Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Follow up on Capitalism and History

I have seen some interesting responses on twitter to the new Capitalism and History journal that I mentioned yesterday. She is not alone, but I saw Vanessa Ogle’s response first.

I have to admit that I was surprised by the diversity in terms of disciplines and politics and did not notice the lack of diversity on other dimensions. This, however, is not the first time someone has noted that some of the most prominent participants in the New History of Capitalism seem to have problems with race and gender.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Some business history stuff

Here are two recent papers on culture and business history

This paper draws on the literature of experimental economics to suggest a model of cultural change with applications to business history. The model is based on experiments involving the public goods game, in which players are given an initial endowment of money and told that they can keep it or contribute some or all of it to a common fund. The fund earns interest, and, at the conclusion of the game, the total is divided among all the players, regardless of the magnitude of their contributions. In most settings, players initially contribute a significant fraction of their endowment to the fund, but some choose to free ride on others’ investments. If the game is repeated for multiple periods, players observe this free riding and stop putting their money in the fund. If the rules are changed, however, so that free riders can be punished, players will start contributing again and the common fund will grow and provide general benefits. Although this game is typically used to study topics such as tax avoidance and the provision of schools, roads, hospitals, and other similar investments, I argue that cultural practices have many of the features of public goods and that insights from these experiments can be used to explore systematically the dynamics of cultural change.

Culture is easy to study but difficult to specify. This essay attempts to pin down this illusive subject by linking it to entrepreneurship—that is to specific efforts to combine land, labor, capital, and knowledge in the creation of economic activity that has some aspect of novelty. Entrepreneurship is important because of its central role in capitalism. Culture is important because it influences the willingness of individuals to take the risk of exploring possibilities for entrepreneurial ventures even though the most of them will be unsuccessful in the long-run. In search of entrepreneurial culture in America around 1800, this paper examimes immigration, agriculture, commerce, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the US. These insights are then employed in an examination of the post-WWII efforts of the World Bank—most of which failed—to promote economic growth in nations that had not yet experienced “modernization.”

And here is the flyer for a new journal on Capitalism and History, coming out in 2019. I would love to see a meeting of this advisory board. Although I have been very critical of several people on the list, this looks like it could be a serious attempt to bring together historians and economists working on economic history.