Category Archives: Innovation

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.

Linking the Growth of Globalisation with the Evolution of Transport Technology

The Rise of American Ingenuity: Innovation and Inventors of the Golden Age
By Ufuk Akcigit (University of Chicago), John Grigsby (University of Chicago) and Tom Nicholas (Harvard Business School)

Abstract: We examine the golden age of U.S. innovation by undertaking a major data collection exercise linking historical U.S. patents to state and county-level aggregates and matching inventors to Federal Censuses between 1880 and 1940. We identify a causal relationship between patented inventions and long-run economic growth and outline a basic framework for analyzing key macro and micro-level determinants. We find a positive relationship between innovation and drivers of regional performance including population density, financial development and geographic connectedness. We also explore the impact of social structure measured by slavery and religion. We then profile the characteristics of inventors and their life cycle finding that inventors were highly educated, positively selected through exit early in their careers, made time allocation decisions such as delayed marriage, and tended to migrate to places that were conducive to innovation. Father’s income was positively correlated with becoming an inventor, though not when controlling for the child’s education. We show there were strong financial returns to technological development. Finally, we document an inverted-U shaped relationship between inequality and innovation but also show that innovative places tended to be more socially mobile. Our new data help to address important questions related to innovation and long-run growth dynamics.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23047

Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2017-01-29

Review by Tom Spain (Bangor University)

In this paper Akcigit, Grisby, and Nicholas highlight the advancement of transportation technology in the United States between 1880 and 1940, while better transport responded to the need to link the more developed and innovative regions of the country. Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas find that the American transport links were much stronger and of better quality between more developed regions in terms of finance and innovation, which, in turn, Hart and Milstein (2003) point to as key aspects for a successful capitalist society.

BrooklynBridge

Brooklyn Bridge, took 14 years to be constructed (1869-1883). Source: Museum of the City of New York/Getty Images, found in The Guardian, “Brooklyn Bridge under construction – picture of the day,Brooklyn Bridge under construction – picture of the day,” May 24, 2013. 

Research by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas is in line with others such as Harris (2015), who highlights that there is a direct link between advancements in technology and the growth of globalisation. The findings by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas, therefore, can be seen as the starting point for the globalisation of the American model of capitalism.

Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas state that during the 1880s emerged a belief that “geographic connectivity” should increase for there to be a rise in innovation: this increase would open up new markets for businesses to sell to. Here Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas rehearse a well-recognised argument that improvements in geographic connectivity lead to an increase in globalisation, and, therefore, advancements in transport technology are also an important factor for globalisation (Rodriguez 1999).

Another aspect discussed by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas is the link between the amount of investment of American states on transport infrastructure and the amount of innovation emerging from said states. Here it is shown that the more a state invested on transport infrastructure the more innovations came from that state. For instance, the authors mention that in the golden era of innovation the Midwest played a big part in US innovation via manufacturing. However, due to the constant value-seeking attitude towards capitalistic globalisation the contemporary Midwest is not as prosperous as it once was (Castle 1995). However, the question as to whether these states developed in terms of overall population is unanswered. As Banister and Berechman (2001) argue, the geographic connectivity aspects of globalisation may see areas lose resources, skills and, in turn, become poorer.

In terms of what could be improved in the paper by Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas, the first thing to note is that it only highlights the level of innovation in terms of the amount of granted patents. This is unlike works conducted by the likes of Feldman and Florida (1994) who not only seek to see the level of innovation in each state but also what particular sector the innovations were in. The paper by Feldman and Florida (1994) also provides more detail of how many of the innovations were successful in terms of whether they were the technological underpinnings for future developments in a specific sector.

Akcigit, Grisby and Nicholas suggest that all of the American states where transport and innovation increased also saw a reduction in inequality. In fact, in many cases inequality amongst the most innovative of states rose. This concurs with other research which suggests that inequality is a by-product of globalisation (Piketty and Saez, 2003).

A possible venue of research along the lines suggested by the paper is the importance of the advancement in transport technology and the role that it played in being able to create geographic connectivity. This link can be seen in the work of Usselman (2002).

References

Banister, D. and Berechman, Y., (2001). “Transport Investment and the Promotion of Economic Growth.” Journal of Transport Geography 9(3), pp.209-218.

Castle, E.N., (1995). The Changing American Countryside: Rural People and Places. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Feldman, M.P. and Florida, R., (1994). “The Geographic Sources of Innovation: Technological Infrastructure and Product Innovation in the United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84(2), pp.210-229.

Harris, J., (2015). “Globalization, Technology and the Transnational Capitalist Class.” Foresight 17(2), pp.194 – 207.

Hart, S.L. and Milstein, M.B., (2003). “Creating Sustainable Value.” The Academy of Management Executive 17(2), pp.56-67.

Piketty, T. and Saez, E., (2003). “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 118(1), pp.1-41.

Rodriguez, J.P. (1999). “Globalization and the Synchronization of Transport Terminals.” Journal of Transport Geography 7(4), pp.255-261.

Usselman, S.W. (2002). Regulating Railroad Innovation: Business, Technology, and Politics in America, 1840-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

How do we eliminate wealth inequality and financial fragility?

The market turn: From social democracy to market liberalism

By Avner Offer, All Souls College, University of Oxford (avner.offer@all-souls.ox.ac.uk)

Abstract: Social democracy and market liberalism offered different solutions to the same problem: how to provide for life-cycle dependency. Social democracy makes lateral transfers from producers to dependents by means of progressive taxation. Market liberalism uses financial markets to transfer financial entitlement over time. Social democracy came up against the limits of public expenditure in the 1970s. The ‘market turn’ from social democracy to market liberalism was enabled by easy credit in the 1980s. Much of this was absorbed into homeownership, which attracted majorities of households (and voters) in the developed world. Early movers did well, but easy credit eventually drove house prices beyond the reach of younger cohorts. Debt service diminished effective demand, which instigated financial instability. Both social democracy and market liberalism are in crisis.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_149

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-01-29

Review by: Sergio Castellanos-Gamboa, Bangor University

Summary

This paper emerged from Avner Offer’s Tawney Lecture at the Economic History Society’s annual conference, Cambridge, 3 April 2016 (the video of which can be found here).

In this paper Offer discussed two macroeconomic innovations of the 20th century, which he calls “the market turn”. These are the changes in fiscal policy and financialisation that encompassed the shift  from social democracy to market liberalism from the 1970s onwards. Social democracy is understood as a fiscal innovation which resulted in the doubling of public expenditure (from aprox. 25 to 50 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1980). Its aim was reducing wealth inequality. Market liberalism encompassed a monetary innovation, namely the deregulation of credit which allowed households to increase their indebtedness from around 50 to 150 per cent of personal disposable income, mainly for the purpose of home ownership. According to Offer the end result of market liberalism was increasing wealth inequality. See Offer’s depiction of this process in the graph below.

Two macroeconomic financial innovations in the 20th century, UK calibration. (Note: Diffusion curves are schematic, not descriptive.)

Two macroeconomic financial innovations in the 20th century, UK calibration.
(Note: Diffusion curves are schematic, not descriptive.)

Offer considers that both social democracy and market liberalism are norms captured by the single concept of a “Just World Theory” (Offer & Söderberg, 2016).The ideals behind social democracy are said to be supported by ideas found in classical economics, while the ideals behind market liberalism are said to have emerged from a redefinition of the origins and nature of economic value found in neoclassical economics. Contrasting the ideas behind social democracy and market liberalism brings about  questions such as:

  • Where does value come from?,
  • Is it from production or is it from personal preferences and demand for the good/service?,
  • What is just and fair?,
  • What do we as individuals deserve as reward?, and
  • Is there really a trade-off between equality and efficiency?

Answering any of these question is not simple and heated debates abound around them. Offer, however, rescues the idea of life-cycle dependency, where the situation of the most vulnerable individuals is alleviated through collective risk pooling rather than financial markets. According to Offer,  life-cycle dependency was the dominant approach to reducing poverty in most developed countries until the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Then collapse of the Bretton Woods accord that followed, led to the liberalization of credit by removing previous constraints. This in turn resulted in the “market turn”.

Avner Offer

Professor Avner Offer (1944). MA, DPhil, FBA. Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford since 2011.

Offer then turns to analyse the events after the collapse of Bretton Woods that led to the increase of household indebtedness while focusing on the UK. The 1970s was a very volatile decade for Britain.  For instance, oil price increases and the secondary banking crises of 1973 resulted in the highest annual increase of the inflation rate on record. Offer argues, while citing John Fforde (Executive Director of the Bank of England at that time), that the Competition and Credit Control Act 1971 was as a leap of faith in the pursuit of greater efficiency in financial markets. This Act was accompanied by a new monetary policy where changes in interest rates (the price of money) by the central bank was to bring about the control of the quantity of money. Perhaps unexpectedly and probably due to a lack of a better understanding of the origins of money, that was not the case. Previously lifted credit restrictions had to be reinstated.

Credit controls were again lifted in the 1980s. This time policy innovations went further by allowing clearing (ie commercial) banks to re-enter the personal mortgage market. The Building Societies Act 1986  allowed building societies to offer personal loans and current accounts as well as opened a pathway for them to become commercial banks (which many did after 1989 and all those societies that converted  either collapsed or were taken over by clearing banks or both). Initially and up to the crash of house prices in September, 1992, personal mortgage credit grew continuously and to levels never seen before in the UK. According to Offer, during this period both political parties supported the idea of homeownership and incentivised it through programs like “Help to Buy”. However, the rise in the demand for housing combined with the stagnation in the supply of dwellings pushed up house prices, making it more difficult for first-time buyers to become homeowners. Additionally, according to Offer, the wave of easy credit of the 1980s brought with it an increase in wealth inequality and an increase in the fragility of the financial system. As debt repayments grew as proportion of income, consumption was driven down, with subsequent effects on production and services. On this Offer opined:

“In the quest for economic security, the best personal strategy is to be rich.” (p. 17)

The paper ends with possible and desirable futures for public policy initiatives to deal with today’s challenges around wealth inequality and mounting personal credit. He argues that personal debt should be reduced through rising inflation,  a policy driven write-off or a combination of both. He also argues to reinstate a regime where credit is rationed. He states that financial institutions should not have the ability to create money and therefore the housing market funding should return to the old model of building societies. He has a clear preference for social democracy over market liberalism and as such argues that austerity should end, since it is having the exact opposite effects to what was intended.

Brief Comment

Offer’s thought provoking ideas comes at a time when several political and economic events are taking place (e.g. Brexit, Trump’s attack on Dodd-Frank, etc.) which, together, could be of the magnitude as “the market turn”. Once again economic historians could help better inform the debate. Citing R. H. Tawney, Offer opened the lecture (rather than the paper) by stating that:

“to be an effective advocate in the present, you need a correct and impartial understanding of the past.”

Offer clearly fulfils the latter, even though some orthodox economists might disagree with his inflationary and credit control proposals. As per usual his idea are a great contribution to the debate around market efficiency in a time when the world seems to be in constant distress. Perhaps we ought to generate more and better research to understand the mechanisms through which market liberalism generated the current levels of wealth inequality and financial instability that Offer describes. More importantly though, is analysing if social democracy can bring inequality down as it did in the past. In my view, however, in a world where productivity seems to be stagnated, real wages are decreasing, and debt keeps growing, it is highly unlikely that the public sector can produce the recipe that will set us in the path of economic prosperity for all.

Additional References

Offer, A., & Söderberg, G. (2016). The Nobel Factor: The Prize in Economics, Social Democracy, and the Market Turn. Princeton University Press.
(Read an excellent review of this book here)

Neo-Schumpeterian views of Economic Development Today

The Theory of Economic Development of J.A. Schumpeter: Key Features

By Iurii Bazhal (Economics Department, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy)

Abstract: This paper comprises translation into English of the preface of Iurii Bazhal to the first Ukrainian edition of Joseph Schumpeter’s famous fundamental book “The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle” that was translated in Ukrainian and published in 2011 in commemoration of its 100th anniversary. The paper reveals the contemporary significance of this classical book as the challenger on replacing the neoclassical approaches in capacity to become the mainstream of modern economic theory. It is shown that Schumpeter’s approach gives a new vision of driving forces for economic development where a crucial conceptual place belongs to the category of innovation. Second part of the paper reviews modern Neo-Schumpeterian approaches which have substantiated the importance of the structural innovation technological change of national economy for economic development. The government must permanently analyze a compliance of the actual production structure in the country with the current and future technological paradigms.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:pra:mprapa:69883

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-03-29

Reviewed by Stefano Tijerina (University of Maine)

In an effort to recommend economic policy solutions to the “young market economy” of Ukraine, Iurii Bazhal breaks down Joseph Schumpeter’s principles of national economic development, arguing that current global implementations of economic development policies dominated by the neoclassical economic model are not generating and have never generated “evolutionary innovative ‘jumps.’”(p. 12). Emerging economies and stagnant advanced economies would benefit immensely from the revision of the neoclassical approach, centering instead on the Neo-Schumpeterian approach that recognizes economic structures of technological systems as the base of long-term economic growth (idem). From Bazhal’s perspective, business-government partnerships should focus on national economic development strategies that center on the creation and advancement of innovative technological systems that generate revolutionary global social, cultural, economic, and political change.

Schumpeter 3

These historical transformations that have changed humanity and its relation to resources and the natural world have catapulted some nations into positions of power that have translated into national economic prosperity. Bazhal identified five “paradigms” that altered the economic development of the modern world, including the substitution of machinery for handwork in weaving (1790-1850), coal mining and the steam engine (1851-1895), iron industry (1896-1946), oil based energy and organic chemistry products (1947-1989), and microelectronics (1990-2040). Schumpeter identified these periods as “dynamic” periods of economic development (pp. 4 & 13).

Contrary to “static” development where reproduction of traditional production structures were replicated nation after nation across the world, “dynamic” economic development based on technological innovation was and continues to be the only solution for capitalist nations interested in substantially increasing their national wealth and social welfare (p. 4). Nations spearheading the different periods of global innovation promoted and justified the implementation of the revised status quo in order to legitimize its global systemic outreach, restraining other nation’s ability to create and produce new dynamic value added solutions to their own development strategy (idem). This, said Bazhal, explained the “trap” that has impeded the present economic development of nations such as Ukraine (idem).

Ukraine 1

In order to achieve “dynamic” economic development like the one that catapulted Britain and the United States into positions of global power, it was necessary to move beyond the “model of circular flow of income and expenditure between firms and households” promoted by the neoclassical macroeconomic model (p. 6). This Schumpeterian view that “new combinations” of economic development strategies and technologies is what takes nation states into new realms of economic development patterns is what Bazhal is arguing for Ukraine. Combinations, I would argue, that are exemplified in Brazil’s reinvention into an ethanol-based economy that moved the nation away from oil dependency and thus breaking the restrains imposed by the oil based development model advanced by the United States throughout the Twentieth Century. Brazil’s case represented a “disruption of equilibrium by new combinations,” as Schumpeter would put it (p. 7). A new equilibrium based on an increase in the size of resources, the size of capital, the size of the labor force and the size of the national domestic product represent at that point Schumpeterian dynamics of economic development. Impactful and effective economic development therefore lies in business-government relations where the innovative entrepreneur has the flexibility and authority to influence the direction of policy; norms, regulations, and institutional designs that allow the entrepreneurial forces to implement and carry forward new “combinations or innovations”(idem).

A more deregulated system, argues Bazhal, would allow Ukraine’s entrepreneurial forces to move forward with the model recommended by Schumpeter. Yet the neoclassical restrains promoted by the European Union, the United States and the multilateral agents impede the clicking of new combinations (p.8). Ukraine’s economic development salvation lies in the invention or creation of a “new technological paradigm” that will catapult the nation into a more advanced economic development stage within the global economic market system (p. 11). This evolutionary dynamic, argues Bazhal, must be accompanied by “structural technological changes” that will guarantee stable economic development conditions at the design and implementation stages of the policy.

Schumpeter’s theory indicates that for this to take place, the nation’s business and political actors must also be willing and prepared to execute the “creative destruction” of the traditional systems and philosophical ideas of production. This aspect of the evolutionary process, from my perspective, is what is impeding Brazil from capitalizing fully from its transformation into an ethanol-based economy. Although not highlighted by Bazhal, the economic, political, social, cultural, domestic and international struggle against the forces of status quo are factors that require a more thorough analysis. In the case of Ukraine it is these same forces that block the nation’s self-determined transition into an evolutionary technological economic development dynamic.

Schumpeter 1

The implementation of a Neo-Schumpeterian economic development model in Ukraine or in any other nation across the world would look similar, in relative terms, to what happened in the United States during the oil or the microelectronics era. The new technological wave became the core driver of the nation’s economy, impacting at first the internal dynamics and systems of production and then replicating the same outcome nation after nation in incremental patterns. Not all nations converted to fossil fuels at once but eventually all did, accompanied by the construction of roads for the transit of vehicles together with the adoption of multiple other technologies and innovations that justified the conversion into a fossil fuels-based world. The same pattern has been developing on front of our eyes as the world adjusts to the microelectronics era.

As in the case of Brazil, a new technological innovation emanating from Ukraine would result in new structures of enterprise, new dynamics and interrelations between multiple economic indicators and sectors, new secondary and service productions sectors, in addition to value added systems, new forms and sectors for investment, new capital flows, new consumption patterns, and new domestic and international patters of trade flows.

Theoretically Bazhal’s advancement of the New-Schumpeterian model as the adequate paradigm shift for the Ukrainian economy is convincing and proven to be effective, as I pointed out in the case of Brazil, but the challenge remains in the implementation stage. Although Bazhal is aware that the technological revolution results in drastic changes on the state’s economic system and that it threatens the interests of those currently benefitting from the production status quo, he never provides his or Schumpeter’s solutions to these challenges. The success stories of Britain and the United States in altering the technological status quo indicate that domestically engineered social and political control systems must become an integral part of the sophisticated nation building process of post-modern nation states in order to secure flexibility for Schumpeter’s entrepreneur and the effective and efficient maneuverability of the government-business partnerships that advance the Neo-Schumpeterian model domestically and internationally.

The Godfactor

Religion and Innovation

By Roland Bénabou (rbenabou@princeton.edu), Davide Ticchi (davide.ticchi@imtlucca.it) and Andrea Vindigni (andrea.vindigni@imtlucca.it)

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/nbrnberwo/21052.htm

Abstract

In earlier work (Bénabou, Ticchi and Vindigni 2013) we uncovered a robust negative association between religiosity and patents per capita, holding across countries as well as US states, with and without controls. In this paper we turn to the individual level, examining the relationship between religiosity and a broad set of pro- or anti-innovation attitudes in all five waves of the World Values Survey (1980 to 2005). We thus relate eleven indicators of individual openness to innovation, broadly defined (e.g., attitudes toward science and technology, new versus old ideas, change, risk taking, personal agency, imagination and independence in children) to five different measures of religiosity, including beliefs and attendance. We control for all standard socio-demographics as well as country, year and denomination fixed effects. Across the fifty-two estimated specifications, greater religiosity is almost uniformly and very significantly associated to less favorable views of innovation.

Review by Stuart Henderson (Queen’s University Belfast)

What is the effect of religion on innovation? A recent working paper by Bénabou, Ticchi and Vingini (2015) (henceforth BTV), and distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-04-02, suggests that religious differences contribute to significant variation in attitudes towards innovation. In particular, BTV find a consistent and robust negative relationship between various measures of religiosity and attitudes which are considered more favourable to innovation and change.

BTV use individual-level data from all waves of the World Values Survey from 1980 to 2005. This provides a variety of innovation measures which are categorised under the following three headings: “attitudes toward science and technology”, “attitudes toward new ideas, change, and risk taking” and “child qualities”. On the right-hand-side of the regression specification, religiosity is measured using the following alternatives: “identifying as a religious person, belief in God, importance of religion and importance of God in your life, and finally church attendance”. In addition, further socio-demographic controls are included.

images

BTV builds especially on Bénabou, Ticchi and Vingini (2013), who similarly find a negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita across countries and US states. However, their more recent work benefits from a wider spectrum of innovation indicators, as well as the use individual-level data which helps to ameliorate concerns such as the ecological fallacy problem. More generally, their work also adds to a growing economics of religion literature, which has increasingly developed a more nuanced understanding of the causal mechanism associating religion with economic outcomes.

As BVT posit, their work fills a neglected niche which should provide greater clarity on how religiousness (and potentially secularisation) can drive innovation, and thereby long-run growth. Related literature such as Guiso et al. (2003) has emphasised that religious beliefs have a positive association with economic attitudes and growth respectively. However, Barro and McCleary (2003) find that this is tempered by the extent of religious participation, in what can be seen as a believing-belonging trade-off. Similarly, recent work by Campante and Yanagizawa-Drott (2015), and focusing on Ramadan, demonstrates how religious participation enhances the well-being of participants, but negatively affects economic outcomes. As such, while BVT advocate a strong relationship between religion and innovation, there is potentially room for a more refined consideration of religiosity differences especially between those of beliefs and participation. (This seems to be evidenced in that the church attendance religiosity measure is generally weakest across the specifications used by BVT.)

GodTrust

There are a number of further considerations and extensions which may be beneficial for BVT in future work. Take for example when BVT focus on “attitudes toward science and technology”. Here the statistical significance and magnitude of the coefficients fall as we go down the list of statements analysed:

  • “We depend too much on science and not enough on faith”
  • “Science and technology make our way of life change too fast”
  • “The world is better off because of science and technology”

Intuitively, this makes sense. The first and second statements are made in a negative manner, as opposed to the latter which is positive. Furthermore, the first more clearly juxtaposes religion and innovation. Hence, it is possible that the framing of the statements is driving the perceived negative association. Similarly, for the “child qualities” variables, respondents select five they consider “especially important”. The ranking nature of this question, means that if religious faith (which appears as one of the options) is selected, then the values perceived as innovative will on average move down the list, even if people perceive them as important (since only five can be selected). It also seems unusual that religious faith would feature as an alternative choice given the position of religiosity on the other side of the regression specification.

One solution to this potential bias is to examine differences between and within denominations (as BVT already allude to). Indeed, previous work such as Arruñada (2010) has demonstrated how denominational groupings (Catholics vs. Protestant) differ in their economic attitudes. Moreover, by excluding those who are not religious, and then focusing on the gradation in religious practice, BVT could more precisely understand how the intensity of religious practice influences innovation attitudes. In addition, by focusing not only on denominational differences, but also on religious intensity, BVT could potentially deal with the issue of nominal religious identity/cultural labelling, something which has received little attention in previous work.

bg-70yrs-1330

The issue of causality is also important, with recent literature employing a variety of novel approaches to deal with such problems. In particular, instrumental variables have become especially popular, and have helped to alleviate concerns such as reverse causality and endogeneity. More broadly, for BVT there exists an opportunity to address how their attitudinal indicators of innovation are reflected in innovation outcomes. While difficult, this would potentially have much greater policy implications, especially if one believes in the functional nature of religion. (There also exists opportunity to examine how socio-demographic factors such as gender interact with religion and thereby affect innovation.)

In sum, BVT have effectively added a much-needed innovation perspective to the economics of religion literature. These initial results suggest that various forms of religiosity have a negative association with attitudinal measures of innovation at the individual-level, complementing previous work by Bénabou, Ticchi and Vingini (2013) across countries and US states. Moreover, their rich data set provides much opportunity to more precisely focus on what facets of religion influence innovation, and thereby not only understand how religion affects society across a recent period of economic history, but also better understand the very nature of religion itself.

References

  • Arruñada, Benito, “Protestants and Catholics: Similar Work Ethic, Different Social Ethic,” Economic Journal, 120 (2010), 890–918.
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