by Joan Rosés (LES) and Nikolaus Wolf (Humboldt University)
via EHS The Long Run
Original post Here
by Jennifer Aston (Oxford University) and Paulo di Martino (University of Birmingham) The full paper was published on the Economic History Review, accessible here Do women and men trade in different ways? If so, why? And are men more or less successful than women? These are very important questions not just, or not only, for the academic […]
The History of Professional Road Cycling
by Jean-François Mignot
Why did cycling become professional as early as the late nineteenth century, while other sports (such as rugby) and other sport events (such as the Olympic Games) remained amateur until the 1980s? Why are the organizers of the most important bicycle races private companies, while in other sports such as soccer the main event organizer is a nonprofit organization? To what extent have bicycle races changed since the late nineteenth century? And how does cycling reflect long-term economic changes? The history of professional road cycling helps answer these questions and understand many related phenomena. This chapter provides a long-term, historical perspective on (1) professional road cycling’s economic agents, i.e., the public, race organizers, team sponsors and riders, and the relationships amongst them; (2) cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union; and (3) professional cycling’s final product, i.e., the show of bicycle races. More precisely, the chapter mostly focuses on the history of male professional road cycling in Western Europe since the late nineteenth century. It is founded on both an analysis of quantitative time series on the Grand Tours (and, to some extent, the classics) and a review of the existing literature on the history of professional cycling, whether economic history, institutional history, cultural history, or sport history.
Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2016-10-02
The professionalization and commercialization of sports illustrates the forces of capitalism in action, as its culture and institutional structures transition from the local to the global in response to the demands of the market and the increasing interdependence among multiple private and public stakeholders. In his brief history of professional road cycling Jean-François Mignot demonstrates how the sport is transformed throughout the twentieth century as it transitioned from amateur to professional. Mignot argues that the professionalization of this sport anticipated many other international sports because the forces of capitalism pressured the athletes to abandon their amateur status early on in order to secure an income. His research reveals the early infiltration of the private sector within the culture of cycling in Europe, the institutional transformation of the sport, the market’s impact on the institutional structure of bicycle racing, and its integration into the global system. Ultimately, his historic analysis allows the possibility of drawing parallels with the processes of transformation experienced by other goods, commodities, and services that adapted to the inevitable pressures of the expansion of capitalism.
Jean-François Mignot’s research shows that the idea of organizing road race competitions around the commonly used bicycle emerged from the desire of newspapers across Europe to sell more newspapers through this new and creative marketing scheme. Newspapers in France, Belgium, Spain, and Italy began organizing races on public roads in the late 1800s to show the public that human and bicycles could cover vast distances across flat and mountainous terrain. As indicated by Mignot, early races of 25 to 70 hours in duration covering 250 to 400 kilometers became epic sporting events of duration and perseverance among extraordinary European athletes. The media’s construct of these epic figures created the thirst for road cycling, but it was the fact that the spectator standing on the side of the road was only able to watch the spectacle for a few seconds and depended on the print media to recreate the rest of the race, that pushed newspapers into the sponsorship business. It was this interdependent relation between spectator, athlete, and newspapers that inspired the print media industry to organize these road races, hoping that races would become magnets for advertisement sales. As indicated by Mignot, “cycling fans demanded more information” and “pictures of the race,” and the race organizing newspapers were interested in supplying the demand by covering the races in detailed form as they watched circulations increase.
The one-day races or “Classics” and the three-week “Grand Tours” became the backbone of professional road racing in Europe. By the 1930s newspapers had monopolized the sponsorship of the events, while fans filled the roadways accompanied by publicity caravans “that distributed product samples to spectators.” Meanwhile bicycle and tire companies became the sponsors of teams, as individual riders were replaced by teams that worked on behalf of the stars that made up the top cycling teams in Europe.
In the early stages of professionalization, cycling stars did not receive any wages and were therefore forced to secure their income through race earnings. The increase in the popularity of the sport was followed by the increase in riders’ income. The interdependent relations necessary for the expansion of capitalism slowly developed; increasing sales motivated the newspapers to improve the quality of the spectacle by increase the race winnings, forcing the sponsors to offer better wages in order to recruit and maintain the loyalty of the top cyclists, ultimately attracting more fan-base that in turn attracted other secondary sponsors that turned the caravans into marketing spectacles as well. This became even more lucrative as other means of communication joined in, particularly radio and later on television.
Jean-François Mignot points out at the first three decades of the Cold War was a period of crisis for the sport in Europe, emphasizing that urbanization and the increasing sales of motorcycles forced bicycle manufacturers to decrease their team sponsorship funding and ultimately sending the salaries of professional riders in a downward spiral. This, argued Mignot, forced the professional rider to seek sponsorships outside of the bicycle world. The stars and their teams began to tap the “extra-sportif” market for sponsorship and this market segment was quick to capitalize on the opportunity.
Jean-François Mignot points out that sponsoring newspapers and bicycle companies interested in protecting their own profit margins opposed the penetration of “extra-sportif” sponsors by trying to control the rules of the sport in order to impede their participation, but at the end the market forces prevailed. This European crisis that unfolded between the 1950s and 1980s was in fact the initial era of global commercialization of the sport. Mignot’s Euro centrism impedes him from moving beyond the region’s Grand Tours and Classics, not recognizing that the “extra-sportif” sponsorships that challenged the status quo took professional cycling outside of Europe and introduced it to the rest of the world. For example, by the 1950s radio transmissions of the European races were common in distant places like Colombia where their own private sectors had replicated the European business model and established lucrative professional road races to supply the local demand for professional bicycle road racing. The first edition of the Colombian Grand Tour, La Vuelta a Colombia, was organized in 1951, and by then several local Classics like the Tunja-Bucaramanga and the Medellín-Sansón were already engrained in the Colombian cycling culture. As in the case of Europe, local newspapers like El Tiempo became interested in sponsoring the local Grand Classic as a means to increase sales and circulation, but contrary to the European distrust of “extra-sportif” sponsors, the Colombian organizers welcomed other private local sponsors including the national airline Avianca, the Bavaria brewery, Avisos Zeón and the Flota Mercante Grancolombiana.
The crisis of professional bicycle road racing in Europe described by Mignot was certainly caused by a decreasing popularity of the sport and the internal struggles over the monopoly of the sponsorship and management of the sport, but it was also the market’s response to the emergence of other professional sports in Europe as well as the professional cyclist’s ability to capitalize on the globalization of the sport. It was an illustration of how, in a capitalist system, the internal saturation of a market led to the natural expansion into other global markets, as in the case of Colombia in the 1940s and 1950s.
Such was the case of French Born, José Beyaerst, the 1948 Olympic road race champion who moved to Colombia after the Second World War, winning the second edition of the Vuelta a Colombia in 1952 and later on establishing a career as the coach for the Colombian national cycling team. Beyaerst would make Colombia his home, developing the professionalization of the sport and becoming a key player in what would later become one of the cycling powers of the world. The expansionism of the sport would reach all corners of the world between the 1950s and the 1980s, it was a period of crisis for Europe as Mignot points out but it was a glorious time for global professional bicycle road racing.
Television was the game-changer, spearheading the resurgence of professional cycling in Europe in the 1980s. Taking advantage of the integration of Europe, race organizers capitalized on the magic of television to attract new European audiences, redesigning the stage circuits of the Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, and the Tour de France) with the intention of tapping new urban centers that were outside of Spain, France, and Italy. Television also globalized the European Grand Tours, introducing the cycling stars to the world, providing an opportunity for sponsors to reach a global audience, selling commercial air space, and as a result increasing revenues, salaries and profits for the whole sport.
Jean-François Mignot points out that the globalization of the sport also impacted the nature of cycling teams. By the 1980s the teams competing in the Grand Tours were no longer made up of Spanish, Italian, and French riders; their nationalities diversified and so did their sponsors. Although Mignot highlights the fact that by 1986 the American Greg LeMond had won the Tour de France, Colombia’s Lucho Herrera had conquered the Vuelta a España (1987), the Russian Evgueni Berzin the Giro d’Italia (1994), and the Australian Cadel Evans the Tour de France (2011), he does not point out that these foreign cyclists also brought with them new local sponsors that then began to compete with European sponsors. Mignot avoids talking about the American Lance Armstrong, leaving a large gap in the history of the globalization of the sport, considering that the American rider won seven consecutive Tour de France championships (1999-2005) before the US Anti-Doping Agency and the Union Cycliste Internationale stripped him from his titles after a doping scandal. Although LeMond popularized cycling racing in the United States it was Armstrong that converted it into a multi-billion dollar industry bringing in American brands such as RadioShack and Motorola into the world of cycling.
Jean-François Mignot’s research illustrates how the sport expanded globally as the Western World exported the idea of the professionalization and commercialization of cycling, taking advantage of the expansion of Western culture across the world, the increasing leisure time and incomes of the global population, and the increasing communications technology that allowed viewers from across the world to connect with the live stage by stage action of the Grand Tours and the Classics. Nevertheless, his Euro centric approach impedes him from explaining how the professionalization of the sport evolved outside of Europe. Although Mignot clarified early on that his analysis centered on Europe, this approach weakened his argument regarding the globalization of the sport and its repercussion on the European construct, as foreigners began to conquer and dominate the sport as in the case of Americans Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, or the current stars South African born Christopher Froome and the Colombian climber Nairo Quintana. The incorporation of a broader global perspective would have allowed Mignot to test whether or not the professionalization of the sport in other markets was also spearheaded by other local newspapers or if on the contrary other media and non-media-based sponsors jumped on this business opportunity. It would have also been important to identify when professionalization took place in other markets to compare whether or not the influence of the European sport transcended the borders in a timely manner or even identifying political, economic, social, and cultural factors that delayed its expansion into other global markets. Moreover, it would have been important for Mignot to link the policies of the Union Cycliste Internationale to the globalization of the sport, as well as the escalation of global competition among bicycle manufacturers, and the global competition between scientists, technological designers, and pharmaceutical industries that centered on the legal and illegal preparation of the current athlete.
 Jean-François Mignot. “The History of Professional Road Cycling.” HAL archives-ouvertes.fr, https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01326719/document, June 5, 2016, p. 4.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 “Vuelta a Colombia Historia.” Ciclismo colombiano – La Vuelta a Colombia. April 25, 2007. Accessed November 21, 2016. http://ciclismo.al-dia.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13.
 Kidnapping of Lucho Herrera (and José Beyaert’s Narrow Escape”. Alps&Andes, March 2000. Accessed November 21, 2016. http://www.alpsandes.com/posts/clinginquisition.com/2013/04/the-kidnapping-of-lucho-herrera-and.html
 Mignot, “The History of Professional Road Cycling,” 5.
 Ibid., 6.
The Fall of Capital Punishment and the Rise of Prisons: How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts
Abstract: This paper studies the effect of punishment severity on jury decision-making using a large archival data set from the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London from 1715 to 1900. We take advantage of three natural experiments in English history, which result in sharp decreases in punishment severity: The offense specific abolition of capital punishment in the 1800s, the temporary halt of penal transportation during the American Revolution, and the abolition of transportation in 1853. Using a difference-in-differences design to study the abolition of the death penalty and pre-post designs to study the temporary and permanent halts to transportation, we find that decreasing expected punishment (especially via the end of the death penalty), had a large and significant impact on jury behavior, generally leading to the jury being ‘harsher’. Moreover, we find that the size of the effect differs with defendants’ gender and criminal history. These results raise concerns about the impartiality of juries as well as the implicit assumption often made when designing and evaluating criminal justice policies today – that the chance of conviction is independent of the harshness of the penalty.
Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-10-16
This is a very interesting article. It focuses on what is a hot topic today in British jurisprudence, and sets it within a strong historical context. It shows a deep understanding of the issues concerning statutory interpretation, and the consequent pressures facing juries. The uniqueness of this article is that it explores the extent to which juries were influenced by the severity of the punishments available to Judges. The article draws on thousands of pages of testimony from the Old Bailey Court Records. This magnificent online resource has opened several new possible avenues of research into the legal history of the United Kingdom, and this article will undoubtedly make a very important contribution in this field.
In examining the wide range of material from thousands of court cases, the authors conclude that the pressures on jurors were immense. These pressures, and ultimately their decision on whether to convict, were deeply influenced by not only moral judgements reached by individuals, but emotional considerations based on the severity of the sentence likely to be passed. In the nineteenth century, when punishments such as transportation to Australia were used for crimes, this would often lead to the death of those convicted (owing to the bad conditions and the length of the journey) and raise deeper questions about the quality and validity of the evidence. The conscience of jurors certainly would be provoked if the person sentenced to transportation or death was later found not guilty of the crime to which they were convicted.
In their detailed analysis of the statistics concerning conviction rates, the authors show that there was an overall increase of 7.6% in convictions after the abolition of the death penalty. This was taken as an average across a range of offences. The area seeing the largest increase in convictions was for sexual offences (increasing by 34.5%) and fraud (increasing by 22%). However, the authors argue that these convictions, passed in the latter half of the nineteenth century, did not occur against a backdrop of improved evidence in court. In fact, they suggest that since the abolition of the death penalty in the twentieth century, it is possible that jurors were more ready to convict in the knowledge that this would lead to imprisonment (and subsequent release if found not guilty) than if capital punishment had remained in place.
Another aspect explored by the authors is whether there is a connection between capital punishment and criminal behaviour. Citing the 1823 Judgement of Death Act, the authors note that Prime Minister Robert Peel used this legislation to render capital punishment discretionary for judges (except for murder and treason). This could potentially explain the rise in convictions for other crimes that the authors cite, suggesting again that the absence of capital punishment for these crimes made juries more likely to convict. Moreover, they allude to the procedural changes that occurred with the conduct of juries in 1974. Hereafter, juries would only be permitted to listen to one case, and would remain in charge of the case until its conclusion (or their removal by a judge). Previous regulations permitted juries to listen to several cases. This procedural change was in part to ensure the quality of decision-making to facilitate the best form of justice to all through the age-old English legal system that ensured trial by your peers.
The latter part of the paper uses complicated (and very impressive) quantitative methods to identify the discontinuities caused by the changes to the sentencing provisions. The overall conclusion is that not only the ultimate abolition of capital punishment in Britain in the twentieth century contributed to increased convictions, but that changes to sentencing laws provided fertile ground for increased criminality. While the reasons for this are not explored in detail, they could be connected to contemporary debates on this topic, where Conservatives have traditionally argued that ‘softer’ punishments, and community rehabilitation does not provide a deterrent for criminals.
There is a lot of insightful analysis and information in this paper. The connections that it develops between changes to sentencing law and the impact on juror’s psyche is interesting and new. It is based on a sound and comprehensive archival base that shows a deep understanding of the legal context. It answers its original research question comprehensively. Any suggestions for improvement would seem like a criticism, which I do not intend to make, as I believe this paper will make a very important contribution to the historiography of the English legal system in its current form. My suggestions perhaps would be more aptly placed if they were offered as possible suggestions for future research. For example, it would be interesting to get more information (if it is available) about the social class from which jurors were drawn. Since juries were supposed to reflect the composition of society, it would be interesting to see whether there were correlations between sentencing and the social demographic from which the jurors came. For example, would a conviction of a working-class criminal be more likely with a jury comprising people from predominantly a higher social class. I appreciate that this is a completely different research question, but as noted, this paper has comprehensively answered its own research question but has posed several others that may be worthy of investigation. Furthermore, this paper has examined the thousands of materials available at the Old Bailey, but would there be any scope to extend this research to a local level, to ascertain whether there were any local or regional variations to these findings? Nevertheless, this is a most impressive paper, and I hope that we will hear a lot more from these authors on this topic.
Burns, Arthur, and Joanna Innes. Rethinking the age of reform: Britain 1780-1850. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Croall, Hazel. Crime and society in Britain. Longman, 2011.
Christoph, James Bernard. Capital Punishment and British Politics: The British Movement to Abolish the Death Penalty, 1945-57. London: Allen & Unwin (1962).
Smith, Susan J. “Social relations, neighbourhood structure, and the fear of crime in Britain.” The Geography of Crime. London: Routledge (1989): 193-227.
The Nobel Factor: On the eve of the announcement of the Nobel prize in economics we review Offer and Soderberg’s new book and ask “What relationship should economic historians have to economics? ” What relationship should economic historians have to economics? For those who see economic history as essentially applied economics, the answer is perhaps […]
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.
Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-03-29
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.
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).
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.
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.
ICT the Nordic Way and European Savings Banks
by J. Carles Maixé-Altés (email@example.com) Universidad da Coruña
Abstract: This paper discusses the world industry of savings banks, a genuine world collaborative consortium, through which, from the 1950s, the International Savings Banks Institute (nowadays, the World Savings Banks Institute and European Savings Banks Group) was highly active in introducing ICT to retail banking. In this environment, Nordic savings banks, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, their Central Savings Banks and their industry associations occupied a separate place in European movements around developments of computerization and automation in retail financial services. The synergies in Nordic countries were superior to the rest of Europe and collaboration was intense. This paper highlights the leadership and the influence that the ICT development models of Nordic savings banks had on their European retail banking associates.
In today’s world Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups. Swedish success stories include familiar names such as file sharing site The Pirate Bay (established 2003), video chat and calls Skype (established 2003) and music streaming Spotify (established 2008). These developments have not gone unnoticed by the media (see article by Forbes) nor by historians. There is a growing and vibrant body of systematic studies on the economic, business and technological history of Nordic computing as reflected by the fourth edition of History of IT in the Nordics (HiNC4) confrence on August, 2014. All of these HiNC conferences have been followed by an edited book of accepted papers, published by Springer’s increasingly succcessful History of Computing series (a series under the stewardship of Martin Campbell-Kelly (Warwick)).
The paper by Joan Carles Maixé-Altés contributes to above mentioned literature and was distributed by Nep-His on 2014-11-1. In it he succesfully intertwined topics of great importance which, with the exception of Scott & Zachariadis (2012 and 2013), have been dealt in isolation, namely: not for profit financial institutions, technological innovation in the late 20th century and international competitive collaboration.
Maixé-Altés gained access to previously unexplored archival material from the International Savings Banks Institute (nowadays the World Savings Banks Institute and European Savings Banks Group). The focus of this first instalment of Maixé-Altés’ research deals with the efforts by Nordic savings banks (i.e. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) to gain scale in information and comunication technology (ICT) through co-operation. Savings banks were born in 1810 in Rothwell, Scotland as part of the 19th century “thrift movement”. This organizational form was replicated across Europe and British colonial dominions. Today savings banks have dissapeared from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and most European countries. This regardless of whether they had narrow (e.g. UK) or broad operations (e.g. Sweden, Spain). However, they remain important players in retail banking in Germany, Norway and Portugal.
Analytically, this paper proposes a double point of view. Firstly, Nordic countries are considered early adopters of computer technologies and, simultaneously, ingintegral to the processes of dissemination and appropriation of foreign business models. Secondly and whilst detailing the efforts by Nordic savings banks on computarisation, Maixé-Altés reminds us of the heteregoneity of organizatonal forms in retail finance during the 20th century. Also how the democratic principles behind these particular form of corporate governance led to an “open door” policy for the sharing of best organizational practice as well as to collaborate across borders with “sister institutions” to faclitate their economic and social objetives. But as was pretty much the case across retail banking in the 1960s and 1970s, savings banks in Nordic countries adopted computer technology with the twin hope of increasing efficiency of operation and counter attack the growth of commercial banks within the market for retail deposits.
With those analytical aims in mind the paper structures in four main sections while preceeded by an introduction and finalised by a concluding section. Maixé-Altés starts his story with the first steps of co-operation within national borders. These led, for instance, to the establishment of “central savings banks” or institutions that help gain critical mass in whole sale financial markets. This to substantiate his claim that collaboration is well embeded within savings banks. He then moves to explore co-operation within electronic data processing in general while providing details of an “emblematic case” of this collaboration: Nordisk Spardata.
Critique / Comentary
I very much liked the paper. However, I will advance a couple of ideas which future work on these archives could bear in mind.
First, Maixé-Altés’ emphasis on changes in hardware as an index for co-operation in data processing suffers from a common shortcoming in this literature (an issue shared by many econometric studies of technological change in financial institutions), namely its focus on back-office transaction processing and an over reliance in hardware and central processing units while “missing .. the choices being made between operating systems, programming languages, network technologies, databases, or the source of application software.” (Gandy 2013: 1228). More could then be said about these choices and the formation of standards and computer networks.
Secondly, I fundamentally disagree with Maixe-Altes’ claims around the use of “real time” computing. As I have argued in Bátiz-Lazo et al. (2014) as well by Martin (2012) (and evidence in Scott & Zachariadis (2012 and 2013)), in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s distant devices and computers could be connected but the nature of the banking business meant that form of “on line” communitation still required human intervention and therefore it was not “real time”. Moreover, Haigh’s (2006) seminal contribution documents how database and database management systems were still in its infancy in the 1970s. This effectively meant there was no random access to electronic data. Updates had to be run in “batches”. Full digitalization of customer accounts was “work in progress” and very much an effort that starts in the late 1950s in Sweden (as documented by Bátiz-Lazo et al., 2014) but doesnt materialise until at least the late 1980s.
There is some indirect evidence of this in, for instance, the fact that in the 1980s, human tellers at retail branches supplied indiviuals with balance of available funds “as of last night”, that is, once a central processing unit had been able to gather and sort through all the transactions earlier in the working day (Indeed, I have personal recollections of programming with COBOL in the mid 1980s and having to script sorting programmes). Another telling example is that automated teller machines (ATM) relied on combination of information stored on the activation token’s magnetic stripe and a list of overdrawn or otherwise delinquent and cancelled accounts stored on a cassette tape inside the machine itself (see image below). In short, Maixe-Altes’ claims around the use of “real time” computing’could be tone down a notch.
In summary, Maixe-Altes’ is an interesting part of the history of computing, banking and financial history. It points out there is much more to be said about understanding the technologies of the late 20th century as well as the economic history of competition, cross-border collaboration and not-for-profit financial institutions. On top of this Maixe-Altes ventures into histories of networking and real-time computing, and, more importantly, puts the historical discussions in the context of banking strategy. As such, an intersting new addition to this growing literature.
Bátiz-Lazo, B., Karlson, T. and Thodenius, B. (2014) “The Origins of the Cashless Society: Cash Dispensers, Direct to Account Payments and the Development of On-line, Real-time Networks, c. 1965-1985”, Essays in Economic and Business History 32(May): 100-137.
Gandy, A. (2013) “Book Review: Technological Innovation in Retail Finance (2012, Routledge)”, Economic History Review 66(4): 1227-12278.
Haigh, T. (2006) “’A Veritable Bucket of Facts’:Origins of the Data Base Management System”, ACM SIGMOD Record 35(2): 33-49.
Martin, I. (2012) “Too Far Ahead of Its Time: Barclays, Burroughs and Real-Time Banking”, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 34(1): 2-16.
Scott, S., Zachariadis, M. (2012) “Origins and Development of SWIFT, 1973–2009” Business History 54(3): 462-483.
Scott, S., Zachariadis, M. (2013) The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT): Cooperative Governance for Network Innovation, Standards, and Community. London: Routledge (Global Institutions Series).