Category Archives: Globalization

Does educational stratification put toffs at the top?

Social mobility at the top: Why are elites self-reproducing?

by Elise S. Brezis (Azrieli Center for Economic Policy, Israel) & Joël Hellier (EQUIPPE, Univ. de Lille, Bar-Ilan University, Israel and LEMNA, Univ. de Nantes, France)

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:inq:inqwps:ecineq2013-312

This paper proposes an explanation for the decrease in social mobility that has occurred in the last two decades in number of advanced economies, as well as for the divergence in mobility dynamics across countries. Within an intergenerational framework, we show that a two-tier higher education system with standard and elite universities generates social stratification, high social immobility and self-reproduction of the elite. Moreover, we show that the higher the relative funding for elite universities, the higher the elite self-reproduction, and the lower social mobility. We also analyse the impacts of changes in the weight of the elite and of the middle class upon social mobility. Our findings provide theoretical bases for the inverted-U profile of social mobility experienced in several countries since World War II and to the ‘Great Gatsby Curve’ relating social mobility to inequality.

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2014-01-10, and was of particular interest to me, primarily since I spent my formative years attending primary and secondary school in an area of the South Wales valleys prioritised by the European Union for what was then termed as ‘Objective One funding’ in recognition of its lack of social inclusion and opportunity – a position precipitated by the closure of the coalmines in the 1980s, which deprived thousands of their livelihoods. It stored up numerous social problems for the future, primarily owing to the absence of a cogent plan to replace and maintain the community’s employment following the completion of the area’s pit closures in the late 1980s, but was exacerbated, following the removal of these employment opportunities, by the deeply-embedded mindset of the coalfield communities vis-à-vis academic and/or cultural education, symptomatic of that seen in the movie ‘Billy Elliot’ (2000). Although disliked, inequality was largely accepted almost as a fait-accompli. For the Conservative Party of the 1980s, as Peter Dorey has argued, it was regarded as inherently necessary and positive in contemporary Thatcherite political thought (Dorey, 2010).Economic inequality became deeply clear from the 1908s in Britain

Summary

Citing the fact that society has been ‘constructed’ since medieval times, enforcing people’s ‘place’, whether it be as a member of the Feudal society or as a designated member of a particular ‘social class’, scholars have traditionally argued that inequalities have primarily been enforced according the socially-assigned opportunities during childhood. In the UK, the frequent use of the vernacular such as ‘toff’ and ‘poshboy’ by those of the opposition Labour Party (despite many of them, too, having received an elite education) in response to the perception of the British government’s inability to connect with the grassroots, picks up on the main concerns of this paper, that being that the current social and educational construct in many advanced European economies helps to perpetuate the development of an elite social class who, despite forming the smallest percentage of the nation’s overall population, receive the greatest power and highest chances of success.

This paper claims that the stratification of universities according to ‘elite’ and ‘secondary’ categories propagates an inequality that helps nurture the protection and development of an ‘elite’ through better resources afforded to those universities according to their finances and staffing. The transition of graduates to a higher social class, facilitated by their better education, and affording them with the skills maybe not available to their parents to secure a middle-class, white collar job enforces, at least superficially, the so-called ‘New right’ rhetoric of an ‘upwardly mobile’ society, but one which is fundamentally and inherently contradictory.

The methods used by the authors to convey their point are very persuasive.  The use of the intergenerational earnings elasticity model, with the use of gender and parental income as the variable helps to demonstrate the extent of the ‘elite construction’ which is the main theme of this paper, and is used as a method to measure intergenerational social mobility. Their findings suggest a constant increase in intergenerational social mobility in the countries where the so-called ‘dual’ (i.e. elite and secondary) education exists, namely France, the UK and the USA, but are contrasted with Nordic countries that do not have this system to show that such a trend does not exist here.  However, they are also keen to emphasise that a range of factors could have contributed to these changes, with sociological factors after the Second World War being cited as a major example of changes to the demographic of society in the post-1945 period, such as the number of blue collar workers entering the elite class in the USA during the 1960s being double that of countries such as Britain, France and Germany, although after the 1980s, the extent of their social mobility was severely decreasing. (Brezis & Hellier, 2013:6)

Yet the authors believe that the growth of tertiary education is possibly one of the largest reasons to explain this shift, with this form of education accounting for 60% of students in the present period, compared with 10% in the post-war period, representing an increase of 525% in enrolment to the ‘non-elitist colleges’ in the USA between 1959-2008, and an increase of 250% in elite colleges for the same period.  (Brezis & Hellier, 2013: 7)  Coupled with this of course is the fact that elite universities (Ivy League), particularly in the USA, have become more selective in their recruitment, recruiting only those with the highest grades and thus creating a small student body, and in turn spending treble the money per head  compared to secondary universities.  On the other hand,  recruitment to secondary universities has increased, largely, according to what the authors believe to be a more lenient admissions policy, but one that has led to a larger student body, and less money per head being spent on students.( Brezis & Hellier, 2013, 8)

However, the authors are also keen to correlate educational attainment with family background.  Citing the fact that at its highest, children of upper class families were 40 times more likely to enter an elite educational institution compared to those from lower social classes clearly demonstrates this class divide, and that, to a large extent, this divide is possibly ever-increasing.  (Brezis & Hellier, 2013, 8)

Using the idea that a two-tier education system prevailing in many advanced economies could be considered as a major source pertaining to rising inequality and reduced social mobility, this paper asserts that stratification of universities has also affected the level of spending per head on students, and thus influenced their educational opportunities and attainment. Declaring that the so-called ‘elite universities’ tend to recruit students from the higher social classes, it implicitly suggests that those from the lower social orders are disadvantaged at the recruitment stage, despite possessing requisite, identical and in some cases better evidence of academic attainment. Although the latter issue remains controversial, the authors have certainly identified a phenomenon that the universities concerned attempt to rebuff, and policymakers try to ‘level out’, but one that remains virtually impossible to eradicate, especially in view of the fact that many of the elite universities are in receipt of significant funds from rich benefactors, many of whom are alumni.

Those with the most power in society have appeared to be in the minority - a position influenced by growing affluence in the higher classes

Critique

The authors have engaged in a very deep analysis of the social class and its impact on entry into elite universities, and have also clearly shown the divergence between social class and educational attainment at university level. Drawing on a large range of quantitative methods and materials, this research clearly attests to the ‘Gatsby Curve’ pertaining to social mobility and inequality, demonstrating that this is relevant across several nations in developed economies.

To further amplify the impact of this research, perhaps the authors could consider exploring the difficulties faced by universities today in terms of marketing themselves to students? In the UK, and also in the US, this has become especially pertinent over recent years, and has, superficially at least, made the distinction of ‘elite universities’ more blurred, particularly in view of the spike in tuition fees implemented in the UK by the Conservative-Liberal coalition. Tied with these was the option for universities to level fees within a prescribed range, leaving many universities, even those considered among the ‘secondary’ level, to charge higher fees to avoid enforcing, or indeed accepting a position both statistically and in the public mind, as a lower-level institution. In fact, this position does raise deeper questions concerning the definition of ‘elite’ institutions. Is it based on its historical tradition, research output (as is often used as the arbiter of much government funding), student satisfaction, quality of teaching, or student attainment after graduation?

Additionally, in an age where having staff whose capabilities extend beyond the traditional realms of research and teaching has become ever-more necessary in view of the growing commercialisation of universities in the twenty-first century, with its leaders becoming more financially-savvy, and turning more towards international outreach to attract large external funding, perhaps the authors could explore whether they think the growing commercialisation of universities has deepened the class divide, thus forcing many away from pursuing a university education on the grounds of cost, or whether the growing competition among educational institutions, much of which now has a strong business-orientated approach, especially with the creation, in some universities, of the position of ‘Chief Executive’, will work to level out the ubiquitous class divide.

References

Dorey, Peter (2010) British Conservatism : The Philosophy and Politics of Inequality , London : I.B. Tauris.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the livery of the Oxford University Bullingdon Club (crica 1986)

David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the livery of the Oxford University Bullingdon Club (crica 1986)

Past and Present: Brazil’s Unfulfilled Expectations

Industrial Growth and Structural Change: Brazil in a Long-Run Perspective

by Dante Aldrighi (aldrighi@usp.br) and Renato P. Colistete (rcolistete@usp.br)

Abstract: This paper presents a long-run analysis of industrial growth and structural change in Brazil, from the coffee export economy in the nineteenth century to the present day. We focus on Brazil’s high economic growth in most of the twentieth century and the disruption caused by the collapse of debt-led growth in the early 1980s. We then examine the recent trends in economic growth and structural change, with a sectoral analysis of output, employment and productivity growth. Employing new data and estimates, we identify a sharp break with the earlier period of high output and productivity growth in Brazil’s manufacturing industry before the 1980s. From the 1990s, the relatively successful process of learning and technological advance by manufacturing firms that took place since the early industrialization has lost strength and Brazil’s productivity growth has declined and stagnated.

URL: http://ideas.repec.org/p/spa/wpaper/2013wpecon10.html

Review by Sebastian Fleitas

They are playing soccer here.
There is much samba, much crying and rock’n’roll.
Some days it rains, on others, it shines.
But the thing I want to tell you is that things are really bad*

Chico Buarque, Brazilian musician, 1976

In four months time Brazil will be in everyone’s mind. Love it or hate it, coming June the FIFA World Cup 2014 will be in full swing and held in South America for the second time. According to Goldman Sachs, host nations can typically expect a 54pc increase in medals at the Olympic games. Assuming the relationship holds for football, this further increases the odd for the home team, which more often than not is marked as favourite by pundits across the globe, to win later this year in its home turf. Indeed, we are already hearing about Brazil because of the anti-World Cup protests. Protest which are more likely driven by unfulfilled economic expectations of Brazilians than by their rejection of the tournament.

Brazil occupies the biggest landmass in South America and has often been thought of as a big economic promise. For instance, large GDP growth rates in the late 1960s and early 1970s led people to talk about the “Brazilian miracle”. More recently, in 2009, Brazil was again a sound bite for big economic promise and the financial press coined the term “BRICs” to denominate it plus Russia, India and China as the “bright stars” in an otherwise gloomy world that was facing recession following the financial crisis. Such expectations, both in the past and today, have been fuelled by the idea of Brazil achieving a higher rate of development than others on the back of a big and highly productive manufacturing sector and long standing (and dynamic) agriculture. But Brazil has consistently failed to deliver on expectations. Even more, there is already talk of the “BIITS” to referrer to Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, while focusing on their current-account deficits and structural weaknesses (as exposed by the cooling of demand from China and the potential of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates in the USA). But just as the Brazilian manufacturing industry has fuelled expectations, it has also been a large part of the reason behind these apparent failures.

Patrick Chappatte, Protests in Brazil, New York Times (http://goo.gl/AFevcF)

Patrick Chappatte, Protests in Brazil, New York Times (http://goo.gl/AFevcF)

Dante Aldrighi and Renato Colistete in this paper, circulated by NEP-HIS on 2013-08-31, offer a very detailed long-run description of industrial growth and structural change in Brazil: from the coffee export economy in the nineteenth century to the present day. They examine the recent trends in economic growth and structural change, with a sectoral analysis of output, employment and productivity growth.  Their estimates show that the expansion and diversification of Brazil’s manufacturing industry from the nineteenth century until the late 1970s was a remarkable process. Despite distortions and inefficiencies, the experience of accelerated industrialization provided the country with a diversified and relatively complex industrial structure. In the 1980s and 1990s, the debt crisis and the ensuing macroeconomic imbalances undermined the manufacturing industry’s performance, weakening the incentives to invest and to improve technological capabilities.

A point of particular importance in the paper by Aldrighi and Colistete is the study of productivity. The authors show that in the last two decades the productivity growth of Brazil’s manufacturing industry has been much lower that that achieved during the earlier period of accelerated industrialization. Moreover, using a shift-share analysis they suggest that before the 1980s productivity gains within industries were a stronger driving force for aggregate productivity growth than shifts of labor to higher productivity activities. However, since the 1980s the role of structural change has become relatively more important to explain productivity growth in Brazil’s manufacture. For the economy as a whole, structural change also revealed to be more important than sectoral productivity growth in the 1990s and 2000s. They conclude that there is evidence that the relatively successful process of learning and technological advance by manufacturing firms that took place since the early industrialization has lost strength as a major source of economic growth in Brazil during the recent decades. Most of productivity growth has now been coming from agricultural activities. They also show that, during most of the period of accelerated industrialization, industrial workers saw their wages, measured in local currency, lagging consistently behind labor productivity, which led to a declining share of wages in the total income of the manufacturing sector. Later, the unit labor costs adjusted by the exchange rate increased, mainly as a result of currency appreciation and lower productivity growth. However, the authors show that labor compensation growth was modest in real terms and had a minor role in increasing unit labor costs.

FIFA World Cup 2014

FIFA World Cup 2014

The paper concludes that the main sources of concern about the performance of the manufacturing sector in Brazil rests in its very low productivity growth and the tendency to currency appreciation, which together affect unit labor costs and competitiveness. They understand that the competitiveness of manufacture might be significantly higher if the costs of inputs and services other than labor (such as capital, taxes, infrastructure, bureaucracy and innovation) were lower or declining. However, they are not optimistic about the prospect of this happening. Some of the factors that they understand have conspired to reduce efficiency and productivity growth are the complex and burdensome tax system that tends to push firms to the informal, low-productivity sector; high and unstable real interest rates; a relatively low-skilled workforce; and expenditures on R&D below the levels attained in the most dynamic developing countries, which limits the technological spillovers that might benefit the whole economy. They also state that innovation activities have been negatively affected by uncertainty and the inability to make long-horizon investment plans, increased by low and volatile public investments and economic growth rates. All these factors explain why Brazil’s investment rates remain much lower than those prevailing in most developing countries. As a consequence, the authors think that it is unlikely that Brazil’s manufacturing sector’s low productivity growth is being offset by appropriate incentives or reductions in the costs of key components that affect competitiveness in the long run.

In my opinion, the authors’ description and conclusions clearly point out the need to go beyond description and embrace new lines of research that address the specific causes of the low productivity in Brazil. These new venues of research will lead to a better understanding of the Brazilian situation and will provide a better understanding of the policy instruments that could enhance Brazil’s development. This agenda would be very beneficial for other countries in Latin and South America too, which face similar problems. Focusing on the behavior of the productivity and from a microeconomic perspective.

I would like to very briefly mention here two recent lines of research that may shed light on the causes of low productivity. The first line is related to the productivity via labor supply. Productivity seems to be affected by the poor performance of Latin American students at school. In a recent paper, Hanushek and Woessmann (2012) find that in growth regressions, the positive growth effect of educational achievement fully accounts for the poor growth performance of Latin American countries. In addition, they find through a development accounting analysis that, once educational achievement is included, human capital can account for between half and two thirds of the income differences between Latin America and the rest of the world. More efforts than those already in place (see among others Carvalho Filho and Colistete, 2010; Colistete, 2013) are necessary to better understand the links between the development of education in the region and its impact on productivity in Brazil and the region as a whole.

Picture of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil http://goo.gl/uTni0a

Picture of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil http://goo.gl/uTni0a

The second line I would like to mention is related with the productivity of firms in Brazil (and Latin America), especially managerial abilities and their impact on productivity. Managerial abilities were for long time considered in the residual of the productivity or production function equations and no consistent efforts to measure managerial abilities had been carried out. Recently, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen with different coauthors have been working on surveys, based on interviews to firms, to determine management practices scores**. They have conducted interviews to more than 10,000 firms in 20 countries in the period 2004-2010. They have used this data to publish several papers on the issue that are worth looking at. Their general conclusions are that management practices scores in manufacturing vary significantly across countries and are strongly linked to the level of development. In particular, the average management practices score appears in the place 18th in the ranking only above China and India and below countries like Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Greece. The methodology the authors use for these surveys is not easy to replicate for other periods. However, this type of study provides a good insight to causes of low productivity that are often forgotten in Latin American countries and in our historical explanations and that, when measured, show our relative backwardness.

To sum up, Colistete and Aldrighi do a great job describing the evolution of the manufacturing industry in Brazil in the long run. They show how, even with very important problems, Brazil’s period of import substitution generated increases in productivity and structural change. They also document the problems that Brazil has had since the early 1980s in terms of growth and productivity. Fortunately, in all aspects besides football (ie soccer in the US), samba and rock and roll, the Brazil we have now is not the Brazil that Chico Buarque described in 1976. Among other examples, income inequality in a country that has one of the worst income distributions in the world has been improving consistently during the last few years. However, the challenges of productivity remain. Focusing in understanding the causal relationships between microeconomic factors (e.g. education achievement or managerial abilities) and productivity could help to a better understand the historical evolution of economic development and to design better policies oriented to overcome these problems.

Footnotes

*Aqui na terra tão jogando futebol, Tem muito samba, muito choro e rock’n’roll,  Uns dias chove, noutros dias bate o sol, Mas o que eu quero é lhe dizer que a coisa aqui tá preta.

** Check Nicholas Bloom website at Stanford University (http://www.stanford.edu/~nbloom/)

References

Hanushek, A. and Woessmann, L (2012): Schooling, educational achievement, and the Latin American growth puzzle, Journal of Development Economics 99 (2012) 497–512

Carvalho Filho, I and Colistete, R (2010): Education Performance: Was It All Determined 100 Years Ago? Evidence From Sao Paulo, Brazil, MPRA working paper

Colistete (2013): A Política do Atraso Educacional: Visões e Conflitos sobre a Instrução Pública em São Paulo entre 1851 e 1892, Departamento de Economia, FEA-USP, working paper

The challenges of updating the contours of the world economy (1AD – today)

The First Update of the Maddison Project: Re-estimating Growth Before 1820

by Jutta Bolt (University of Groningen) and Jan Luiten van Zanden (Utrecht University)

Abstract: The Maddison Project, initiated in March 2010 by a group of close colleagues of Angus Maddison, aims to develop an effective way of cooperation between scholars to continue Maddison’s work on measuring economic performance in the world economy. This paper is a first product of the project. Its goal is to inventory recent research on historical national accounts, to briefly discuss some of the problems related to these historical statistics and to extend and where necessary revise the estimates published by Maddison in his recent overviews (2001; 2003; 2007) (also made available on his website at http://www.ggdc.net/MADDISON/oriindex.htm).

URL http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/publications/wp.htm

Review by Emanuele Felice

Angus Maddison (1926-2010) left an impressive heritage in the form of his GDP estimates. These consider almost all of the world, from Roman times until our days, and are regularly cited by both specialists and non-specialists for long-run comparisons of economic performance. The Maddison project was launched in March 2010 with the aim of expanding and improving Maddison’s work. One of the first products is the paper by Jutta Bolt and Jan Luiten van Zanden, which aims to provide an inventory while also critically review the available research on historical national accounts. It also aims “to extend and where necessary revise” Maddison’s estimates. This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2014-01-26.

The paper starts by presenting, in a concise but clear way, the reasons that motivated the Maddison’s project and its main goals. It also tells that some issues are left to be the subject of future work, particularly thorny issues left out include the use of 2005 purchasing power parities rather than Maddison’s (1990) ones; and the consistency of benchmarks and time series estimates over countries and ages.

Jutta Bolt

Firstly (and fairly enough, from a ontological perspective) Bolt  and van Zanden deal with the possibility of providing greater transparency in the estimates. Instead of presenting the margins of errors of each estimate (which in turn would be based “on rather subjective estimates of the possible margins of error of the underlying data”), the authors, following an advice by Steve Broadberry, choose to declare explicitly the provenance of the estimates and the ways in which they have been produced. This leads to classifying Maddison’s estimates in four groups: a) official estimates of GDP, released by national statistical offices or by international agencies; b) historical estimates (that is, estimates produced by economic historians) which roughly follow the same method as the official ones and are based on a broad range of data and information; c) historical estimates based on indirect proxies for GDP (such as wages, the share of urban population, etc.); d) “guess estimates”.

Jan Luiten van Zanden

Then the article moves on to review and discuss new estimates: although revisions for the nineteenth and twentieth century (mostly falling under the “b” category) are also incorporated, the most important changes come from the pre-industrial era (“c” kind estimates). For Europe, we now have a considerable amount of new work, for several countries including England, Holland, Italy, Spain and Germany (but not for France). The main result is that, from 1000 to 1800 AD, growth was probably more gradual than what proposed by Maddison; that is, European GDP was significantly higher in the Renaissance (above 1000 PPP 1990 dollars in 1500, against 771 proposed by Maddison); hence, growth was slower in the following three centuries (1500-1800), while faster in the late middle ages (1000-1500). For Asia, the new (and in some cases very detailed) estimates available for some regions of India (Bengal) and China (the Yangzi Delta), for Indonesia and Java, and for Japan, confirm Maddison’s view of the great divergence, against Pomeranz revisionist approach: in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, a significant gap between Europe and Asia was already present (for instance GDP per capita in the whole of China was 600 PPP 1990 dollars in 1820, as in Maddison; against 1455 of Western Europe, instead of 1194 proposed by Maddison).

New estimates are also included for some parts of Africa and for the Americas, with marginal changes on the overall picture (for the whole of Latin America, per capita GDP in 1820 is set to 628 PPP 1990 dollars, instead of 691). For Africa, however, there are competing estimates for the years 1870 to 1950, by Leandro Prados de la Escosura (based on the theoretical relationship between income terms of trade per head and GDP per capita) on the one side, and Van Leeuwen, Van Leeuwen-Li and Foldvari (mostly based on real wage data, deflated with indigenous’ crops prices) on the other. The general trends of these differ substantially: the authors admit that they “are still working on ways to integrate this new research into the Maddison framework” and thus at the present no choice is made between the two, although both are included in the data appendix.

New long-run estimates are presented also for the Near East, as well as for the Roman world, in this latter case with some differences (smaller imbalances between Italy and the rest of the empire) as compared to Maddison’s picture. The authors also signal the presence of estimates for ancient Mesopotamia, produced by Foldvari and Van Leeuwen, which set the level of average GDP a bit below that of the Roman empire (600 PPP 1990 dollars per year, versus 700), but they are not included in the dataset.

Per capita GDP in Roman times, according to Maddison (1990 PPP dollars)

Per capita GDP in Roman times, according to Maddison (1990 PPP dollars)

What can we say about this impressive work? First, that it is truly impressive and daring. But then come the problems. Needless to say Maddison’s guessed estimates is one of the main issues or limitations, and this looks kind of downplayed by Bolt and van Zanden. As pointed out by Gregory Clark, in his 2009 Review of Maddison’s famous Contours of the World Economy:

“All the numbers Maddison estimates for the years before 1820 are fictions, as real as the relics peddled around Europe in the Middle Ages (…) Just as in the Middle Ages, there was a ready market for holy relics to lend prestige to the cathedrals and shrines of Europe (…), so among modern economists there is a hunger by the credulous for numbers, any numbers however dubious their provenance, to lend support to the model of the moment. Maddison supplies that market” (Clark 2009, pp. 1156-1157).

The working paper by Bolt and Van Zanden makes significant progress in substituting some fictitious numbers (d), with indirect estimates of GDP (c), but then in discussing the results it leaves unclear which numbers are reliable, which not, thus still leaving some ground for the “market for holy relics”.

Image

This is all the more problematic if we think that nominally all the estimates have been produced at 1990 international dollars. It is true that there is another part of the Maddison project specifically aiming at substituting 1990 purchasing power parities with 2005 ones. But this is not the point. The real point is that even 2005 PPPs would not change the fact that we are comparing economies of distant times under the assumption that differences in the cost of living remained unchanged over centuries, or even over millennia. This problem, not at all a minor neither a new one − e.g. Prados de la Escosura (2000) − is here practically ignored. One indeed may have the feeling that the authors (and Maddison before them) simply don’t care about the parities they use, de facto treating them as if they were at current prices. For example, they discuss the evidence emerging from real wages, saying that they confirm the gaps in per capita GDP: but the gaps in real wages are usually at the current parities of the time, historical parities, while those in GDP are at constant 1990 parities. If we assume, as reasonably should be, that differences in the cost of living changed over the centuries, following the different timing of economic growth, then the evidence from real wages (at current prices) may actually not confirm the GDP figures (at constant 1990 PPPs). Let’s take, for instance, China. It could be argued that differences in the cost of living, as compared to Europe, were before the industrial revolution, say in 1820, lower than in 1990, given that also the differences in per capita GDP were lower in 1820 than in 1990; hence, prices in 1820 China were relatively higher. The same is true for China when compared to Renaissance or Roman Italy (since prices in 1990 China were arguably significantly lower than prices in 1990 Italy, in comparison with the differences in the sixteenth century or in ancient times). This would mean that real GDP at current PPPs would be in 1820 even lower, as compared to Europe; or that 1820 China would have a per capita GDP remarkably lower than that of the Roman empire, maybe even lower than that of ancient Mesopotamia. Is this plausible?

References

Clark, G. (2009). Review essay: Angus Maddison, Contours of the world economy, 1-2030 AD: essays in macro-economic history. Journal of Economic History 69(4): 1156−1161.

Prados de la Escosura, L. (2000). International comparisons of real product, 1820–1990: an alternative data set. Explorations in Economic History 37(1):1–41.

La Deutsche Vida

Foreign family business and capital flight. The case for a fraud to fail

By Giovanni Favero, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia (gfavero@unive.it)

Abstract:
The research here proposed is a micro-analysis of a business ending in bankruptcy in the aftermaths of the first oil shock, concerning the Italian subsidiary of a German wareenamelling group established in the town of Bassano in 1925. Following the budget reports and the interviews with the former entrepreurs, the company flourished until the 1960s, when managerial and entrepreneurial successions emphasized the growing difficulties deriving from growing labour costs. A tentative reorganization of the company was hindered in 1968 by union resistance and political pressures for the preservation of employment levels. In 1975 the board of directors decided to declare bankruptcy as a consequence of the huge budget losses. However, a subsequent inquiry of the Italian tax authority discovered an accounting fraud concerning hidden profits in 1974 and 1975. The fraud disclosure shows how historical conditions could create the convenience for performance understatement not only for fiscal purposes, but also in order to make divestment possible. However, it is also used here as an element to argue that business sources and the story they tell should not be taken at their face value, and that a different reconstruction of the company’s path to failure is possible. The literature concerning the missed recognition of opportunities is then mobilised in order to interpret the inconsistencies that emerge from the triangulation of business archives, press columns and interviews with union representatives and politicians. This allows to put back into perspective what results as an obsession of company management with labour costs, concealing the importance of other competitive elements, such as the increasing specialisation of the producers of home appliances. This ‘refractive error’ may be typical of businesses operating in (presumed) mature industries at international level, where wage differentials offer the opportunity to pursue quite literally exploitation much further.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/vnmwpdman/63.htm.

Reviewed by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo

This paper was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2013-12-15 and offers an interesting combination of business and accounting history around the long-term performance of the Italian assets of an Austrian family business (named Westens). The investment relates to a enamelling plant in the town of Bassano in 1925 (called Smalteria Metallurgica Veneta or SMV, today part of BDR Thermea). The Bassano plant was one of the largest factories of glazed products (for use in electric water heaters, bathtubs and heating products like radiators). Favero’s story takes us from its origins until the Westens leave the company in 1975. Activities, however, continued and by “the end of the 1970s the company focused its production in the heating sector… In the mid-eighties the company expanded into foreign markets. “[see further here].

Air photo of original factory (Source: http://www.baxi.it/storia/)

Air photo of original factory (Source: http://www.baxi.it/storia/)

The narrative gyrates around the Bassano plant, some three generations of Westens and an equal number of internal grown talent at the helm of SMV. Favero argues that the reason behind the origins of SMV and other similar investments in Central and Easter Europe by the Westens was to overcome growing protectionism and the end of Empire. However, the number of secondary references suggests the SMV case is relevant for Italian business history and perhaps, more could have been said about this. Nevertheless, we can follow the changes in corporate governance, the attitude of the family to foreign investments, the changing relationship between national branches and SMV’s “strategy” (a term used rather loosely by the author) as the 20th century progresses. Also how the plant was established on the basis of a then unique process of enamelling, a source of competitive advantage that also erodes as time goes by. Some discussion about the role of Chandler’s “first mover advantage” within family business would have been desirable here.

It is evident that Favero has had access to a large number of source material (including oral histories and fiscal authority memoranda and investigative papers). Yet the case is rather short and this result in the narrative progressing some time in jumps rather than a smooth flow. For instance, it is only until the end that we learn why the fraud was discovered five years after the original owners declared bankruptcy. Namely the intervention of the Italian government to maintain employment kept the plant (or the company, its not clear) afloat. There is also reference to some “bad blood” between the Westens and the Italians but we are not totally sure why and when. There are indications of growing tensions with unions and Favero tries to make a case about “management’s “obsession with labour costs”. We could also benefit from learning about the inconsistencies Favero between different sources. Perhaps an idea would be to add a timeline where one side maps changes in strategy, corporate governance or in the ruling family and the other side maps changes in the environment.

However, in its present form this makes a potentially useful teaching case in a world economic history, international business or globalisation course. Favero also claims the SMV case is part of a larger project looking at Westens’ investments in different countries. I certainly look forward to future instalments.

Giovanni Favero

Giovanni Favero

The State of Business and Economic History in Africa

Does Africa need Business History?

Editor’s note:
In her first contribution to our blog, Stephanie Decker (Aston), the new member of the nep-his blog editorial team, departs from the usual norm of commenting on specific working papers to discuss a forthcoming panel on African business history in the next Association of Business Historians meeting. This departure responds to NEP’s commitment to building and supporting academic communities.

Review by Stephanie Decker

On the fringes of the The XVIth World Economic History Congress in Stellenbosch (South Africa),  my South African colleague Grietjie Verhoef, the vice president of the International Economic History Association, and I had several interesting discussions regarding the state of business and economic history of our host country and continent. And while the economic history of Africa has gone from strength to strength, which is to no small extent due the activities of groups such as the African Economic History Network, the same cannot be said for the business history of Africa. Perhaps ten years ago this would have not been an issue, as business history was still better integrated in the wider field of economic history. But since then, the conference circuit, the publications, and the institutional location of business and economic historians have diverged, and with it common methodologies and research problems seem to have disappeared.

Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...

Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecological break that defines the sub-Saharan area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the economic development of the African continent has gone from protracted crisis to what some refer to as an “African Renaissance”, the role of business in Africa, and its institutional legacies, is certainly a subject worthy of further inquiry, and of wider relevance. It is certainly an ideal research setting to observe the role that business can play in supporting or obstructing the economic and social development of poor societies. And around the world there are scholars working on these issues from a variety of angles.

My colleague Grietjie and I decided to write a call in order to find out who is interested in these problems, and whether, if we brought them together, we could find common research agendas that may improve our knowledge of these issues. We were delighted to get responses from scholars around the globe, and on a wide variety of topics.

English: Johannesburg from the top of the Carl...

English: Johannesburg from the top of the Carlton Centre. Deutsch: Innenstadt Johannesburgs (Blick vom Carlton Center) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kofi Asante, as well as Sherryllynne Haggerty, both take a classic African Studies approach byinvestigating the role of African agency in the encounter with the colonial administration and the slave merchants, respectively. But the encounter with foreign powers went beyond colonialism and slavery, as shown by Kingsly Ollong, and Suzanne McCoskey. Kingsly Ollong is interested in how French multinationals manage their investments in Africa through the framework of corporate social responsibility (CSR), even though this may range from lip service to actual commitment to creating social value. Suzanne McCoskey addresses the difficult encounter of African-American freed slaves with Liberian society – similarly to present-day debates about CSR, good intentions did not always translate into social improvements. Finally, Tetsuhiko Takai reflects on the state of the archives of colonial chambers of commerce in some countries of Francophone Africa. Here he specifically highlights the importance for scholars of African business history to cross borders to collect material both on the African continent and beyond.

This is a good reminder of how challenging it is in practice to write African business history, and why so little of it comes from the African continent itself. With perhaps the exception of South Africa, it is difficult for students of African business to write an archivally based history of business without traveling internationally. We are now looking forward to our meeting with these scholars at the Association of Business Historians Annual Conference (http://www.abh-net.org/conferences.html)  at the  University of Central Lancashire, 28th & 29th of June 2013, and hope that this will only be the first step in our initiative to create a global network of scholars interested in the history of business in Africa.