Monday, March 23, 2015

Some new stuff

Cohen and Mandler on silent changes to the History Manifesto.

The preliminary program for BHC EBHA is up.

Lindert and Williamson income estimates for colonial America.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Open Access and Predatory Publishing

LSE Impact Blog has an essay by Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella  on Open Access:

Although predatory publishers predate open access, their recent explosion was expedited by the emergence of fee-charging OA journals. Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella argue that librarians can play an important role in helping researchers to avoid becoming prey. But there remains ambiguity over what makes a publisher predatory. Librarians can help to counteract the misconceptions and alarmism that stymie the acceptance of OA.”

They have some valid points, but there is also much that I disagree with. They spend too much time criticizing Jeffrey Beall for not being sufficiently supportive of OA. In addition, they confuse the issue of low quality and predatory. There are a lot of low quality journals out there, but they do not charge large fees to publish papers on line, they do not advertise that you can have your paper published in a month, they do provide some peer review and editing. They do not face up to the costs of the rush to OA, especially attempts to mandate publication in OA journals.

Open access is not the same thing as predatory. Open access means that people can view a piece of scholarship without having to pay a fee, either directly or indirectly through their school or employer. Predatory journals exist to make money by selling false information. The false information that they sell is that the papers in them have been published in a peer reviewed journal. Academics pay the predatory publisher to say that their paper has been published in a peer reviewed journal; the academics then put the lie into their cvs and their annual activity reports and their tenure and promotion files. After examining a number of these journals I am convinced that it is all too easy tell legitimate publishers from predatory publishers.   The researchers that publish in these fake journals are not being preyed upon; the people that are led to believe that these researchers are publishing in peer reviewed journals are the prey.  Beall’slist is really more of a tool for these people than it is for researchers.

Being open access does not prove that a journal is predatory. Not being open access does not prove that a journal is not predatory. There is, however, a connection between open access and predatory publishers. Legitimate open access journals have created an opportunity for predatory publishers by publishing online and charging fees. Predatory publishers mimic these features, but, unlike traditional journals they have no incentive to provide peer review and editing. Traditional journals have an incentive to engage in careful peer review and editing. They need to get people to buy their journal. The articles have to be good enough that universities, members of an association, or people in the field will be willing to pay to read them. Predatory publishers have no incentive to expend time and resources on peer review and editing. The last thing they want is to have anyone read the articles.  If you read something like this it will only make it harder to tell people that you thought you were publishing in a legitimate journal.

Personally, I do not see publication in traditional journals as incompatible with open access. I noted in a previous post that I went through a recent issue of The American Economic Review and was able to find an open access, or ungated, version of every paper.  In addition, we were hiring this year and pretty much everyone had a website with access to their job market paper. There are often some differences between the “ungated” version of a paper and published version of a paper; if you want to cite a paper you should probably get access to the published version. But if the issue is simply access to research results the ungated version will typically provide this. It seems to me that this general approach existed in economics for a long time. Even before widespread access to the internet economists distributed working papers.  Pretty much anyone who mattered had probably read your paper years before it appeared in print.  There may be reasons why this approach will not work in some disciplines. There may even be reasons it will not continue to work in economics, but advocates for open access journals need to acknowledge the problems they give rise to and the possible alternatives.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

More on The History Manifesto

American Historical Review has Cohen and Mandler’s critique of The History Manifesto and Armitage and Guldi’s reply. Cohen and Mandler also have a rejoinder to Armitage and Guldi’s reply. I have previously referred to reviews of the Manifesto by Pseudoerasmus and Mark Koyama.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

More on the "new history of capitalism"

The U.S. Intellectual History Blog has published an interesting essay by James Livingston on the new history of capitalism and Walter Johnson's River of Dark Dreams. The essay is part 3 of a 4 part series.

More on the recession of the early 1920s

I saw the other day that James Grant’s The Forgotten Depression had received an award from the Manhattan Institute. The book argues that the economy recovered quickly from a “Depression” in the early 1920s because the government did not intervene, and that this provides a lesson for our times. On the same day I read a new paper in the Journal of American History, “Before the Roar: U.S. Unemployment Relief after World War I and the Long History of a Paternalist Welfare Policy,” by Daniel Amsterdam.  You would think they were written about two different countries. Amsterdam describes numerous government responses (largely at the state and local level, but in some cases promoted at the federal level) to unemployment during the recession in the early 1920s.

I have to say, I find The Forgotten Depression and its reception a bit puzzling. It seems to me that the need to identify examples of times when the economy recovered quickly without government intervention is motivated more by politics than by economic theory or historical evidence. Why should a recovery be quick? If a credit boom leads to a severe misallocation of resources, why would we expect that reallocation after the boom would occur at any particular speed? Where is there in, for example, Austrian Business Cycle Theory a method of predicting how many months a recovery will take? Why, even in the absence of government intervention, might it not take years for reallocation to occur?

I can understand making an argument that, other things equal, markets should adjust more quickly when there are fewer restrictions placed upon them. But 1920 and 2008 are so far from other things equal it is difficult to make useful comparisons. The two periods differ fundamentally in terms of the source of the boom and bust. The misallocation of resources, by peacetime standards, was driven by the war.  In addition, Grant focuses on the federal government’s response to unemployment, but before WWII spending by state and local governments (as well as regulation) exceeded that of the federal government.  Just because the federal government did not do something in the past does not mean that government did not do it. One would need to look carefully at state and local actions to understand the role of “government” during the recession of the early twenties. Amsterdam does not provide a complete picture of state and local action, but it is a good start.

And, yes, I called it a recession, not a depression. If we choose to call the early twenties a depression then almost every downturn in U.S. history should be called a depression. Grant rejects recent estimates of historical business cycles by Christina Romer. Perhaps Romer’s estimates are in error, but I do not find the lyrics of “Aint We Got Fun” to be persuasive evidence that she erred.

The graph below shows percent change in Real GDP (1890-1950) based on the Millennial Edition of Historical Statistics (Ca 9). The recession of the early 1920s was simply was not unusually long or severe compared to other downturns.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The History of Corporations and Securities Markets

Leslie Hannah’s keynote address to the Economic and Business History Society, “The Origins, Characteristics and Resilience of the “Anglo- American” Corporate Model,” is now online.


Mary O’Sullivan argues that J.P. Morgan’s role needs to be re-examined in “Too Much Ado About Morgan’s Men: The U.S. Securities Market, 1908-1914.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Tale of Two Plantations

I have recently written about some new books on the history of slavery that I did not like. I just finished one that I really did like: A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia by Stephen Dunn. It is a remarkable work, following the lives of hundreds of slaves on two large plantations: Mesopotamia in Jamaica and Mount Airy on the Northern Neck of Virginia, not far from where I live. The bloggers at the Junto devoted several days to discussion of the book and an interview with the author. One of the things that I most enjoyed was the description of the process of historical research. I thought this book was a great example of the historian taking his reader along with him to the archives, describing the difficulties in finding sources, the limits of those sources, and how he made certain inferences from those sources.  

There is also a website that goes with the book.