  In other words, these measures are highly crypto-normative.

Some people might therefore conclude that it would be impossible to create an economic freedom index that would command the respect of academic social scientists or even non-academics who aren’t libertarians. However, I don’t think that we should throw the baby out with the bath water and conclude that it would be impossible to create a reputable economic freedom index. It would be possible to create a more convincing index of economic freedom, provided we followed the ground rules that I outline below.

  • 1) Recognize that indices of this type reflect the values and policy preferences of the individuals who create them. Indices of economic freedom should therefore be designed by teams that include people of different political persuasions as well as both genders, different ages, nationalities, a variety of income levels, and different cognitive styles. When I say include different nationalities on the team, don’t just select people from different Western countries. Involve smart social scientists from every continent.
  • 2) Think carefully about how many individuals should be part of the team that designs the methodology for the economic freedom index. I don’t know what the ideal number is. It could be five. It could be fifty. However, I suspect that there is some social-scientific research that can inform our thinking about the optimum number of team members. Research can also inform the selection of team members and the design of the team’s internal processes.
  • 3) Producing the world’s first high-quality index of economic freedom will cost money. You should therefore provide a budget that is large enough that all team members can come together to discuss why they think particular components should be included or excluded from the index or should be given a particular weighting. For instance, the team might include people whose initial preference is to include the rate of inflation in the index and others who disagree with this view. Forcing both sides to spend some time together to argue about the issue will result in a better product.
  • 4) If disputes within the team of experts about what to include in the index can’t be resolved by debate, put the issue to a vote. Consider using a more sophisticated voting system than simple majority to resolve contentious issues related to the inclusion or exclusion of variables.
  • 5) Borrow ideas from the research transparency movement and share lots of information about the process by which the methodology was developed. Ideally, videos of the deliberations of the team should be put on YouTube and their email correspondence should also be placed in a data repository. Share biographical details about the team members. Also tell readers what the budget was and who paid for it all. Maybe considering involving BITSS, the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences. They will help you to be more transparent, and thus more credible with sceptics like me.
  • 6) Finally, have your team develop the methodology over a period of time. Don’t ask the team to develop the methodology in one go, in one weekend say. Marking student essays has a subjective element, but conscientious professors have techniques for limiting the arbitrariness of the marking. One common practice is to spread the marking of essays over a few days: read the essays and write up comments on them but refrain from assigning the numerical grades until a few days have gone by. In other words, you sleep on your decision rather than arbitrarily scribbling down a mark that may be informed by hunger pains or something unrelated to the quality of the essay.

Some readers may be wondering why I think that the team should diverse in terms of age as well as by nationality, gender, ideology, etc. Here’s why I think that a certain degree of age diversity is essential: some government-imposed restrictions on freedom on contract impinge more or certain ages than others. Freedom of contract is not an absolute principle and I am glad that governments in most countries try to enforce minimum ages of purchase alcohol. However, my subjective, gut-reaction view is that US drinking age of 21 is absurdly high. Indeed, university students in the UK mock the US drinking age and when they talk about it, they almost invariable mention, ironically, that the US is the “land of the free.” Now when I was 20, and a Canadian who sometimes went to the United States, I thought a great deal about the US drinking age and had strong feelings about it. Now that I am older, I feel less strongly about that issue, even though I still disagree with the US drinking age. One of the things I’ve noticed about the Heritage and Fraser Indices is that they don’t take restrictions on alcohol and marijuana sales into account. That serious omission likely reflects the age of the individuals who created the indices and it may also reflect their personality type and preferences. (I’m guessing that the guys who developed these indices never tried pot when they were in university, which was probably a long time ago).

Now I don’t know exactly how what sort of weighting one ought to give to strict alcohol and drug laws in an economic freedom index. Clearly that is something a team is better placed to decide, since in a diverse team personal biases can cancel each other out. I do know that Saudi Arabia’s total ban on all forms of alcohol clearly ought to be taken into consideration in developing the index, as should the relatively high drinking age in the US. However, there are some grey areas. Canada will soon have legal recreational marijuana, while the UK continues to ban this drug. So looking just at marijuana policy, I would give Canada a few more points for economic freedom. However, the UK has a much more liberal policy regarding alcohol sales than most Canadian provinces, especially those where alcohol sales are still a state monopoly. Judged strictly on alcohol policy, the UK has more economic freedom. But which should have heavier weighting in the index, marijuana or alcohol policy? I don’t know. But I do know that in answering this question, two heads are better than one.