Business History

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    Accounting played a central role in the rise of financial capitalism as we know it today

Accounting played a central role in the rise of financial capitalism as we know it today

Since the pioneer writings of Weber and Sombart, the debate on the nexus between accounting and the rise of capitalism has caused a lot of ink to flow. Literature on the subject has focused on assessing the capacity of the double-entry form to promote “rational” decision-making based on profit calculation. While the classical approach, drawing on Weber and Sombart’s […]

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    Tiffany & Co.: A nineteenth century American retailer in Paris and London

Tiffany & Co.: A nineteenth century American retailer in Paris and London

Large American international retailers have been defining global consumers’ in-store experiences for decades. Firms such as Woolworths, and concepts such as the supermarket, have changed how we use stores and what we expect from them. American innovation in retailing in the twentieth century was synonymous with the notion of “big is beautiful”.

However, the origins of American international retailing lie […]

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    Weber may have been wrong in tracing the hard work ethic to Protestantism

Weber may have been wrong in tracing the hard work ethic to Protestantism

Social scientists have always been concerned about the role of religion for society. In the early twentieth century, there were concerns about the compatibility of Catholicism and liberal democracy; in the post-Cold War period, there were concerns that international relations might be marked by a ‘Clash of Civilizations’; and today there are concerns about the compatibility of Islam and […]

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    Inequality, technological change and the skill premium throughout the ages

Inequality, technological change and the skill premium throughout the ages

How do economic growth and technological change affect inequality? The skill premium (the wage of skilled labour relative to that of unskilled labour) is one good reflection of the interrelation between growth, technological change and inequality. Existing studies show that skill-biased technological change (SBTC) contributes to the rising skill premium in modern days. But few studies have been made […]

Compassionate capitalism: Lessons from medieval Cambridge

Contemporary businesses are frequently challenged to invest the profits from their commercial successes into projects that benefit society. Yet the idea that the pursuit of international competitiveness should also promote the common good is not a new one. It began as early as the medieval period!

England in the late thirteenth century had a dynamic economy. Legal advances created a […]

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    How the Bank of France increased liquidity at no fiscal risk in the 1800’s

How the Bank of France increased liquidity at no fiscal risk in the 1800’s

The last financial crises highlight the importance of operational procedures used by central banks to cool down financial distress. To fulfill their mandate of financial stability, central banks have always featured temporary extraordinary loans to previously ineligible financial intermediaries or to the purchases of new types of assets.

Critics of those policies insist central banks lack knowledge on their counterparties […]

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    Sophisticated financial management underpinned 18th century Methodism

Sophisticated financial management underpinned 18th century Methodism

‘Are our people good economists?’ the Methodist leader John Wesley asked his assembled preachers in 1765. He continued: ‘In public and private, enlarge on economy as a branch of religion.’

His efforts to spread the Gospel throughout the British Isles and beyond in the later eighteenth century relied on resources generated and managed using a wide range of techniques. The […]

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    What Victorian households can teach us about financial decision-making

What Victorian households can teach us about financial decision-making

 

In today’s financialised societies, households are heavily exposed to financial risk. Many researchers are exploring how such households make financial decisions and manage financial risk in practice. There are also substantial efforts being made by government, regulators, charities and financial players to increase the financial literacy of households to help them make better financial decisions.

In our research, we explore […]

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    Holding Brexiteers to account by looking at economic history

Holding Brexiteers to account by looking at economic history

The House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50, on the explicit basis that this process will be irrevocable and that, at the end of the negotiations, Parliament will have a choice between a hard Brexit (leaving the Single Market and the EEA) and an ultra-hard Brexit (WTO terms, if available).

It follows that arguments about whether the […]

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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 […]