Category Archives: Guest entry

A New Take on Sovereign Debt and Gunboat Diplomacy

Going multilateral? Financial Markets’ Access and the League of Nations Loans, 1923-8


Juan Flores (The Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History, University of Geneva) and
Yann Decorzant (Centre Régional d’Etudes des Populations Alpines)

Abstract: Why are international financial institutions important? This article reassesses the role of the loans issued with the support of the League of Nations. These long-term loans constituted the financial basis of the League’s strategy to restore the productive basis of countries in central and eastern Europe in the aftermath of the First World War. In this article, it is argued that the League’s loans accomplished the task for which they were conceived because they allowed countries in financial distress to access capital markets. The League adopted an innovative system of funds management and monitoring that ensured the compliance of borrowing countries with its programmes. Empirical evidence is provided to show that financial markets had a positive view of the League’s role as an external, multilateral agent, solving the credibility problem of borrowing countries and allowing them to engage in economic and institutional reforms. This success was achieved despite the League’s own lack of lending resources. It is also demonstrated that this multilateral solution performed better than the bilateral arrangements adopted by other governments in eastern Europe because of its lower borrowing and transaction costs.

Source: The Economic History Review (2016), 69:2, pp. 653–678

Review by Vincent Bignon (Banque de France, France)

Flores and Decorzant’s paper deals with the achievements of the League of Nations in helping some central and Eastern European sovereign states to secure market access during in the Interwar years. Its success is assessed by measuring the financial performance of the loans of those countries and is compared with the performance of the loans issued by a control group made of countries of the same region that did not received the League’s support. The comparison of the yield at issue and fees paid to issuing banks allows the authors to conclude that the League of Nations did a very good job in helping those countries, hence the suggestion in the title to go multilateral.

The authors argue that the loans sponsored by the League of Nation – League’s loan thereafter – solved a commitment issue for borrowing governments, which consisted in the non-credibility when trying to signal their willingness to repay. The authors mention that the League brought financial expertise related to the planning of the loan issuance and in the negotiations of the clauses of contracts, suggesting that those countries lacked the human capital in their Treasuries and central banks. They also describe that the League support went with a monitoring of the stabilization program by a special League envoy.


Empirical results show that League loans led to a reduction of countries’ risk premium, thus allowing relaxing the borrowing constraint, and sometimes reduced quantity rationing for countries that were unable to issue directly through prestigious private bankers. Yet the interests rates of League loans were much higher than those of comparable US bond of the same rating, suggesting that the League did not create a free lunch.

Besides those important points, the paper is important by dealing with a major post war macro financial management issue: the organization of sovereign loans issuance to failed states since their technical administrative apparatus were too impoverished by the war to be able to provide basic peacetime functions such as a stable exchange rate, a fiscal policy with able tax collection. Comparison is made of the League’s loans with those of the IMF, but the situation also echoes the unilateral post WW 2 US Marshall plan. The paper does not study whether the League succeeded in channeling some other private funds to those countries on top of the proceeds of the League loans and does not study how the funds were used to stabilize the situation.


The paper belongs to the recent economic history tradition that aims at deciphering the explanations for sovereign debt repayment away from the gunboat diplomacy explanation, to which Juan Flores had previously contributed together with Marc Flandreau. It is also inspired by the issue of institutional fixes used to signal and enforce credible commitment, suggesting that multilateral foreign fixes solved this problem. This detailed study of financial conditions of League loans adds stimulating knowledge to our knowledge of post WW1 stabilization plans, adding on Sargent (1984) and Santaella (1993). It’s also a very nice complement to the couple of papers on multilateral lending to sovereign states by Tunker and Esteves (2016a, 2016b) that deal with 19th century style multilateralism, when the main European powers guaranteed loans to help a few states secured market access, but without any founding of an international organization.

But the main contribution of the paper, somewhat clouded by the comparison with the IMF, is to lead to a questioning of the functions fulfilled by the League of Nations in the Interwar political system. This bigger issue surfaced at two critical moments. First in the choice of the control group that focus on the sole Central and Eastern European countries, but does not include Germany and France despite that they both received external funding to stabilize their financial situation at the exact moment of the League’s loans. This brings a second issue, one of self-selection of countries into the League’s loans program. Indeed, Germany and France chose to not participate to the League’s scheme despite the fact that they both needed a similar type of funding to stabilize their macro situation. The fact that they did not apply for financial assistance means either that they have the qualified staff and the state apparatus to signal their commitment to repay, or that the League’s loan came with too harsh a monitoring and external constraint on financial policy. It is as if the conditions attached with League’ loans self-selected the good-enough failed states (new states created out of the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) but discouraged more powerful states to apply to the League’ assistance.


Now if one reminds that the promise of the League of Nations was the preservation of peace, the success of the League loans issuance was meager compared to the failure in preserving Europe from a second major war. This of course echoes the previous research of Juan Flores with Marc Flandreau on the role of financial market microstructure in keeping the world in peace during the 19th century. By comparison, the League of Nations failed. Yet a successful League, which would have emulated Rothschild’s 19th century role in peace-keeping would have designed a scheme in which all states in need -France and Germany included – would have borrowed through it.

This leads to wonder the function assigned by their political brokers to the program of financial assistance of the League. As the IMF, the League was only able to design a scheme attractive to the sole countries that had no allies ready or strong-enough to help them secure market access. Also why did the UK and the US chose to channel funds through the League rather than directly? Clearly they needed the League as a delegated agent. Does that means that the League was another form of money doctors or that it acts as a coalition of powerful countries made of those too weak to lend and those rich but without enforcement power? This interpretation is consistent with the authors’ view “the League (…) provided arbitration functions in case of disputes.”

In sum the paper opens new connections with the political science literature on important historical issues dealing with the design of international organization able to provide public goods such as peace and not just helping the (strategic) failed states.


Esteves, R. and Tuner, C. (2016a) “Feeling the blues. Moral hazard and debt dilution in eurobonds before 1914”, Journal of International Money and Finance 65, pp. 46-68.

Esteves, R. and Tuner, C. (2016b) “Eurobonds past and present: A comparative review on debt mutualization in Europe”, Review of Law & Economics (forthcoming).

Flandreau, M. and Flores, J. (2012) “The peaceful conspiracy: Bond markets and international relations during the Pax Britannica”, International Organization, 66, pp. 211-41.

Santaella, J. A (1993) ‘Stabilization programs and external enforcement: experience from the 1920s’, Staff Papers—International Monetary Fund (J. IMF Econ Rev), 40, pp. 584–621

Sargent, T. J., (1983) ‘The ends of four big inflations’, in R. E. Hall, ed., Inflation: Causes and Effects (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, pp. 41–97

Keynes and Actual Investment Decisions in Practice

Keynes and Wall Street

By David Chambers (Judge Business School, Cambridge University) and Ali Kabiri (University of Buckingham)

Abstract: This article examines in detail how John Maynard Keynes approached investing in the U.S. stock market on behalf of his Cambridge College after the 1929 Wall Street Crash. We exploit the considerable archival material documenting his portfolio holdings, his correspondence with investment advisors, and his two visits to the United States in the 1930s. While he displayed an enthusiasm for investing in common stocks, he was equally attracted to preferred stocks. His U.S. stock picks reflected his detailed analysis of company fundamentals and a pronounced value approach. Already in this period, therefore, it is possible to see the origins of some of the investment techniques adopted by professional investors in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Source: Business History Review (2016), 90(2,Summer), pp. 301-328 (Free access from October 4 to 18, 2016).

Reviewed by Janette Rutterford (Open University)

This short article looks at Keynes’ purchases of US securities in the period from after the Wall Street Crash until World War II. The investments the authors discuss are not Keynes’ personal investments but are those relating to the discretionary fund (the ‘Fund’) which formed part of the King’s College, Cambridge endowment fund and which was managed by Keynes. The authors rely for their analysis on previously unused archival material: the annual portfolio holdings of the endowment fund; the annual report on discretionary fund performance provided by Keynes to the endowment fund trustees; correspondence between Keynes and investment experts; and details of two visits by Keynes to the US in 1931 and 1934.


The authors look at various aspects of the investments in US securities made by Keynes. They first note the high proportion of equities in the endowment fund as a whole. They then focus in detail on the US holdings which averaged 33% by value of the Fund during the 1930s. They find that Keynes invested heavily in preferred stock, which he believed had suffered relatively more than ordinary shares in the Wall Street Crash and, in particular, where the preference dividends were in arrears. He concentrated on particular sectors – investment trusts, utilities and gold mining – which were all trading at discounts to underlying value, either to do with the amount of leverage or with the price of gold. He also made some limited attempts at timing the market with purchases and sales, though the available archival data for this is limited. The remainder of the paper explores the type of investment advice Keynes sought from brokers, and from those finance specialists and politicians he met on his US visits. The authors conclude that he used outside advice to supplement his own views and that, for the Fund, as far as investment in US securities was concerned, he acted as a long-term investor, making targeted, value investments rather than ‘following the herd’.

This paper adds a small element to an area of research which is as yet in its infancy: the analysis of actual investment decision making in practice, and the evolution of investment strategies over time. In terms of strategies, Keynes used both value investing and, to a lesser extent, market timing for the Fund. Keynes was influenced by Lawrence Smith’s 1925 book which recommended equity investment over bond investment on the basis of total returns (dividends plus retained earnings) rather than just dividend yield, the then common equity valuation method. Keynes appears not to have known Benjamin Graham but came to the same conclusion – namely that, post Wall Street Crash, value investing would lead to outperformance. He experimented with market timing in his own personal portfolio but only to a limited extent in the Fund. He was thus an active investor tilting his portfolio away from the market, by ignoring both US and UK railway and banks securities. Another fascinating aspect which is only touched on in this paper is the quality of investment advice at the time. How does it stack up compared to current broker research?


The paper highlights the fact that issues which are still not settled today were already a concern before WWII. Should you buy the market or try to outperform? What is the appropriate benchmark portfolio against which to judge an active strategy? How should performance be reported to the client (in this case the trustees) and how often? How can one decide how much outperformance comes from the asset allocation choice of shares over bonds, from the choice of a particular sector, at a particular time, whilst making allowance for forced cash outflows or sales such as occurred during WWII? More research on how these issues were addressed in the past will better inform the current debate.

Medieval History and its Relevance to Modern Business

Joint publication review with The Long Run Blog


Title: The Medieval Origins of a Culture of Cooperation and Inclusive Political Institutions

The Medieval Origins of a Culture of Cooperation and Inclusive Political Institutions


By: Carmine Guerriero (ACLE, University of Amsterdam)

Abstract: This paper evaluates the relative importance of a “culture of cooperation,” understood as the implicit reward from cooperating in prisoner’s dilemma and investment types of activities, and “inclusive political institutions,” which enable the citizenry to check the executive authority. I divide Europe into 120 km X 120 km grid cells, and I exploit exogenous variation in both institutions driven by persistent medieval history. To elaborate, I document strong first-stage relationships between present-day norms of trust and respect and the severity of consumption risk-i.e., climate volatility-over the 1000-1600 period and between present-day regional political autonomy and the factors that raised the returns on elite-citizenry investments in the Middle Ages, i.e., the terrain ruggedness and the direct access to the coast. Using this instrumental variables approach, I show that only culture has a first order effect on development, even after controlling for country fixed effects, medieval innovations, the present-day role of medieval geography, and the factors modulating the impact of institutions. Crucially, the excluded instruments have no direct impact on development, and the effect of culture holds within pairs of adjacent grid cells with different medieval climate volatility. An explanation for these results is that culture, but not a more inclusive political process, is necessary to produce public-spirited politicians and push voters to punish political malfeasance. Micro-evidence from Italian Parliament data supports this idea.


Circulated by NEP-SOC on 2016-05-14

Reviewed by Catherine Casson (University of Manchester) and Mark Casson (University of Reading)

This paper takes a long-run approach to an investigation of the importance of a ‘culture of cooperation’ and ‘inclusive political institutions’. The author defines a ‘culture of cooperation’ as the behavioural characteristics of ‘trust, respect, control and obedience’, while the term ‘inclusive political institutions’ is defined as institutions which ‘enable the citizenry to check the executive authority’.

Analysis is focused on Europe and on the agrarian economy. The author suggests that cooperation in the middle ages was particularly associated with the monastic orders of the Cistercians and Franciscans. Their houses were generally located, the author argues, in areas with unpredictable climates. The ability of the monks to farm the land in a way that put such unproductive land to productive use attracted the support and cooperation of the local community. In addition these monastic orders also introduced new financial practices, including improvements in access to credit, which also fostered local community cooperation. Inclusive political institutions, the author suggests, were especially associated with the success of long-distance trade. This created a shared goal between the elite and citizens.


The paper suggests that contemporary cultures of cooperation and inclusive political institutions are influenced by medieval ones. The medieval data used for ‘culture’ is climate data and the modern data is the 2008 European Value Study. For inclusive political institutions the medieval data is ‘the discounted number of years Cistercian and Franciscan houses were active per square km over the 1000-1600 period’ (p. 9) while the modern data is on prosecutions of members of parliament in Italy in 1948-87.

Later in the paper some more specific hypotheses are presented as controls for change over time:

  1. That Atlantic trade impacted on modern economic development
  2. That micro-credit systems introduced by the Franciscan order strengthened contemporary credit markets
  3. That monastic orders influenced religious beliefs in general, and that this influence may have had other, less defined, influences, on economic practice
  4. That distance to Wittenberg, where Protestantism began, influenced the development of a ‘culture of cooperation’
  5. Early transition to agriculture led to ‘higher inequality in gender roles’
  6. That genetic diversity in a country had a negative impact on cooperation
  7. That the suitability of soil for potato growing contributed to the development of institutions
  8. That the Black Death raised standards of living
  9. That education influenced the development of institutions and economic growth

The paper argues that the impact of the medieval culture of cooperation originating in the Cistercian and Franciscan monastic houses can be seen today. It also argues that this culture of cooperation has had a greater influence as a check on executive authority than inclusive political institutions.

Conflict, rather than cooperation, is often the term most associated with the middle ages. One of the benefits of this paper is that it highlights the presence of, and impact of, collaboration. Monastic orders are recognised in both history and economics literature for their important economic, as well as religious, impact. Their use to assess a culture of cooperation is therefore helpful, but they are perhaps a less obvious choice for an assessment of inclusive political institutions. One potential way in which the paper could be developed would be by expanding the scope to cover both urban and rural locations. Such an extension would retain the presence of monastic orders (and indeed extend it to cover urban ones) and, more significantly, allow urban political institutions to be considered. The presence of these institutions is briefly discussed on p. 12 but the issue is not developed further. Many of these town governments had as a shared goal the long-distance trade alluded to in the paper. They also offer more equivalent data to the contemporary data used as a proxy for inclusive political institutions.


Continuity and change over time is a key focus on the paper and the author shows an awareness of some key developments that occurred from the medieval to the modern period. The selection of the controls shows an engagement with recent secondary literature but does introduce additional time periods (such as the Neolithic), specific events (for example the Black Death) and general trends (for example the expansion of education). The paper could be strengthened by more clearly outlining the chronology of these events, and perhaps by narrowing the list of controls used.

Connections between contemporary and historic business have been increasingly recognised and explored in academic literature. The subject of this paper is therefore related to a growing trend to examine the medieval origins of many economic processes. Monasteries have been identified as key players in the ‘multinational enterprise’ of medieval pilgrimage and as originations of sophisticated forms of financial transactions (Bell and Dale, 2011; Bell, Brooks and Dryburgh, 2007). They were also important speculators in the property market (Baker and Holt, 2004; Bouchard, 1991; Casson and Casson, 2016).


Financial crises are a further topic that can be examined through the surviving qualitative and quantitative sources from the middle ages. In the light of the financial crisis of 2008 there has been a recognition that a long-run perspective, starting as early as the middle ages, provides the opportunity to study cycles of growth and decline. Surviving medieval records from the English government, for example, provide detailed data that can be subjected to statistical analysis, as shown in the work of Bell, Brooks and Moore (Bell, Brooks and Moore, 2014; Bell, Brooks and Moore, 2013). The importance of medieval data has also been highlighted in recent work on historic GDP (Broadberry et al, 2015).

Innovation and knowledge acquisition in the middle ages have recently been examined using both modelling approaches from economics, and historical case studies. De la Croix, Doepke and Mokyr (2016) have shown, using their combined expertise in the fields of economics and history, the important foundation that medieval guilds provided in the transmission of knowledge across Europe before the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile Davids and de Munck’s edited collection on Innovation and Creativity in Late Medieval and Early Modern European Cities has used historical case studies to demonstrate that medieval cities saw a clear connection between the skills of their population and the overall economic performance of their city, and developed strategies that were intended to make their city economically resilient (Davids and De Munck, 2014; Casson, 2012).

Entrepreneurship can also be examined in a long-run context. Business records, letters, literary sources and government records all demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, the origins of enterprise lie in the middle ages rather than the Industrial Revolution. Medieval entrepreneurs were involved in a range of activities, including infrastructure developments, property speculation and factory foundation (Casson and Casson, 2013a; Casson and Casson, 2013b; Landes, Mokyr and Baumol, 2012)

Overall, one of the key strengths of this paper is the contribution that it makes to this broader research agenda on the parallels between medieval and modern business.



Baker, N. and R. Holt (2004), Urban Growth and the Medieval Church: Gloucester and Worcester (Routledge, Aldershot).

Bell, A. R.Brooks, C. and Moore, T. K. (2014), ‘The credit relationship between Henry III and merchants of Douai and Ypres, 1247-70’, Economic History Review, 67 (1), 123-145. doi: 10.1111/1468-0289.12013.

Bell, A.Brooks, C. and Moore, T. (2013), ‘Medieval foreign exchange: A time series anaylsis’ in M. Casson and N. Hashimzade (eds.) Large Databases in Economic History: Research Methods and Case Studies (Routledge, Abingdon), 97-123.

Bell, A. R. and Dale, R. S. (2011), ‘The medieval pilgrimage business’, Enterprise and Society, 12 (3), 601-627. doi: 10.1093/es/khr014.

Bell, A. R., C. Brooks, C. and P. R. Dryburgh, P. R. (2007), The English Wool Market, c.1230-1327 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).

Broadberry, S., B. Campbell, A. Klein, M. Overton and B. van Leeuwen (2015), British Economic Growth, 1270-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Bouchard, C. B. (1991), Holy Entrepreneurs: Cistercians, Knights, and Economic Exchange in Twelfth-century Burgundy (Ithaca, NY).

Casson, C. (2012), ‘Reputation and Responsibility in Medieval English Towns: Civic Concerns with the Regulation of Trade’, Urban History 39 (3), 387-408. doi:10.1017/S0963926812000193.

Casson, C. and Casson, M. (2016), ‘Location, Location, Location? Analysing Property Rents in Medieval Gloucester’ Economic History Review 69: 2 pp. 575-99 DOI:10.1111/ehr.12117.

Casson, M. and Casson C. (2013), The Entrepreneur in History: From Medieval Merchant to Modern Business Leader (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Casson, M. and Casson C. eds. (2013), History of Entrepreneurship: Innovation and Risk Taking, 1200-2000 (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2 vols).

Davids, K. and B. de Munck, eds. (2014), Innovation and Creativity in Late Medieval and Early Modern European Cities (Ashgate: Farnham).

De la Croix, D., M. Doepke and J. Mokyr (2016), ‘Clans, Guilds, and Markets: Apprenticeship Institutions and Growth in the Pre-Industrial Economy’ NBER Working Paper No. 22131, circulated by NEP-HIS on 2016-04-16.

Landes, D. S., J. Mokyr & W. J. Baumol (2012), The Invention of Enterprise:Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times (Princeton, Princeton University Press).

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

The European Crisis in the Context of the History of Previous Financial Crisis

by Michael Bordo & Harold James

Abstract – There are some striking similarities between the pre 1914 gold standard and EMU today. Both arrangements are based on fixed exchange rates, monetary and fiscal orthodoxy. Each regime gave easy access by financially underdeveloped peripheral countries to capital from the core countries. But the gold standard was a contingent rule—in the case of an emergency like a major war or a serious financial crisis –a country could temporarily devalue its currency. The EMU has no such safety valve. Capital flows in both regimes fuelled asset price booms via the banking system ending in major crises in the peripheral countries. But not having the escape clause has meant that present day Greece and other peripheral European countries have suffered much greater economic harm than did Argentina in the Baring Crisis of 1890.


Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2015-01-26

Reviewed by: Stephen Billington (Queen’s University of Belfast)


In this paper Bordo and James seek to analyse the impact of the financial crisis of 2007-8 in the context of previous crisis. Specifically by comparing the experience of periphery countries of the Eurozone with those of the “classic” Gold Standard.


In their paper Bordo and James give a synopsis of the similarities which emerged between both monetary regimes. By adhering to a gold parity there was an expansion in the banking system, through large capital inflows, which was underpinned by a strong effective state to allow for greater borrowing. A nation was effective if it held an international diplomatic commitment, which in turn required them to sign into international systems, all the while this played into the hands of radical political parties who played on civilian nationalism[1]; these events combined lead to great inflows of capital into peripheral countries which inevitably led to fiscal instability and a resulting crisis. Similar dilemmas occurred within the EMU, but much more intensely.


This brings me to the main point that the authors emphasize, that of the contingency rule of the classic gold standard. The latter allowed member countries a “safety valve for fiscal policy”. Essentially this was an escape clause that permitted a country to temporarily devalue its currency in an emergency, such as the outbreak of war or a financial crisis, but would return to normalcy soon after, that is, they would return to previous levels. Bordo and James’ argument is that this lack of a contingency within the EMU allowed for a more severe financial crisis to afflict the periphery countries (Greece, Ireland and Portugal) than had affected gold standard peripheries (Argentina, Italy and Australia) as modern day EMU countries did (and do) not have to option to devalue their currency.


Bordo and James point out that crisis during the gold standard were very sharp, but did not last as long as the 2007-8 crisis. This because the exclusion clause during the gold standard enabled a “breathing space” and as a result most countries were back to growth within a few short years. The EMU story is quite different, say Bordo and James. Mundell (1961) argued that a successful monetary union requires the existence of a well-functioning mechanism for adjustment, what we see in the EMU are a case of worse dilemmas due primarily to this absence of an escape clause.

“Gold outflows, and, with money and credit growth tied to gold, lower money and credit growth. The lower money and credit growth would cause prices and wages to fall (or would lead to reductions in the growth rates of prices and wages), helping to restore competitiveness, thus eliminating the external deficits”

The above quote provided by Gibson, Palivos and Tavlas (2014) highlights how the gold standard allowed a country to adjust to a deficit. This point reinforces how Bordo & James argue that due to the constricting nature of the EMU there is no “safety valve” to allowed EU countries to release the steam from increasing debt levels. With respect to the Argentine Baring Crisis of 1890, while the crisis was very sharp in terms of real GDP, pre-crisis levels of GDP were again reached by 1893 – clearly a contrast with the Euro as some countries are still in recession with very little progress having been made as suggested by the following headline: “Greece’s current GDP is stuck in ancient Greece” – Business Insider (2013).

The following graph highlights the issue that in Europe most countries are still lagging behind the pre-crisis levels of GDP.


Bordo and James clearly support this argument. Delles and Tavlas (2013) also argue that the adjustment mechanism of core and periphery countries limited the size and persistence of external deficits. They put forward that the durability of the gold standard relied on this mechanism. This is reinforced by Bloomfield (1959) who states it “facilitated adjustments to balance of payments disequilibrium”.

Vinals (1996) further supports the authors’ sentiments by arguing that the Treaty of Maastricht restricts an individual member’s room to manoeuvre as the Treaty requires sound fiscal policies, with debt limited to 60% of GDP and annual deficits no greater than 3% of GDP – meaning a member cannot smooth over these imbalances through spending or taxation.

Gibson, Palivos and Tavlas (2014) state “a major cost of monetary unions is the reduced flexibility to adjust to asymmetric shocks”. They argue that internal devaluations must occur to adjust to fiscal imbalances, but go on to argue that these are much harder to implement than in theory, again supported by Vinals (1996).


Bordo and James focus primarily on three EU periphery countries which are doing badly, namely Greece, Ireland and Portugal. However they neglect the remaining countries within the EU which can also be classed as a periphery. According the Wallerstein (1974) the periphery can be seen as the less developed countries, these could include further countries such as those from eastern Europe[2]. By looking at a more expansive view of peripheral countries we can see that these other peripherals had quick recoveries with sharp decreases in GDP growth, as in the case of the Gold standard countries, but swiftly recovered to high levels of growth again while the main peripheral countries the authors analyse do lag behind.

Untitled2See note 3

Bordo and James do provide a strong insight into the relationship between an adjustment mechanism to combating fiscal imbalances as a means of explaining the poor recovery of certain peripheral countries (i.e. Greece, Ireland, Portugal) and highlight the implications of this in the future of the EMU. If the EMU cannot find a contingency rule as the gold standard then recessions may leave them as vulnerable in the future as they are now.


1) This process can be thought of as a trilemma, Obstfeld, Taylor and Shambaugh (2004) give a better explanation. In the EU the problem was intensified as governments could back higher levels of debt, and there was no provision for European banking supervision, the commitment to EU integration let markets believe that there were no limits to debt levels. This led to inflows in periphery countries where banks could become too big to be rescued.

2) Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and even Cyprus can be included based on low GDP per capita which is equivalent to Greece.

3) Data taken from Eurostat comparing real GDP growth levels of lesser developed countries within the Eurozone who all use the euro and would be locked into the same system of no adjustment.


Bloomfield, A. (1959) Monetary Policy under the International Gold Standard. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Business Insider (2013). Every Country in Europe Should be Glad it’s Not Greece. [Accessed 19/03/2015].

Eurostat, Real GDP Growth Rates [Accessed 21/03/2015].

Dellas, Harris; Tavlas, George S. (2013). The Gold Standard, The Euro, and The Origins of the Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis. Cato Journal 33(3): 491-520.

Gibson, Heather D; Palivos, Theodore; Tavlas, George S. (2014). The Crisis in the Euro Area: An Analytic Overview.Journal of Macroeconomics 39: 233-239.

Mundell, Robert A. (1961). A Theory of Optimum Currency Areas. The American Economic Review 51(4): 657-665.

Obstfeld, Maurice. Taylor, Alan. Shambaugh, Jay C. (2004). The Trilemma in History: Trade-Offs among Exchange Rates, Monetary Policies and Capital Mobility. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER working paper 10396).

Vinals, Jose. (1996). European Monetary Integration: A Narrow or Wide EMU?. European Economic Review 40(3-5): 1103-1109.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1974). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.

What Chance Change? Driving Development through Transport Infrastructure

Locomotives of Local Growth: Short- and Long-Term Impact of Railroads in Sweden

By Thor Berger (Lund University) and Kerstin Enflo (Lund University)

Abstract: This paper uses city-level data to examine the impact of a first wave of railroad construction in Sweden, between 1855 and 1870, from the 19th century until today. We estimate that railroads accounted for 50% of urban growth, 1855-1870. In cities with access to the railroad network, property values were higher, manufacturing employment increased, establishments were larger, and more information was distributed through local post offices. Today, cities with early access to the network are 62% larger and to be found 11 steps higher in the urban hierarchy, compared to initially similar cities. We hypothesize that railroads set in motion a path dependent process that shapes the economic geography of Sweden today.


Review by Alexander Horkan (final-year PPE student, Queen’s University Belfast)

What impact did the introduction of railroads to Sweden have on town-level growth? This is the question being explored by Thor Berger and Kerstin Enflo, both of Lund University, in their EHES working paper circulated as part of NEP-HIS-2013-08-05. The paper focusses on the early development of the Swedish railroad network, between 1855 and 1870, and examines whether towns with early access to the network[1] experienced higher levels of expansion of economic activity, using population growth as a proxy measure for this. They expand the possibility of their have been effects beyond merely the initial shock and scrutinise whether there was a long-run impact on economic development over the 20th Century.

Berger and Enflo contribute to the discourse on the value of transport infrastructure to lowering trade costs, which frequently hypothesises that large infrastructure projects foster economic development ‘ahead of demand’. Although an intuitive suggestion serving as a core belief of policymakers regarding the localisation of growth and planning possibilities, it is historically troublesome to provide evidentiary credence that such growth is independent from endogenous, observable and unobservable preconditions. Modern transport infrastructure is rarely assigned randomly to locations, instead being focussed around connecting ‘hubs’ that inevitably possess advantageous biases towards growth. This builds on various works detailing how such biases plague neutral analysis of development, as infrastructure projects are seemingly inextricably linked with political interference at either end of the spectrum, whether promoting growth in areas of economic sterility, or those already growing through endogenous factors.

Berger and Enflo show how railroads affect the location, not the level, of growth

Does railroad access increase the overall level of growth, or just the location of growth?

This paper seems to be of extreme relevance to current debates surrounding the future of a high-speed rail network connecting Birmingham to London in the UK. Contemporary debates have been hazy, lacking clear focus on precise and demonstrable economic incentives, leading to many questioning the value brought to northern cities. This research can increase the scope of such debates, providing clear evidential support that early adoption of technological advancements in transport infrastructure ignites and fosters long-term economic growth, yet simultaneously causes large negative ‘spillover’ effects on nearby, unconnected towns. Such research seems valuable and relevant to both sides of the question and must only serve to enrich any subsequent discussion.[2]

Proof of their hypothesis is offered through the calculation of comparative populations of cities both connected and unconnected to the railroad network between 1855 and 1870. Through using a difference-in-difference framework, they show that those who gained early exposure to the rail network grew larger, with additional population growth of 26% on average. Such increases imply that levels of urbanisation in 1870, and the aggregate rate of growth by the same point, would have ‘decrease[d] by 15% and 50% respectively’ (p. 3) independent from rail infrastructure. These calculations prove correlation between the exposure to railways and subsequent growth, echoing work by Fishlow (1965).


Where Bergen and Enflo really contribute to expanding existing literature, however, is by providing robust justification to draw direct causal relationships between railroad placement and subsequent ‘ignition’ of economic development. This is achieved through a tripartite construct, initially matching observationally similar towns and their growth patterns before the railway introduction. These measures ensure that observable differences are not key to explaining growth of specific towns, i.e. they were not already growing faster than surrounding cities.

Secondly, they calculate a strong instrumental variable; this relies on proposed routes drawn up by Adolf van Rosen in 1845 and subsequently by Nils Ericson in 1856. As such routes were constructed in relative isolation of political and economic pressures; favouring conditions of topographical simplicity and military strategic importance (avoiding coastal areas traditionally predisposed to growth) such an instrument is robust in corroborating the evidence of the first measure. By estimating the pre-rail differences in population growth for towns included in these original plans, and calculating their relative differences as close to zero, further corroboration is given to assertions that there were no pre-existing conditions conducive to growth in these towns.

The final measure is the imagined construction of these proposed lines, and further ‘low cost routes’. By creating this strong counterfactual, the authors presuppose that these lines that were not built, due to political obstinacy and lassitude, and those proposed later, to link profitable hubs of commerce would show large increases in populations if the driving factor behind growth was some unobservable, predetermining factor. Conversely however, if growth failed to materialise, it would be clear that the most significant force at work was early exposure to railways.


What can policymakers today learn from the Swedish case?

In his 1964 paper Robert Fogel identified the aggregate contribution of railroads to the US economy through social savings, deeming it of very little significance to social savings against a comparable counterfactual canal system. The measures used by Berger and Enflo are inversely interested in the relative impact of the railroad on cities. The negative ‘spillovers’ to nearby, unconnected towns examined in this paper further confirm Fogel’s argument that, whilst railroads had little impact on aggregate economic activity, they had large effects on relative growth patterns.

The final key significance Berger and Enflo draw out is the persistency of the impact of early exposure to rail networks. There are a myriad of reasons for this: high value sunk investments provide large barriers to both entry to and exit from the market, prompting concentration of economic activity in specific places. Additionally emerging towns become identifiable with growth and development, thus almost gaining critical mass and organically attracting further growth by this virtue. This emergent path dependency mirrors that cited by Bleakley and Lin (2012) regarding US cities being focussed around portage sights, despite the increasing irrelevance of such a factor. The implications of this paper however shadow those of Redding, Sturm and Wolf (2011) and Jebwad and Moadi (2011), examining man-made advantages over natural ones, contributing more greatly to discourse on policy implications and growth strategy.


Throughout the paper, however, despite great lengths to isolate geographical preconditions for local growth, there was an absence of discussion regarding elasticity of demand for rail services across the country. It seems remiss to address reduction of trade costs, whilst ignoring the possibility for elasticity of demand for such services, for example during winter months where winter roads open new avenues of trade, significantly reducing goods transportation costs via substitutions. Such questions could raise insightful analysis of unexplored geographical factors in northerly cities not experiencing the same degree of negative ‘spillovers’ suffered by more central ones.

The scope of this rigorous analysis could be expanded beyond current high-speed rail debates explored above to varying fields. Pertinent could be investigation of whether such findings have significance surpassing large-scale travel infrastructure and technological advancements, to the increasingly relevant information and communication sector for example; examining whether early adoption of communications advancements and infrastructure lead growth in specific locations.


[1] Less than a third of towns were connected by the end of this period, and only around a tenth of the peak network size had been realised.

[2] For a wider discussion of the minutia of this debate please refer to:




Bleakley, H. and Lin, J. (2012). Portage and Path Dependence. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 127, 2, 587{644.

Fishlow, A. (1965). American Railroads and the Transformation of the Ante-bellum Economy. Vol. 127. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fogel, R. (1964). Railroads and American Economic Growth. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press.

Jedwab, R. and Moradi, A. (2011). Transportation Infrastructure and Development in Ghana. Mimeo.

Redding, S. J., Sturm, D. M., and Wolf, N. (2011). History and Industry Location: Evidence from German Airports. Review of Economics and Statistics 93, 3, 814{831.


When did Globalization Actually Start?

West versus East: Early Globalization and the Great Divergence’

By Rafael Dobado-González (Complutense), Alfredo Garcia-Hiernaux (Complutense), and David E. Guerrero-Burbano (CUNEF)

Abstract: This paper extends our previous work on grain market integration across Europe and the Americas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Dobado, García-Hiernaux and Guerrero, 2012). By using the same econometric methodology, we now present: 1) a search for statistical evidence in the East of an “Early Globalization” comparable to the one ongoing in the West by mid eighteenth century; 2) a study on the integration of grain markets in China and Japan and its functioning in comparison to Western countries; 3) a discussion of the relevance of our findings for the debate on the Great Divergence. Our main conclusions are: 1) substantial differences in the degree of integration and the functioning of grain markets are observed between East and West; 2) a certain degree of integration may be reached through different combinations of factors (agents, policies, etc.) and with dissimilar effects on long-run economic growth; 3) the absence of an “Early Globalization” in the East reveals the existence of some economic and institutional limitations in this part of the world and contributed to its “Great Divergence” with the West from at least the eighteenth century.


Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2013-08-10

Guest Entry by Elizabeth Meagher (Bangor University)

NB: In January 2014, Chris Colvin and I started an experiment involving the use of Web 2.0 tools and third year undergraduate students. The aim was to incentivise active participation in academic exchange by reviewing recent additions to the broad literatures of business and economic history whilst following the same format as the NEP-HIS blog and limited to 1,000 words or less. The best entries are then published in the blog with minimal editing. This is the first of such entries.

We appreciate comments and inspiration from John Turner (Queen’s Belfast), Mar Rubio (Publica de Navarra) and Marcel Salles (ITESO). (BBL – Ed)


This paper examines the causes of early Globalization and the rise of the Industrial Revolution, analysing the divide between the East and West known as the ‘Great Divergence’. The literature suggests that globalization began steadily in the first half of the eighteenth century, taking off rapidly after the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. Once globalization ‘regained momentum’ it was supported by the rise in the Industrial Revolution across Europe and the US (Dobado-Gonzalez et al, 2013).

Source: The Economist "What was the Great Divergence"

Source: The Economist “What was the Great Divergence”

De Vries (2010) separates Globalization into two categories, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. Flynn and Giraldez (2004) claim that ‘soft globalization’ began when the ‘old world’ merged with the US back in 1571. O’Rourke and Williamson (1999) defined ‘hard globalization’ as the integration of markets across a geographical location. An earlier study by Dobado and Guerrero (2009) claims that literature has often ignored earlier influences of globalisation on economic growth and focuses more on the results after the Industrial Revolution from 1700s onwards. It cannot be disregarded that integration between countries across Europe was evident between 1500 and 1800 before the first Industrial Revolution began. It is from these early stages of market and trade integration across Europe that industry and globalisation developed. The paper also suggests that in the first half of the eighteenth century, the rise in the West was due to the fact that China and the East had little to compete with, leaving the gates wide open for the West to expand its operations.

A panoramic view of London, c.1670 by Wenceslaus Hollar. Photograph: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy Source:

A panoramic view of London, c.1670 by Wenceslaus Hollar. Photograph: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy Source:

Additionally Dobado and colleagues focus on the impact of the dramatic expansion of foreign trade on economic growth within the West which has continued through to today. The paper also compares the differences and separation between the West and East during the first major economic growth in Europe between 1500 and 1800, known as the ‘First Great Divergence’. The authors suggest that the openness of the West resulted in dynamic trading across the Atlantic between the US with Britain and the Netherlands in particular (Dobado et al, 2013). The East however was not so far behind with the Opium Wars and the Silk Road increasing trade across Eastern countries moving towards the West which had never been done before. Nevertheless, before this point, the paper suggests that Eastern governments made one of the greatest economic mistakes in closing their economies, giving way to the ‘Great Divergence’ and ‘exceptionalism’ within the West (Dobado et al, 2013; Dobado and Guerrero, 2009). The restrictive trade policy practiced by the East is claimed to have prevented that part of the world from taking advantage of both direct and indirect benefits resulting from the expansion of trade during the Early Modern Era (Dobado et al, 2013). The paper recognises the absence of international grain market integration within the debate on the ‘Great Divergence’ and therefore seeks to examine the different markets within both the East and West.

St Paul's Cathedral viewed from Southwark, across the River Thames, in 1859. Photograph: William England/Getty Images Source:

St Paul’s Cathedral viewed from Southwark, across the River Thames, in 1859. Photograph: William England/Getty Images Source:

The paper found that despite geographical proximity and the easiness of transportation between China and Japan in the East, no statistical evidence of grain market integration is found between the two countries. This finding contrasts with the increasing expansion of trade in the West both before 1792 and after the 1840s (Dobado et al, 2013). As a result the East and West were dissimilar in terms of market integration both before and after the Industrial Revolution. Therefore this supports the concept of the ‘Great Divergence’ between the East and West and early Globalization presented direct and indirect benefits for the West which left the East to fall behind. In closing their economies in the Early Modern Era, governments within the East had committed what might be considered one of the biggest economic policy mistakes ever made, losing out on the greater benefits of early Globalization (Dobado et al, 2013).


One aspect of the research which could be criticised is that the samples used for comparing the different grain markets in both the East and West are unequal, with twelve studied within the West, and eleven in the East (Dobado et al, 2013). This could suggest the results may be biased towards the wheat market within the West. In addition to this, the study works with “[…] long yearly data series covering most of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries for most markets” (Dobado et al, 2013, p.6). This could also alter the results as using the same data is critical for a fair analysis. Another valuable point to consider is that the only countries which gained from ‘Early Globalization’ in Latin America were Peru and Chile who traded wheat.

It may also be beneficial to take into account cultural differences between the East and West at this time. The demand for wheat across Europe and the US would have been greater than the demand for rice from the East, causing further integration within the East.

Based on the points discussed above, it is apparent that there is a strong divide between the economic activity within both the East and West before the Industrial Revolution gained momentum. Additionally, it is evident that Globalization was present within Europe between 1500 and 1800 with the integration of markets within the West.


De Vries, J. (2010) ‘The Limits of Globalization in the Early Modern World’, The Economic History Review, Vol.63, pp 671-707.

Dobado-Gonzalez, R., Garcia-Hiernaux, A., and Guerrero-Burbano, D. (2013) ‘West verus East: Early Globalization and the Great Divergence’, accessed 6 March 2014.

Dobado, R. and Guerrero, D. (2009) ‘The Integration of Western Hemisphere Grain Markets in the Eighteenth Century: Early Progress and Decline of Globalization’, Accessed 9 March 2014.

Flynn, D.O. and Giraldez, A. (2004) ‘Path Dependence, Time Lags and the Birth of Globalisation: A Critique of O’Rourke and Williamson”, European Review of Economic History, Vol.8 No.1, pp 81-108

O’Rourke, K.H. and Williamson, J.G. (1999) Globalization and History, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

When Accountants Come to Power

Management From Hell: How Financial Investor Logic Hijacked Firm Governance
By Robert R. Locke (
Paris: Boostzone Editions, 2012
57, ebook, ASIN: B007MOYC56 (RRP €5.50 – £4.42)

Abstract – Corporate governance now is strongly controlled by a «caste» of financial investors that forgets employees and other stakeholders as well as society at large. This control is a major cause of our current crisis and of a growing disbelief in modern capitalism. Why and how did this happen? A renowned American historian of management, Robert R. Locke, develops a well-argued and powerful point of view about the limits of financial investor capitalism and shows that more balanced models should be explored, like family business as well as Geman and/or Japanese corporate governance.


Review by H. Thomas Johnson
(Professor of Business Administration at Portland State University in Oregon and Distinguished Consulting Professor of Sustainable Business at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington)

In Management From Hell, Robert Locke offers an alternative to the belief that the purpose of a business is to enrich a small elite caste of investor-capitalists who use financial markets and business institutions to trade the future of humanity and non-human life for unlimited personal financial gain. That alternative is the entity view of business in which the purpose of a business is to flourish for the indefinite future and serve the well-being of society as a whole by providing gainful employment to people (employees and suppliers) whose job is to sustainably supply the economic needs of other people (customers). The book begins by examining the impact on large corporations since the late 1970s of “investor capitalism,” a “proprietary” view of business that sees the activities and the capital of a corporation as controlled by its owner-investors and managed by their hired agents, all for the purpose of maximizing its financial returns, to which they – the investor-owners – claim exclusive rights. Locke draws on extensive historical research to show how advocates of investor capitalism used modern academic theories of economics and finance to justify the morally dubious claim that a corporation’s sole concern is to maximize the financial returns to its investor-owners and their delegated agents, without regard for how its activities affect other constituencies such as employees, customers, suppliers and non-human members of Earth’s life-sustaining biosystem.

Robert R. (Bob) Locke

During the 1980s and 1990s top corporate managers, despite their role as the investor-owners’ agents, gained effective control over corporate boards of directors and, implicitly, the power to set their own personal compensation. The spectacular rise in corporate CEO, CFO and other C-level compensation in the last 20 or so years (from salaries, bonuses and stock options) relative to the compensation of lower-level managers, employees and even investor-owners is well known and does not require further documentation here. Locke shows in Management From Hell and at greater length in his co-authored book with J.-C. Spender, Confronting Managerialism (Zedbooks, 2011) that top managers accomplished this change by gradually shifting strategic decision-making power to themselves and away from owners. They achieved that shift largely by promoting the claim that their special post-graduate business education (especially in MBA programs of elite U.S. business schools) put them in exclusive possession of special knowledge and expertise needed to efficiently run today’s complex, global corporations.

As a consequence of successfully marketing their supposedly unique management expertise gained from exclusive access to the nation’s most elite graduate business schools, top managers in the last generation ran large American corporations with impunity. Almost never were they held accountable for the social costs of the management practices they pursued to maximize financial returns for the personal gain of the owners and their “elite” agents. In retrospect it seems clear that many of those practices seriously impaired the vitality and strength of the American economy in the past 30 or so years.

Locke demonstrates persuasively that the damaging consequences of these investor-capitalist management practices were not experienced to the same degree outside America, where management practices were guided by alternative economic philosophies that viewed the purpose of a business in terms of the interests of a much broader constituency than just investor-capitalists and their manager-agents, and not just in terms of maximizing immediate financial returns. He shows how large corporations in Germany and Japan are managed from an “entity” perspective that views success as ensuring the corporation’s long-term survival and sustainability on behalf of all its constituents – employees, customers, suppliers, communities and shareholder/owners — not just owners and their manager-agents. A firm run from an entity as opposed to a proprietary perspective measures success in terms of conditions that contribute to firm sustainability – e.g., average longevity of employees (presumes that returns on investment in humans increase with tenure of employment), employee training, customer satisfaction, reputation, quality of design and delivery, and financial returns (sufficient to flourish and develop over many generations, not maximum short-term profits).

H. Thomas Johnson

Locke cites research findings showing that American firms that are run from a proprietary perspective do report higher financial returns in the short run than do firms run from an entity perspective. In Germany or Japan, however, the entity firms, although earning less spectacular short-term returns, do earn respectable returns, and they live much, much longer. To indicate the long-term consequence of this difference, Locke cites a 2001 book by Richard Fosterand Sarah Kaplan entitled Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market–And How to Successfully Transform Them. The authors of this book interpret the increasingly rapid rise and fall (turnover) of large corporations on American financial markets in the 20th century as evidence that the markets weed out less efficient firms by rewarding current financial performance over firm longevity. Although the authors view this outcome favorably, Locke points out that their conclusion begs the question,

“At what cost to individuals, society and Earth’s life-support system do markets achieve such outcomes?”

Indeed, in the post-1970s era of investor capitalism the “leaders” of American corporations (whether top managers working from inside a firm as agents for the investor-owners or take-over operators working for themselves from outside a firm) have pursued the goal of maximum financial returns at increasingly heavy cost to workers, communities, and government. It is not an exaggeration to say that top managers or investors no longer view a business corporation as a community of people (employees, managers, investor-owners, suppliers) serving people (customers and communities) for the economic well-being of society. Instead, they view a business corporation as a commodity with a market value/price set by traders in global financial markets. In other words, a corporation is viewed as a pool of investors’ financial capital seeking maximum returns, if not in one enterprise then by liquidating that enterprise and re-investing the capital in another enterprise ad infinitum.

Because it is assumed that financial markets obey the dogma of financial economics and value corporations according to their discounted current and expected future financial returns, then top management’s job inside a firm is to maximize those returns even if the steps management takes to do so destroy the firm by, say, off-shoring work to lower-wage countries, outsourcing supply purchases to force down prices of non-labor inputs, re-locating headquarters and bank accounts in other countries to reduce taxes and so forth. No different in principle, even if the steps taken are often more extreme, are the steps taken by an outside private equity firm that borrows funds in order to purchase a target corporation, take control and then pursue steps to increase the target firm’s market value by, say, cutting costs via layoffs, revising labor contracts to reduce wages, terminating employee pension contracts and so forth. In addition, private equity take-over firms often use their legal control of the target firm to pay themselves hefty management fees and other forms of compensation. They also borrow against the firm’s assets and draw out cash from its employee pension funds, and then use that cash to pay back the loans they borrowed to purchase the target firm originally. Eventually the private equity firm hopes to cut costs and raise the financial returns of the target firm sufficiently to re-sell it for more than their purchase price, pocket the difference, and walk away much richer. They leave behind a financially-strapped community of unemployed workers, bankrupt suppliers and tax-starved public services. In several chapters Locke enlivens his discussion of these practices with references to specific private equity take-over firms, especially Bain & Co., an example of the industrial-capitalist spirit at its most socially destructive and immoral, particularly its activities conducted in the 1980s and 1990s by Bain’s most famous partner, former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican candidate for U.S. President, Mitt Romney.

This book is for anyone who is concerned about the precarious state of the US economy, including those who are, or plan to be, employed by large corporate businesses. Implicit in the book’s message is the conclusion that investor-capitalist management of “corporations-as-financial-commodities” is an important cause of the growing inequality of wealth and income in the American economy. The huge private fortunes amassed as a consequence of this inequality are being used increasingly to control elections and legislatures in the United States, threatening to replace democratic governance in American society with plutocratic control by a handful of unimaginably rich individuals, almost all of whom view the economy and society through the nineteenth-century liberal ideology of individualism and free markets.

N.B. See also the review by Dominique Turcq (Editor)