Are businessmen from Mars and businesswomen from Venus?

by Jennifer Aston (Oxford University) and Paulo di Martino (University of Birmingham) The full paper was published on the Economic History Review, accessible here Do women and men trade in different ways? If so, why? And are men more or less successful than women? These are very important questions not just, or not only, for the academic […]

via Are businessmen from Mars and businesswomen from Venus? An analysis of female business success and failure in Victorian and Edwardian England — The Long Run


Under Siege and Under Fire: German Angst, the Second World War and the Long-Term Psychological Impact

Did Strategic Bombing in the Second World War lead to ‘German Angst’? A Large-Scale Empirical Test across 89 German Cities.

Martin Obschonka (Queensland University of Technology, Australia), Michael Stützer (Baden Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University and Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany) , P. Jason Rentfrow (University of Cambridge, UK), Jeff Potter (Atof Inc., USA), Samuel D. Gosling (University of Texas at Austin, USA, and School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia)

Abstract: A widespread stereotype holds that the Germans are notorious worriers, an idea captured by the term, German Angst. An analysis of country-level neurotic personality traits (Trait Anxiety, Trait Depression, and Trait Neuroticism; N = 7,210,276) across 109 countries provided mixed support for this idea; Germany ranked 20th, 31st, and 53rd for Depression, Anxiety, and Neuroticism respectively suggesting, at best, the national stereotype is only partly valid. Theories put forward to explain the stereotypical characterization of Germany focus on the collective traumatic events experienced by Germany during WWII, such as the massive strategic bombing of German cities. We thus examined the link between strategic bombing of 89 German cities and today’s regional levels in neurotic traits (N = 33,534) and related mental health problems. Contrary to the WWII-bombing hypothesis, we found negative effects of strategic bombing on regional Trait Depression and mental health problems. This finding was robust when controlling for a host of economic factors and social structure. We also found Resilience X Stressor interactions: Cities with more severe bombings show more resilience today: lower levels of neurotic traits and mental health problems in the face of a current major stressor – economic hardship.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2018-02-06

Review by: Mark J. Crowley (Wuhan University)

This paper is an interesting addition to the literature on the Second World War, and contributes to many areas concerning the impact of the war on civilian population. It builds on much of the British literature that has now served to coin the phrases “the people’s war” and the “stiff upper lip” to describe the way in which the British responded to the hardships caused by rationing and enemy bombings, and focuses on the nation that was seen as the aggressor in the conflict – Germany. While many studies have focused on the resistance of civilians against bombings and invasion, fewer have focused on the mental impact of such events on its citizens and future generations, least of all on the nation that was judged to be the loser in the conflict. The authors deftly trace how the impact of bombing could be traced to what is now commonly referred to as “German angst”– a phenomenon that is believed to have been created by the Second World War, but one that still endures today.



The bombing of Dresden was seen as a pivotal turning point in bringing a conclusion to the Second World War.


The authors clearly outline how the different strategies adopted by the varying militaries in the war led to different results. Their claim that the Americans used strategic bombing while the British indiscriminately targeted civilian areas is one that has received less attention in the historiography, especially among British military historians, but is one worth exploring further. While the bombing of Dresden is often seen as one of the last major raids of the Second World War, inflicting massive civilian casualties and effectively breaking the German resistance, the psychological impact on German citizens has received little attention. Moreover, the ensuing debates about national identity and nationhood that dominated German history in the post-1945 era have focused more on ideological and political factors rather than the perception of individuals and “the self” about their position in the nation, or indeed the position of their nation in the world.

dresden 2

Dresden in 2002 – some parts of the city were not reconstructed to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war


One very illuminating aspect of this article is how the authors trace that German angst can be correlated to regional and economic factors. Certain areas of Germany suffered disproportionately from the effects of bombing, and it is this, together with the impact of collective memory and the notion of national mourning that has affected the way in which angst is transmitted, perceived and perpetuated among communities. The decision for certain areas to preserve buildings in their damaged state from the war serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, while also serving to perpetuate the collective sense of angst and grief caused by the conflict. Furthermore, the correlation between economic hardship and sense is, according to the authors, influenced by region. It is clear that this argument has traction, and this can be correlated to other events, excluding war, where this phenomenon is clear. One need not look further than the impact of the mass closure of industries in Britain in the 1980s to witness the disparities among British regions caused by the anomie generated by the economic distress ensuing from the realignment of the economy to show how negative economic experiences can have a powerful impact on the human psyche.

This article is deeply researched, and seeks to make many connections across a range of different possibilities for the rise and incidence of depression, together with its consequent impact on the supposed notion of German angst. However, the authors concede that while it is possible to surmise that a connection exists, the lack of data suggests that it is not possible to prove definitively. In this respect, this article will hopefully provide fertile ground for further research and debate. The references to other countries that experienced bombings in wartime are apposite, and could be explored further in additional research. Moreover, the correlation between the end result of war and the long-term psychological effect could be the subject of further analysis. For example, propaganda both during and after the Second World War enforced the belief, in Britain at least, that the armed forces were fighting for freedom and were on the “right side” of the conflict. However, the post-war situation enforced the belief among the international community that the Germans were the aggressors and the guilty party. The annexation of the country at the end of the war was symptomatic of the international community’s response, and how, to a great extent, their punishment and future destiny was in the hands of other international actors. Thus, while the British could couch their feelings of anxiety within the larger national narrative that they had undergone their struggles to secure national freedom, and were operating within a framework of righteousness, the Germans, adjudged as the evil party at the end of the war had to deal with two difficult realities. The first being that they had lost the war, and the second that suggested the German “Sonderweg” and “Weltanschauung” was one that led it on a path to its own destruction, and one that would leave the rest of the international community seeing Germany as a negative force for some time.


  • Brakman, Steven, Harry Garretsen, and Marc Schramm. “The Strategic Bombing of German Cities during World War II and its Impact on City Growth.” Journal of Economic Geography 4.2 (2004): 201-218.
  • Tiratsoo, Nick. Reconstruction, Affluence, and Labour Politics: Coventry, 1945-1960. Routledge, 1990.
  • Schaffer, Ronald. “American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians.” Journal of American History (1980): 318-334

Note of the Deputy Editor: This post was originally called “The Spitfires are Coming! German Angst, the Second World War and the Long-Term Psychological Impact.” Alain Guery (EHESS) and Avner Offer (Oxford) kindly told us the Supermarine Spitfire was a plane that could escort bombers, but did not have the range to get to Germany. Accordingly, Mark Crowley changed the title of the post.

The Middle Income Trap

Development State Evolving: Japan’s Graduation from a Middle Income Country

By Tetsuji Okazaki (University of Tokyo)

Abstract: This paper reexamines the industrial policy in postwar Japan from perspectives of the literature on a “development state” and a “middle income trap”. Japan transited from a middle income country to a high income country in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. This process was characterized by a large structural change, such as resource reallocation from the primary industry to the secondary and the tertiary industries as well as resource reallocation within the secondary industry. Transition to a high income country is a challenging task for a middle income country. With respect to Japan, the industrial policy played a positive role in the transition. This was achieved by interactions between MITI and other related actors, who constrained and corrected MITI’s attempts of excess intervention.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2017‒09‒03

Review by: Joyman Lee (University College London)


Students of modern Japanese economic history are familiar with the work of Chalmers Johnson (1982) on the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). In that work Johnson argued that MITI was the leading state actor in Japan’s economic miracle, playing a vital coordinating role between policymakers and the private sector. Johnson’s emphasis on the role of the state in the East Asian experience has triggered similar studies on the development state in Korea (Alice Amsden) and Taiwan (Robert Wade).

As Okazaki notes, the emergence of newly industrialising economies facing the challenges of globalisation and democratisation has led to a renewed interest in the development state. Okazaki argues that rather than constituting a static set of policies, Japan’s developmental state was highly dynamic and adaptive, echoing Douglass North’s idea of “adaptive efficiency” (North 2005). Significantly, this ceased to be the case in Japan after the 1990s. A second strand of literature that informs the paper is the idea of the “middle income trap” (Gill and Kharas 2007), which highlights a particularly challenging transition which middle-income economies face, as the policies that have fueled the initial stages of growth are no longer appropriate for continued growth. The idea has gained considerable traction among commentators in China.

china middle income

The fear of the “middle income trap” has been particularly acute in China.

Okazaki’s paper shows that Japan’s successful voyage through the “trap” was partly facilitated by its success in resource allocation across industries, in addition to well-known increases in the intra-sector productivity. Between 1955 and 1975, Okazaki attributes 29% of the increases in labour productivity to resource allocation, which he stresses was “substantial” (p. 4).

Okazaki traces the evolution of policies from the American occupation period, when U.S. advisor Joseph Dodge initiated the abolition of strict wartime controls. A 1953 government report was followed by the Five Year Plan of 1955, which highlighted the need to transition from light to heavy industries. MITI was formed in 1949 to pursue the policy of “industrial rationalization”. Formal economic controls were replaced by a portfolio of public financial institutions, including the Japan Development Bank (1951), tax relief, and foreign exchange allocation, and a central coordinating Council for Industrial Reorganisationolic . The government promoted new sectors, particularly the machinery and the automobile industries within it, which included the use of cultural strategies such as a campaign to promote the purchase of domestic cars at the same time as regulating foreign direct investment (1952) and curtailing the foreign exchange available for car imports (1954). The government also actively implemented policies concerning the automobile parts industry, which was quite atypical given the miscellaneous and low tech nature of that sector.

japan car industry

A Toyota factory in 1948. MITI’s policy in supporting the automobile parts industry which supplied major manufacturers such as Toyota was particularly distinctive.

At the same time as developing the domestic economy, MITI also foresaw foreign pressure on trade liberalisation, and formed a committee to formulate its strategy in 1959. While the ministry remained ambivalent with respect to its effects, it nonetheless adopted a sequential programme of liberalisation that was intertwined with plans to upgrade the industrial infrastructure. The high level of alert to likely external treasures had a direct effect on the government’s sector-specific strategies, e.g. to focus on passenger cars in the automobile sector. However, MITI’s more radical plans to consolidate the industry by policy intervention were not adopted, and instead the government aided the industry through JDB loans and low interest loans to small and medium-sized suppliers. MITI also successfully resisted IMF pressures to remove the industry from the foreign exchange system until Japan was well established in the world market (1963). Meanwhile, the government conceded that the coal industry would be uncompetitive and adopted a programme of gradual phasing out.


Okazaki’s study provides a timely, quantitative and authoritative review on an important and relatively understudied topic (given the acceptance of Johnson’s view as orthodoxy among historians) by one of Japan’s leading economic historians, whose trans-war perspective is particularly useful in teasing out more subtle changes amidst MITI’s strong posture towards industrial policy. As Okazaki observes,  the difficulties that middle-income economies face are acute, as “one of the difficulties that middle income countries face is that they should compete with low income countries in the markets of labor-intensive industries as well as with high income countries in the markets of capital and technology intensive industries” (Bulman 2017). In this context, Japan’s success appears remarkable, perhaps no less than the historiographically well-recognised significance of Japan’s Meiji-period Westernisation.

However, the complexity of policies required for breaking the “middle-income trap” in Japan’s case may not provide much comfort for middle-income economies currently facing the challenge. Although Japan rejected centralised state controls, the Japanese example appears to require a complex set of policies that presupposes a high degree of political cohesion and long-range economic planning, which is often difficult in many middle income economies given various political and social challenges. It also requires a state that is highly persuasive to the populace with respect to its vision for economic development. These factors appear to mark Japan out as an exception rather than an example that can be easily perceived as immediately relevant by many developing countries.

Perhaps the most avid student of Japan’s experiences will be China, which possesses a similar state capacity for a coordinated industrial policy and a qualified commitment to the market, even if it may not enjoy the same degree of social cohesion. This likely Chinese interest may explain the timing of Okazaki’s paper. However, the requirement of a strong state may produce perverse incentives for middle-income countries to maintain authoritarian systems of government (even though Japan was not classically authoritarian in that period in its history), and reminds us of unresolved tensions between economic development and democratisation.

Additional References

Alice, A, 1992. Asia’s Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bulman, D, Eden, M, Nguyen, H, 2017. “Transition from Low-Income Growth to High-Income Growth: Is there a Middle-Income Trap ?” Journal of the Asian Pacific Economy, 22(1): 5-28.

Gill, I, Kharas, H, 2007. An East Asian Renaissance: Idea for Economic Growth. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Johnson, C, 1982. MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

North, D, 2005. Understanding the Process of Economic Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wade, R, 2003. Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Measuring Benefits from Energy Transitions

Consumer Surplus from Energy Transitions 

by Roger Fouquet (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE)

Abstract: Energy transitions have led to major advances in human wellbeing. However, little evidence exists about the scale of the net benefits. By developing a new method for identifying the demand curve, and by using a unique, historical data set, this paper estimates the consumer surplus associated with heating, transport and lighting over more than two hundred years and identifies the gains from a number of key energy transitions. For certain energy transitions, the increase was dramatic, reflecting the transformations in society and lifestyles that mobility and illumination provided in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet, the net benefits related to heating technologies only rose modestly. Finally, due to saturation effects of the demand for energy services, future technological developments and energy transitions may benefit consumers (though not necessarily society as a whole) less than those in the past.


Circulated by NEP-HIS on 2017‒10‒22

Review by: Cristián Ducoing (Lund University)


Energy Transition


The current research focus in energy transitions is mainly motivated by the environmental implications of energy consumption. This more than justified direction has relegated to a second place the analysis of the enormous benefits derived from energy transitions, specially when we observe consumers’ welfare.  This new paper by Roger Fouquet analyses the positive impacts of energy transitions (hereafter, ET) by looking into how each ET generates consumer surplus.


Roger Fouquet

This paper combines data sets from two previous works of the author about the United Kingdom on service prices between 1300 and 2010 (Fouquet 2011a), and service consumption between 1700 and 2010 (Fouquet 2014). The data sources and methodologies used were explained in Fouquet (2008). In brief, Fouquet has done an upgrade of his former estimations to measure how much welfare we have obtained by ET. The author follows a standard measure of welfare (how less consumers pay for a specific service) and he applies it to each ET during the last two centuries in the United Kingdom.


Figure 1: Income Price Elasticity of Demand for Energy Services in the United Kingdom, 1800 – 2008

As shown in the examples in Figure 1, a key advantage of focusing on energy services, rather than on fuels (energy carriers), is that the demand for services remains comparable with the introduction of new goods and technologies. 


Figure 2: Consumer Expenditure on Domestic Heating, Passenger Transport and Lighting as a share of GDP in the United Kingdom, 1800 – 2010

The conclusions extracted from the paper could be summarized as follows:

  1. Attempts to estimate consumer surplus face enormous challenges, mainly by the effects of disruptive technologies. However, it could be possible to get an approximation taking into account the methodology used by Nordhaus (1997). Moreover, the paper presents a novel method that allows to identify the changes in demand curves for energy services (lightning, heating and transport).
  2. There were dramatic increases in consumer surplus due to energy transition in transport (stagecoaches to railways) and lightning (candles to gaslight and to electric lightning).
  3. Developing countries are benefited by increasing energy consumption. On the other hand, benefits in developed countries could be lower than in the past.
  4. The method offered allow us to forecast the long-run net benefits of new energy technologies and transitions. This issue has enormous policy implications in relation with the environmental challenges that we are facing us.


Currently, to defend energy systems/consumption as mechanisms of progress and development is quite complicated, specially if the energy systems contain fossil fuels, such as the main energy carriers in the case of the United Kingdom. This paper focuses its attention on the “good side” of energy consumption and mechanization, tackling a compulsory debate on the trade-off between economic development and sustainability. Roger Fouquet has mentioned this debate in an 2016 article, where he analyzed the lessons from history to our current energy transition. Now, Fouquet has demonstrated, accounting for the consumer surplus, than previous energy transitions have been beneficial for consumers/population. The question is: how should the current and  future energy transition be carried? In order to achieve economic development, countries pursuing higher income levels require an increase in energy consumption.  Fossil fuels still are a valid option to increase energy consumption; a low carbon economy could be farther in the road than we thought. A challenge to global society is to create an economic environment favorable to clean energy technologies, in order to promote economic growth in low income regions without the deprivation of our natural resources and environment.    

As this paper has shown us, there are periods when the increase in energy consumption has been beneficial to aggregate welfare, at least from a country/region perspective. However, the current global situation doesn’t allow an increase in energy consumption based in fossil fuels without risking main environmental equilibriums.

The only possible criticism to the paper is the implicit “normative” scope supported by one country experience. Nevertheless, Fouquet presented this paper as a starting point for further research.


Fouquet, R. (2011a) “Divergences in Long Run Trends in the Prices of Energy and Energy Services.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 5(2) 196-218.

Fouquet, R. (2014) “Long Run Demand for Energy Services: Income and Price Elasticities over 200 Years.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 8(2) 186-207.

Fouquet, R. (2008) Heat Power and Light: Revolutions in Energy Services. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

The Professional Historian in the Era of Globalization

Who is Lying on the Procrustean Bed?: Current Historians of the World, Denationalize Ourselves!

By: Naoki Odanaka (Tohoku University)

Abstract: This paper aims to analyze and evaluate the arguments presented in the Writing the Nation series (hereinafter WtN), targeting particularly its Vol. 2 entitled Setting the Standard (hereinafter StS). In a globalized world, do we historians still need to talk about national history, that is, the practice of writing the history of nations or should we not instead seek to produce historical works suitable for the globalized world, including global histories?


Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2017-04-09

Review by: Stefano Tijerina (University of Maine)

Naoki Odanaka argues that the present era of globalization demands that the historian abandons its state-centered focus and instead begins to construct history from a global perspective in order to use history as an instrument to understand how we reached the current political, economic, political, and cultural dynamics. His argument departs from the conclusions of the Writing the Nation series, and more particular volume 2 of that series, where a consensus among almost 100 historians was reached that a refocus of the study of history was necessary in order to adapt to current realities.[1] Odanaka asks whether the current focus on “national history” is relevant or if historians should instead “produce historical works suitable for the globalized world;” in other words, should they instead engage in the production of global histories? [2] Odanaka does not discard the relevance of national history but instead suggests we move toward a global analytical approach that connects and provides a more holistic understanding of developments such as free trade, multilateralism, the emergence of trading blocks, geopolitical transformations, movements of people and commodities, and technology.

National histories, suggests Odanaka, continue to serve their purpose of nation building.[3] They are important tools for the construction of national identity; they “legitimize the existence” of the nation-state.[4] From his perspective, there is no denial that the nation-state continues to be relevant, and in some regions the concept “has grown stronger,” but globalization has inevitably impacted the political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental development of each nation.[5] The dynamics of globalization have “destabilized” the lives of private, public and social actors, forcing them to “cling” to their national identities as they become challenged by the flow of goods, ideas and people, and it has been the role of the traditional historian to keep the construct of the nation-state alive in spite of the changing dynamics.[6] Odanaka highlights the flow of immigrants from the Middle East to Europe and the impact that this has had on the nation-state narrative, forcing the co-existence between the global and the national interpretations of history.[7]

The author’s Euro-centric focus impedes him from moving beyond the North-South dynamics of globalization. A more holistic analysis of South-South and North-North dynamics would have strengthened his argument, since the legitimization of the nation-state is challenged by transformative historical realities within the global North and the global South as in the case of Venezuelan-Colombian relations or British and European Union relations that may only be explained through transnational global history.

Naoki Odanaka does agree that current realities may not be explained through the cohesively confined borders of the nation-state, because doing so leads to “methodological nationalism.”[8] There is no exclusivity anymore; borders have become very porous and in some instance they have completely disappeared as in the case of commercial trade under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or as in the case of global human and narcotics trafficking.

Therefore, says Odanaka, historians need to center their research strategy on “other frameworks of historical research.”[9] He suggests new approaches such as non-spatial focuses or “non-national spatial identities.”[10] His critical views of the nation-state approach impede him however from considering other spatial dimensions of historical analysis that, although relying on the nation-state, only incorporate the nation-state as one of many transnational actors within the more holistic analysis. For example the labor history of oil that forces the historian to see not only labor as a transnational issue, but corporations, management culture, institutional frameworks, technology, commercialization, transportation, marketing, and consumption as well.

Noaki Odanaka concludes by saying that the professionalization of the historian depends on the traditional notion of the nation-state as the central focus of historical narrative. There is a notion that there cannot be a historian without the nation-state, thus the state-centered focus of the local and international institutions that promote and justify the profession and science of history. From the beginning, the methodology became state-centered, thus his argument about the prevalence of “methodological nationalism” and the need to change this culture from within the profession.[11] Odanaka therefore suggests that a shift away from nation-state dependency demands institutional changes as well as a revision of the science’s methodology.

History may no longer be used as an instrument for the justification and preservation of the nation-state. Odanaka would agree that global and transnational approaches to the study of history may serve as an instrument to help societies look at themselves in the mirror, leading them to question traditional views by breaking the barriers of imaginary borderlands that currently impede the public from seeing the historical interconnectivity that has always existed between humans, commodities, ideas, cultures, and physical environments. History may serve as an instrument to break down the status quo, debunking the sovereignty of the nation-state, a reality that is already visible under the new dynamics of globalization. This might mean that historians may cease to exist as agents of the nation-state and instead serve as agents of humanity.[12]

Odanaka recommends that professional historians self-reflect on their responsibility to humanity.[13] This is challenging, particularly for historians in the Global North who are writing and researching from a position of privilege as well as for those historians in the Global South clinging to fragile institutional and nation-state structures that are quickly being dismantled by the market forces of globalization. Odanaka reminds historians to reflect on the current political, economic, social, cultural, technological, and environmental realities in which they are living.[14] He reminds historians that their job is to connect the past with the present in order to decipher and explain contemporary realities, constantly aware of identity and spatial constructs that limit our scope as researchers.[15]

[1] For more information see volume 2 Setting the Standard; Ilaria Porciani and Jo Tollebeek, eds., “Setting the Standard,” in Writing the Nation series, ed. Stefan Berger, Christoph Conrad, and Guy Marchal (Basingstoke: Pelgrave Macmillan, 2012)

[2] Naoki Odanaka, “Who is Lying on the Procrustean Bed?: Current Historians of the World, Denationalize Ourselves!” (paper, review forum for the Writing the Nation Series, Sogan University, Seoul, Korea, April 22, 2016), 1.

[3] Ibid., 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 5.

[12] Odanaka points out the case of local historians in France and Germany as well as Japanese historians that went against the status quo in order to illustrate alternatives to traditional nationalist approaches to history. Ibid., 5-6.

[13] Ibid., 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 9.

Black Living Standards in South Africa before Democracy

Black Living Standards in South Africa before Democracy: New Evidence From Heights

By: Bokang Mpeta (Stellenbosch University), Johan Fourie (Stellenbosch University) and Kris Inwood (University of Guelph)

Abstract: Very little income or wage data was systematically recorded on the living standards of South Africa’s black majority during much of the twentieth century. This paper uses four data sets to document, for the first time, an alternative measure of living standards: the stature of black South Africans over the course of the twentieth century. We find evidence to suggest that the first three decades of the century were particularly bad, perhaps due to the increasingly repressive labour policies in urban areas and famine and land expropriation that weighted especially heavily on the Basotho. The decade following South Africa’s departure from the gold standard, a higher international gold price and the demand for manufactured goods from South Africa due to the Second World War seem to have benefited both black and white South Africans. The data also allow us to disaggregate by ethnicity within the black population group, revealing levels of inequality within race group that has been neglected in the literature. Finally, we compare black and white living standards, revealing the large and widening levels of inequality that characterised twentieth-century South Africa.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-10-15

Review by: Gregori Galofré-Vilà (University of Bocconi and University of Oxford)

Almost forty years ago, a group of historians led by Robert Fogel began to explore the potential of anthropometric measurements for answering a range of historical questions, largely, but not limited to, those concerning health and wellbeing (Fogel et al. 1978). Although around 80% of the main variation in individual height may be genetic, it has long been recognised that variations in the mean heights of different groups of people owe much to economic, social, and environmental circumstances.

Since the early efforts of Robert Fogel, anthropometric data contributed to long-standing debates such as the health of slaves in the US South (Steckel 1977) and the living standards during the British Industrial Revolution (Floud et al. 1990). Meanwhile many historians began to explore the development of height in many countries. For instance, Komlos (1985) began the collection of data for the Habsburg Empire, Martínez-Carrión (1986) for Spain and Sandberg and Steckel (1987) for Sweden, just to name a few. For a recent review of the height literature see Galofré-Vilà (2018).

Perhaps, the most interesting discovery until now, as commented by Floud et al. in The Changing Body (2011) and Deaton in The Great Escape (2016), is that since the 1850s, or over the course of some 6-7 generations, heights in Europe and North America have progressed into previously uncharted territories. For instance, Dutch men, being today the tallest in the world, grew from 166.5 to 182.7 (or 1.2 cm per decade). Better diets, sanitary reforms, lower frequency of sickness and shorter workdays are also reflected in terms of longevity, and during the same period Dutch life expectancy grew from 36.6 to 77.8 (or 2.8 years per decade).

However, in less wealthy parts of the world these improvements have been less important –if we can talk in terms of improvements at all. For instance, Guntupalli (2007) showed that Indian heights increased from 163.2 cm to 165.1 cm between the 1910s and 1980s (or 0.3 cm per decade) and Moradi et al. (2013) found that heights in Ashanti (Ghana) increased from 167.7 cm to 168.8 cm (or 0.6 cm per decade). Indeed, today life expectancy in developing countries is clearly below Western standards (in 2014 life expectancy in India was 68 years and 61 in Ghana).

In a very interesting paper, Bokang Mpeta, Johan Fourie and Kris Inwood (2017) take advantage of height records to chart, for the first time, the living standards of black South Africans between the 1890s and the 1990s. They addressed three questions: (1) Were poor black living standards a result of apartheid-era polices, or did they worsen even before South Africa’s most infamous era? (2) When did white and black living standards diverge? and (3) Can we explain the level and trend within the black population over the twentieth century? As the authors point out, the height data here are especially helpful as data on more conventional or modern indicators are lacking.

Similar to the less wealthy parts of the world, they found that the height of black South Africans improved little across the twentieth century (1.3 cm between 1895 and 1985 or 0.1 cm per decade). Indeed, as Figure 1 shows, they discovered that between the 1890s and 1910s heights declined from nearly 168 cm to 167 cm and linked this decline to the white repression and regulations of land expropriation (for instance, the 1913 Native Land Act was particularly painful as it banned the ownership of land by the black population). They also stressed some negative effects of extractive institutions following the discovery of diamonds in Kimberly in 1867 and gold mines in Johannesburg in 1886.

Figure 1: Height development of black South Africans between 1895 and 1990. Source: Mpeta, Fourie, Inwood (2017).

Yet, it seems that a reversal occurred when South Africa left the Gold Standard (in December 1932) and, due to the increases in the international price of gold, the prospects of employment for black people rapidly improved, with heights increasing from 167 cm to 168 cm during the 1930s and 1940s. Feinstein (2005) also observed that the Second World War created a powerful stimulus to local industries and gold mining, creating opportunities for many to sell goods abroad. However, this short-lived period of improvement somewhat slowed down after the 1950s, reaching 168.5 cm in the 1970s and followed the electoral victory of the National Party in 1948. The apartheid and new institutional reforms such as the 1959 Promotion of Black Self-Government Act (which among other things abolished parliamentary representation for Blacks) seem also to have worsened black living standards.

There are also additional interesting features of the paper. Black males born towards the end of apartheid were nearly 7 cm shorter than white males. However, this might not be surprising because, as the authors explain, infant mortality in the Cape Colony was two times higher for black Africans and the wages paid to white miners were almost eight times higher than those paid to black miners. They also find differences in height by nearly 2 cm between black ethnicities.

As seen in Figure 1 above, in order to have sufficient data to cover a century, the authors use four separate sets of data. First, the heights of men who joined the South African Army between 1940 and 1945 (and born between 1890 and 1922). Second, the heights derived from dead bodies deposited in regional hospitals of South Africa that were unclaimed (with birth years estimated between 1897 and 1980). Finally, the height data compiled in two modern health surveys: the 1998 South African Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and the 2008 National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS). As the authors point out at different points in the paper, all these sources potentially carry different issues of selection and representativeness. For instance, there is almost no information on who these 500 dead men were and whose bodies were unclaimed. Indeed, this is a rather limited dataset with, on average, 6 men for each birth year. Meanwhile, medical surveys such as the DHS are based on men who were in a household at the time of the interview and married to a woman aged 15-49 (with single men neglected from the survey). Indeed, the differences between these two overlapping surveys after 1960 are rather curious.

The first sample, the military one, is perhaps the most controversial in light of recent papers from Bodenhorn, Guinnane and Mroz (2017) about sample selection bias. In a nutshell, these authors highlight the idea that height records coming from voluntary armies can be a biased sample of the underlying population because varying conditions of the economy and trade brought forward, at different times, recruits from different social classes. Mpeta, Fourie and Inwood (2017) seem rather confident that sample selection is not a concern here because heights and wages moved together and unemployment was rather low in the 1940s. Yet, Bodenhorn et al.’s argument requires the data to have been derived from men who were recruited over a relatively long period of time and Mpeta et al.’s black time-trends between 1895 and 1920 are derived from a shorter period of recruitment (1940-1945). Here, it would be interesting to know more about differences in economic conditions within that short-period of rapid economic growth and social change.

Indeed, the decline in black living standards seen between 1895 and 1920 is not universally accepted. For instance, in Why Nations Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) observe that “the development of the mining economy and the expansion of European settlement had other implications for the development of the area. Most notably, they generated demand for food and other agricultural products and created new economic opportunities for native Africans both in agriculture and trade”; at least, as the authors explain, until 1913 with the Native Land Act. The decline in stature found between the 1890s and 1910s might also be explained by the composition of age in the sample. Whenever we seek to derive time-trends from samples of army recruits who were recruited over relatively short periods of time, the time-trends appear to show a decline. This raises a question about the extent to which men who join the army at older ages are as representative of their birth cohorts as men who join at younger ages.
Despite these and other comments, and the limitation of data to pursue further econometric analysis, for now, we should be really grateful to the authors for charting a new African country in the height literature and for providing new material to ponder.


I thank María Gómez-León and Bernard Harris for valuable comments on a first draft of the column.

List of references

Acemoglu, D., J. Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown Business.

Bodenhorn, H., T. W. Guinnane, and T. A. Mroz, “Sample-Selection Biases and the Industrialization Puzzle,” Journal of Economic History, 77(1), 171-207.

Deaton, A. 2013. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. Princeton University Press.

Feinstein, C.H. 2005. An Economic History of South Africa. Conquest, Discrimination and Development. Cambridge University Press.

Floud, R., K. W. Wachter, and A. Gregory. 1990. Height, Health and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom, 1750-1980 (Cambridge University Press).

Floud, R., R. W. Fogel, B. Harris, and S. C. Hong. 2011. The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World since 1700. Cambridge University Press.

Fogel, R. W., S. Engerman, J. Trussell, R. Floud, and C. L. Pope. 1978. “The Economics of Mortality in North America, 1650-1910: A Description of a Research Project,” Historical Methods 11:2, 75-108.

Galofré-Vilà, G. 2018. “Growth and Maturity: A Quantitative Systematic Review and Network Analysis in Anthropometric History,” Economics and Human Biology 28, 107-118.

Guntupalli, A. M. 2007, Anthropometric Evidence of Indian Welfare and Inequality in the 20th century, Doctoral diss., Tübingen University.

Komlos, J. 1985. “Stature and Nutrition in the Habsburg Monarchy: The Standard of Living and Economic Development in the Eighteenth century,” The American Historical Review 90:5, 1149-1161.

Martínez-Carrión, J. M. 1986. “Estatura, nutrición y nivel de vida en Murcia, 1860-1930,” Revista de Historia Económica – Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History 4:1, 67-97.

Moradi, A., Austin, G., Baten, J. 2013. “Heights and Development in a Cash‐Crop Colony: Living Standards in Ghana, 1870‐1980,” unpublished manuscript.

Mpeta, B., Fourie, J., and Inwood, K. 2017. “Black Living Standards in South Africa before Democracy: New Evidence from Heights,” Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers 10/2017.

Sandberg, L. G., and R. H. Steckel. 1987. “Heights and Economic History: the Swedish case,” Annals of Human Biology 14:2, 101-110.

Steckel, R. H. 1977. The Economics of U.S. Slave and Southern White Fertility. Doctoral diss., University of Chicago.

Entrepreneurs and Indian Transnational Business

Transnational Indian Business in the Twentieth Century

By: Chinmay Tumbe (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, India)

Abstract: This article argues that migration and investment from India moved in tandem to chart the evolution of transnational Indian business in the twentieth century, first toward Southeast Asia and Africa and later toward the United States, Europe, and West Asia. With a focus on the banking and diamond sectors, the overseas investment project of the Aditya Birla Group, and the transnational linkages of India’s one hundred richest business leaders, the article locates important events, policies, and actors before economic liberalization in 1991 that laid the foundation for subsequent globalization of Indian firms.

Business History Review (Forthcoming – Published online: 12 December 2017)

Review by Niall G MacKenzie (Strathclyde Business School)

Chinmay Tumbe’s article in Business History Review, ‘Transnational Indian Business
in the Twentieth Century’ is, as the title suggests, an exploration of Indian business history at home and abroad throughout the twentieth century. The article is well-written with a number of themes present throughout which go beyond simple transnational analyses, encompassing elements of kith (networks) and kin (family) in the development of Indian business over the period set against changing migration patterns within and outwith, the Indian sub-continent. A further clear theme throughout the paper is the changing role and concomitant impact of the institutional frameworks in which Indian business acted under, both in domestic and international terms. It is on these areas that this review takes its focus.

The paper compares and contrasts twentieth century Indian migration trajectories and their impact on Indian international business connections, with a particular focus on the activities of the banking and diamond industries, as well as highlighting a number of famous Indian firms and entrepreneurs including the Godrej, Birla, and Tata families, Lakshmi Mittal, and the top 100 richest Indians using a mixture of archive data, corporate histories, biographies, and secondary materials such as magazines and newspapers. In this sense, the paper is a non-traditional business history piece that combines a variety of methodological approaches to paint a picture of Indian transnational business history over the twentieth century that distinguishes itself with its attention to rigour, a clear story arc, and the creation of a historical framework for future studies. As one may expect from Business History Review, the writing is tight, the subject matter broad but detailed in its analysis, and a number of valuable insights into how Indian business developed over the period emerge as a result.

Tumbe’s work covers both Indian domestic business activities and overseas investment activities by Indian companies over the twentieth century, offering readers an interesting and illuminating analysis of these subjects which reflect a growing interest in Indian business within business history more generally, including a special issue in Business History edited by Carlo Morelli and Swapnesh Masrani on Indian Business in the Global World, publication of the Oxford History of Indian Business by Dwijendra Tripathi (2014), the developing economies initiative at Harvard Business School which focuses on (amongst other developing countries) Indian business, a 2015 conference on Indian and South East Asian business history hosted by Harvard Business School bringing together scholars from all over the world, and a number of articles published in each of the major business, economic, and accounting history journals. In this sense Tumbe’s paper is a continuation of the growing interest in Indian business history around the world and recognition that much of the history of the country has been written from the perspective of the west, and in particular Anglo-Indian viewpoints.

Work written from the perspective of indigenous Indian scholars therefore has the potential to provide counterpoints, deeper insights, and more interesting considerations of phenomena and change that are oftentimes taken for granted by Western scholars. Indeed, much theory that has been produced in business and management has been done so within Western developed countries and typically by Western scholars. This is a point that has been raised in the Family Business Review journal by its outgoing editor Pramodita Sharma (with family business stalwarts Jim Chrisman and Kelin Gersick), who in a 2012 editorial called for more testing of existing theory, and creation of new theories by looking at ‘different institutional contexts’ as ways of doing this. This is a call that applies beyond family business however and into business and management more generally – cognizance of context and its multiple forms and applications to existing and new knowledge is something that historians are perhaps naturally familiar with and indeed drawn to, but which has value beyond history also.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of the paper (to this author at least) was the focus on the role that Indian family businesses played within the constantly evolving Indian and global institutional contexts over time, engaging domestic and international business networks and deploying their capital in different ways to address their aims and aspirations. The case of AV Birla going to study at MIT is one such example – scions of large family businesses nowadays are regularly packed off to global top institutions to gain a world class education and expose them to more of the world in preparation for taking the helm of the family business. However, according to Tumbe, in the mid-1960s India was a relatively insular looking country and business environment which suggests Birla’s decision to study at MIT was one that was more than just expanding personal horizons but was in fact, at the time, a relatively novel way of preparing Birla and the helping firm’s international expansion aspirations. Birla was then an early example of what is now a relatively standard practice in terms of preparing for the future leaders within the family business, but also of preparing the business itself by accessing and leveraging the networks that come with enrolment in top global education institutions for higher education.

One of the principal questions posted in the paper was “How and why did Indian business operations extend beyond the boundaries of the subcontinent, and was migration a relevant factor in this process?” The short answer that Tumbe’s paper provides, is that migration was a relevant factor in the process (as one might reasonably expect), but also that Indian business operations did exist beyond the boundaries of the subcontinent and the reasons for doing so were varied. In some cases, Indian businesses were accessing existing networks of Indian diaspora for soft landings abroad, in others they were seeking to expand operations due to the constrictions that were imposed on them by an FDI-hostile Indian government that resulted in domestic industrial stagnation and a strong push factor to invest abroad, requiring Indian businesses to look outwards for international expansion and growth opportunities. Kith and kin were therefore important features of such expansion with the desire to mitigate the agential risk that naturally comes with the creation of distance between operations and control as far as possible. Consistent within this is the recognition that friends and family are important in business expansion and development; Tumbe provides a demonstrable example of this in his analysis of Birla’s expansion into Antwerp and the role Vijay Mehta, a cousin of AV Birla’s best friend based in Antwerp and Bangkok, played in Birla’s first overseas investment.

Tumbe’s article is ultimately a broad sweep analysis of Indian transnational business activities and development over the twentieth century that illustrates the changing nature of business in India, the shifting institutional context, and the opportunities and constrictions that come with doing business in a developing country. Its relevance and interest to business and economic historians is clear in its historical analysis and content, but its wider applicability to understanding contemporary business and management phenomena such as resource orchestration, transnational business, and family business is also apparent. For those familiar with Indian business history it will likely confirm a number of existing thoughts and concepts, but for those who are not as familiar it provides an enjoyable and informative overview of how Indian business changed over the course of the twenties century with an array of source material that is handled well and written in an engaging fashion.