Monthly Archives: October 2017

Computers and Business History: Mira Wilkins Prize Winner

IBM Rebuilds Europe: The Curious Case of the Transnational Typewriter
By Petri Paju (Turku) and Thomas Haigh (Wisconsin, Milwaukee).

Abstract: In the decade after the Second World War IBM rebuilt its European operations as integrated, wholly owned subsidiaries of its World Trade Corporation, chartered in 1949. Long before the European common market eliminated trade barriers, IBM created its own internal networks of trade, allocating the production of different components and products between its new subsidiaries. Their exchange relationships were managed centrally to ensure that no European subsidiary was a consistent net importer. At the heart of this system were eight national electric typewriter plants, each assembling parts produced by other European countries. IBM promoted these transnational typewriters as symbols of a new and peaceful Europe and its leader, Thomas J. Watson, Sr., was an enthusiastic supporter of early European moves toward economic integration. We argue that IBM’s humble typewriter and its innovative system of distributed manufacturing laid the groundwork for its later domination of the European computer business and provided a model for the development of transnational European institutions.

Enterprise & Society 17(2, June 2016): 265-300

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/eso.2015.64

URL: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/enterprise-and-society/article/ibm-rebuilds-europe-the-curious-case-of-the-transnational-typewriter/35D5A3FD95F5948F12754DBE07E9D89F

Free download (for limited time): https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-file-manager/file/59e769bb60a7c0f73791cd84

Review by James W. Cortada (Charles Babbage Institute, Minnesota)

Prizes are awarded all the time for “best article” in a particular field, calling our attention to a well-executed, thoughtful one. But, occasionally, a prize winning article signals bigger shifts in a discipline than might otherwise be noticed. With this year’s award of the Business History Conference’s “Mira Wilkins Prize,” for the best article published in Enterprise & Society, we have such a signal.

Petri Paju and Thomas Haigh wrote “IBM Rebuilds Europe: The Curious Case of the Transnational Typewriter,” published in June 2016. They were recognized for “the best article on international business history,” the objective of this prize, but it is far more than good international business history.

The article chronicles how IBM created an internal network across eight national electric typewriter plants in post-World War II Europe to manufacture parts and to assembly these products. While electric typewriters were in great demand and IBM made what many considered to be the best one, the company created an internal network for their manufacture and distribution that transcended international borders in the decade after the war, presaging what would happen for some European products after the establishment of the European Union. But that was never solely the point—to create a European-wide market by governments—rather, it was to drive down production costs, increase demand for and the ability to deliver enough machines, while promoting IBM management’s belief that “World Peace through World Trade” could be a global objective for nations and companies. The authors trace how parts were made in one country, shipped to another, put together then sold, called the “Interchange Plan.” This experience taught IBM management how to create a more formal pan-European wide, later worldwide organization in 1949 that could manufacture, sell, and support its products called IBM World Trade. Within a half generation, World Trade did as much business as the American side of IBM.

Lessons learned in forming a pan-European typewriter business made it possible for IBM to develop a pan-European computer business that quickly dominated the mainframe business in Western Europe and in other parts of the world. Just as important, when IBM moved into the computer business, it already had factories, sales offices, and experienced employees in those countries that would become its best customers. These include Great Britain, France, West Germany, the Nordics, Italy, Spain, and a sprinkling presence in every country that eventually became part of the EU. The authors explain how the company created and learned from its “Interchange Plan,” operationally and strategically. They explored the accounting level to explain how money and budgets were exchanged across borders when governments had yet to sort out those issues, let alone even allow such exchanges.

The benefits to IBM were both obvious and extraordinary. Obvious ones included reduced operating costs for the manufacture and increased sale of typewriters. Less obvious, but ultimately more important, “this system would also foster interdependence among the various national [IBM] firms,” while spreading capabilities across multiple countries so that if one nation were to nationalize or block local IBM production, as occurred during World War II, another plant could pick up the slack. The company used its system in its public relations campaign to promote international trade through American managerial leadership and “to meet the challenges of communism” in the Cold War. Other American corporations—all of them with close ties to IBM’s management—took note of what IBM was learning and applied those lessons as well. IBM’s country organizations could also claim to be local, since each employed nationals, Fins in Finland, French in France, and so forth.

The lesson urged by these two young historians is an appropriate one at the moment: “think more carefully about the assumption that postwar globalization of European trade can be reduced to ‘Americanization’,” because IBM’s experience reflected a “hybridization of U.S. technology and management in postwar Europe.” Apply their suggestion worldwide. IBM was also prepared to experiment and operate in ways that valued expansion into new markets even at the costs of profits. That is one reason why it came to dominate the mainframe market so fast and for so many decades. The wisdom of today’s corporate fixation on shareholder value is challenged by this study of how IBM ran its typewriter business.

Perhaps the greater lesson, the more significant observation for why this prize this year is so important, lies elsewhere. For the past two decades, a month has barely gone by without an historian or economist publishing on the interactions of computing technology and business management. E&S is not alone in doing so; Technology & Culture has published some two-dozen similar articles in the new century, and Information & Culture is rapidly becoming another journal with a mix of business/information technology conversations. Petri Paju and Thomas Haigh are more than two gifted prolific article writers, they are teaching a new generation of scholars how to understand the role of information technologies and of management, business operations, and corporate strategy in a world filled with computers. Simply put, this article is seminal, worthy of being studied across multiple disciplines. The Mira Wilkes Prize Committee is to be congratulated for not letting this paper slip through the cracks.

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Industrialization, Gold, and Empires: Trade Collapse in the Great Recession vs. the Great Depression

Two Great Trade Collapses: The Interwar Period & Great Recession Compared

by Kevin Hjortshøj O’Rourke (All Souls, University of Oxford)

Abstract: In this paper, I offer some preliminary comparisons between the trade collapses of the Great Depression and Great Recession. The commodity composition of the two trade collapses was quite similar, but the latter collapse was much sharper due to the spread of manufacturing across the globe during the intervening period. The increasing importance of manufacturing also meant that the trade collapse was more geographically balanced in the later episode. Protectionism was much more severe during the 1930s than after 2008, and in the UK case at least helped to skew the direction of trade away from multilateralism and towards Empire. This had dangerous political consequences.

URL: https://econpapers.repec.org/paper/cprceprdp/12286.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2017-09-24

Review by Anna Missiaia

Comparisons between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008-10 have been performed by several scholars interested in the lessons that we could draw from history. Famous examples are Eichengreen’s Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History in which the economic policies in the two crisis are compared, or Crafts and Fearon’s The Great Depression of the 1930s: Lessons for Today” in which contribution from a variety of fields are collected. The paper by Kevin O’Rourke proposed here contributes to the same line of research by using a large body of empirical evidence on both the Great Depression and the Great Recession to compare the different outcomes on trade of the two crises. In both the 1930s and 2008-10, the level of global trade experienced a contraction; however, the effect was initially more sever in the latter but much more persistent in the former, pointing to different dynamics in the two cases. Figure 1 illustrates the two trajectories.

 

Figure 1: World Trade during the Great Depression and the Great Recession: months after June 1929 and April 2008

According to the author, the striking different behaviors of trade in the two crises are linked to a different composition of the world exports. On the eve of the Great Depression, industrial products accounted for roughly 44% of total trade; in 2007 the same figure had risen to 70%. This is important in the light of different volatilities of these two broad classes of goods. Figure 2 shows world trade divided into manufacturing and non-manufacturing during the Great Depression while Figure 3 shows the same for the Great Recession.

 

Figure 2: Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing World Trade during the Great Depression, 1929-1940

Figure 2: Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing World Trade during the Great Depression, 2008-2015

From these two graphs, we see that in both cases non-manufacturing trade (basically composed of agricultural products) did not collapse but it was rather the manufacturing exporting sector that suffered the most (of course this is in terms of volumes, not prices). The compositional effect therefore explains the much more violent decrease in the first years of the Great Recession, but also the faster recovery (although the former is discussed by O’Rourke much more in detail compared to the latter). O’Rourke illustrates this compositional effect using counter-factual analysis which basically applies the shares of manufacturing and non-manufacturing of 2007 to trade during the Great Depression, showing that the pattern is very much changed depending on the composition. The different share of manufacturing during the two crises is driven by the catch up of the periphery, and in particular Asia, which was during the Great Recession much closer to the level of industrialization of the core countries, leading to a more “regionally balanced” shock at world level.

The Great Depression had seen a deterioration of the terms of trade of developing countries, leading to an increase in protectionist measures. O’Rourke suggests that one of the explanations to both the depression and the protectionist measures is found in the monetary regime: the Gold Standard had deprived countries of the possibility to implement counter-cyclical monetary policies, leading to the sole use of protectionist policies in the attempt to contrast the former. The lack of coordination among countries, which got off gold in different moments, made the late movers deal with an overvalued currency which worsened their position even further.  The paper also contains a positive assessment of the crisis response after the 2008 crash, when countries behaved in a much more coordinated fashion and were able to apply monetary and fiscal stimulus which ultimately led to a much shorter contraction of trade worldwide.

Figure 4: Victims of High Tariffs during the Great Depression.

Using again a counterfactual analysis, O’Rourke (citing his work with de Bromhead et al., 2017) shows that also the existence of trading blocs, and notably the British Empire, led to a “balkanization” of trade during the 1930s. This ultimately led to a contraction of overall trade that was not observed in the much more multilateral trade environment of 2008-10. More multilateralism also led to more efficient specialization worldwide and therefore to a milder effect of the crisis on trade.

The paper provides several policy-oriented results that should be considered in times of economic crisis (and to some extent cast a positive light on how the latest crisis has been handled). The first result is that multilateralism in trade is good for everyone because of its expansive effect of trade. The recent attacks to multilateral trade agreements, for instance through the threat by the US to leave NAFTA or by the UK to leave the EU single market, are dangerous both economically and politically. The paper also contains a historically grounded praise of the monetary and fiscal policies pursued in this latest crisis compared to the detrimental ones in the 1930s. Maybe, after all, we do learn from our mistakes and this is also thank to the efforts by economic historians.

Bibliography

Crafts, N. and P. Fearon (2013) The Great Depression of the 1930s: Lessons for Today. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

de Bromhead, A., A. Fernihough, M. Lampe and K. H. O’Rourke (2017) “When Britain Turned Inward: Protection and the Shift towards Empire in Interwar Britain”, CEPR Discussion paper 11835.

Eichengreen, B. (2015) Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

 

Governance structures and market performance

Contractual Freedom and Corporate Governance in Britain in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

by Timothy W. Guinnane (Yale University), Ron Harris (Tel-Aviv University), and Naomi R. Lamoreaux (Yale University)

Abstract: British general incorporation law granted companies an extraordinary degree of contractual freedom. It provided companies with a default set of articles of association, but incorporators were free to reject any or all of the provisions and write their own rules instead. We study the uses to which incorporators put this flexibility by examining the articles of association filed by three random samples of companies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as by a sample of companies whose securities traded publicly. Contrary to the literature, we find that most companies, regardless of size or whether their securities traded on the market, wrote articles that shifted power from shareholders to directors. We find, moreover, that there was little pressure from the government, shareholders, or the market to adopt more shareholder-friendly governance rules.

Business History Review, Volume 91 (2 – Summer 2017): 227-277.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007680517000733

Review by John Turner (Centre for Economic History, Queen’s University Belfast)

Tim Guinnane, Ron Harris and Naomi Lamoreaux are three scholars that every young (and old) economic historian should seek to emulate. This paper showcases once again their prodigious talent – there is careful analysis of the institutional and legal setting, a lot of archival evidence, rigorous economic analysis, and an attempt to understand how contemporaries viewed the issue at hand.

In this paper, Guinnane, Harris and Lamoreaux (GHL) examine the corporate governance of UK companies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The UK liberalised its incorporation laws in the 1850s and introduced its first Companies Act in 1862. From a modern-day perspective, this Act enshrined very little in the way of protection for shareholders. However, the Appendix to the 1862 Companies Act contained a default set of articles of association, which was the company’s constitution. This Appendix, known as Table A, provided a high level of protection for shareholders by modern-day standards (Acheson et al., 2016). However, the majority of companies did not adopt Table A; instead they devised their own articles of association.

The aim of GHL’s paper is to analyse articles of associations in 1892, 1912 and 1927 to see the extent to which they shifted power from shareholders to directors. To do this, GHL collected three random samples of circa 50 articles of association for 1892, 1912 and 1927. Because most (if not all) of these companies did not have their securities traded on stock markets, they also collected sample of 49 commercial and industrial companies from Burdett’s Official Intelligence for 1892 that had been formed after 1888. However, only 23 of these companies had their shares listed on one of the UK’s stock exchanges.

GHL then take their samples of articles to see the extent to which they deviated from the clauses in Table A. Their main finding is that companies tended to adopt governance structures in their articles which empowered directors and practically disenfranchised shareholders. This was the case no matter if the company was small or large or public or private. They also find that this entrenchment and disenfranchisement becomes more prominent over time. However, GHL unearth a puzzle – they find shareholders and the market appeared to have been perfectly okay with poor corporate governance practices.

How do we resolve this puzzle? One possibility is that shareholders (and the market) at this time only really cared about dividends. High dividend pay-out ratios in this era kept managers on a short leash and reduced the agency costs associated with free cash flow (Campbell and Turner, 2011). Interestingly, GHL suggest that this may have made it more difficult for firms to finance productivity-enhancing investments. In addition, they suggest that the high-dividend-entrenchment trade-off may have locked in managerial practices which inhibited the ability of British firms to respond to future competitive pressures and may ultimately have ushered in Britain’s industrial decline.

Another solution to the puzzle, and one that GHL do not fully explore, is that the ownership structure of the company shaped its articles of association. The presence of a dominant owner or founding family ownership would potentially lessen the agency problem faced by small shareholders. In addition, founders may not wish to give too much power away to shareholders in return for their capital. On the other hand, firms which need to raise capital from lots of small investors on public markets may adopt more shareholder-friendly articles. The vast majority of companies in GHL’s sample do not fall into this category, which might go some way to explaining their findings.

A final potential solution is that the vast majority of firms which GHL examine may have raised capital in a totally different way than public companies, and this shaped their articles of association. These firms probably relied on family, religious and social networks for capital, and the shareholders trusted the directors because they personally knew them or were connected to them through a network. Indeed, we know precious little about how and where the multitude of private companies in the UK obtained their capital. Like all great papers, GHL have opened up a new avenue for future scholars. The interesting thing for me is what happens when private firms went public and raised capital. Did they keep their articles which entrenched directors and disenfranchised shareholders?

Unlike the focus of GHL on mainly private companies, a current Queen’s University Centre for Economic History working paper examines the protection offered to shareholders by circa 500 public companies in the four decades after the 1862 Companies Act (Acheson et al., 2016). Unlike GHL, it takes a leximetric approach to analysing articles of association. Acheson et al. (2016) have two main findings. First, the shareholder protection offered by firms in the nineteenth century was high compared to modern-day standards. Second, firms which had more diffuse ownership offered shareholders higher protection.

How do we reconcile GHL and Acheson et al. (2016)? The first thing to note is that most of Acheson et al’s sample is before 1892. The second thing to note is that in a companion paper, Acheson et al. (2015) identify a major shift in corporate governance and ownership which started in the 1890s – companies formed in that decade had greater capital and voting concentration than those formed in earlier decades. In addition, unlike companies formed prior to the 1890s, the insiders in these companies were able to maintain their voting rights and entrench themselves. This corporate governance turn in the 1890s is where future scholars should focus their attention.

References

Acheson, Graeme G., Gareth Campbell, John D. Turner and Nadia Vanteeva. 2015. “Corporate Ownership and Control in Victorian Britain.” Economic History Review 68: 911-36.

Acheson, Graeme G., Gareth Campbell, John D. Turner. 2016. “Common Law and the Origin of Shareholder Protection.” QUCEH Working Paper no. 2016-04.

Campbell, Gareth and John D. Turner. 2011. “Substitutes for Legal Protection: Corporate Governance and Dividends in Victorian Britain.” Economic History Review 64: 571-97.