Business History

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    The interlock between company boards and investment banks in the early 1900’s

The interlock between company boards and investment banks in the early 1900’s

In the early twentieth century, most American public companies had a partner or director from a top-ranked investment bank on their boards. Market participants generally believed that the banker-directors of that era monitored company management on behalf of outside investors, and the privileged information the bankers obtained in their directorships enabled them to distribute their clients’ securities on more […]

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    The crucial role of apprentice­ships for the rise of Europe

The crucial role of apprentice­ships for the rise of Europe

The role of specific institutions was important in giving Europe a technological advantage well before the Industrial Revolution. This column argues that apprenticeships were crucial to Europe’s rise. Unlike in the extended families or clans in other parts of the world, apprentices in Europe’s guild systems could learn from any master. New techniques and innovations could thus spread rapidly […]

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    Early British railways in Argentina were not ‘British’ alone

Early British railways in Argentina were not ‘British’ alone

My study adopts a broadly chronological approach, addressing the growth and development of the railway network from inception in the 1850s to maturity (though not maximum extension) around the time of the First World War. The principal chapters focus on the formative period from mid-nineteenth century to the 1870s, the consolidation of a national rail network in subsequent decades and […]

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    How a shortage of coins precipitated a depression in 15th century England

How a shortage of coins precipitated a depression in 15th century England

It’s a disaster!  All the big city lenders are scaling back, or outright refusing to lend. Major players are going bust.  Overseas markets are collapsing. Regional distributors can’t get sufficient credit. Goods are piling up in warehouses. People are crying out to parliament for a major cash injection. New restrictive, even pernicious, lending practices are emerging. The economy is […]

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    What would surprise early Victorian market players if they came alive today?

What would surprise early Victorian market players if they came alive today?

A picture of Leadenhall Street, London, c. 1837, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
What would early Victorians make of today’s markets? Such questions are more than just idle curiosities. For example, the recent wide acceptance around the world of negative interest rates was a surprise. Why didn’t the money go into cash? Yet observers should not have been startled by this development. In […]

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    Mechanical clocks prove the importance of technology for economic growth

Mechanical clocks prove the importance of technology for economic growth

Salisbury Cathedral clock (the oldest surviving functional mechanical clock in the world), © Copyright by Hywel Williams under a CC-BY-SA-2.0 licence
“Remember that time is money.” Already in 1748 Benjamin Franklin underlined in a short contribution to a business manual that the temporal aspect is a pivotal variable for the economy. Such a statement is even more important for today’s […]

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    Commission trading allowed Italian merchant banks to flourish in the 16th century

Commission trading allowed Italian merchant banks to flourish in the 16th century

… it may please your worships to understand, that the chiefest living and maintenance that we have is upon the commissions that are sent unto us of our friends from beyond the seas…     

— Italian merchants explaining their foreign exchanges to Sir Thomas Gresham and other royal commissioners [Ms. of Lord Calthorpe, Vol XX, f. 28].

Most of today’s banks […]

Why Bretton Woods nostalgia makes no sense

Although economic theory is still inconclusive as to the exact effect of integration on the properties of business cycle co-movement, a number of empirical contributions have argued that intense trade and financial integration is associated with a stronger degree of business cycle synchronisation. A corollary of this view is that the Bretton Woods era – a period during which […]

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    Real estate bubbles leading to bank troubles — 2008? Not exactly

Real estate bubbles leading to bank troubles — 2008? Not exactly

The recent financial crisis suggested an important connection between real estate investments and bank trouble, especially in the U.S. In fact, this is nothing new. Although financial crises can have multiple and varied causes, real estate investment booms are likely to bode particularly ill for the stability of the financial system. Indeed, in a new paper, I highlight the […]

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    History shows that Greece is able to implement meaningful reform

History shows that Greece is able to implement meaningful reform

Greece is heading for another showdown with its creditors. With a major bond payment due in early July, expect another round of arguments on the need for structural reforms from the one side and the necessity of debt relief from the other; and rest assured that the creditors’ preferred background tune “Grexit” will also be playing this summer, though […]

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    GDP per capita: from measurement tool to ideological construct

GDP per capita: from measurement tool to ideological construct

National accounting techniques, developed in the US, Europe and Australia in the inter-war period, and considerably sophisticated since, have become the cornerstone of much research and accepted wisdom both in contemporary global development debates and in economic history. In particular, GDP per capita has become the tool/yardstick of choice in most work that considers comparative levels of economic growth […]

Why do customer fears grow into serious bank runs?

In 2011 depositors of two banks in Latvia, Swedbank and SEB, rushed to empty their bank accounts after a rumor spread on Twitter claiming that the banks were experiencing financial trouble. The bank quickly addressed the rumors as false and police investigations were launched to track down the source of the claims. Despite this quick action, by the time […]

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    How corporate governance moved to the forefront of management

How corporate governance moved to the forefront of management

While the term “corporate governance” is now used universally when managerial accountability in publicly traded companies is under consideration, the term was largely unknown until the 1970s. In a recent paper, I explain how and why corporate governance moved to the forefront in the manner it did in the United States, the country where the term first came to […]