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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Backyard temps

The temperature seems to be moving in the wrong direction this morning. When I got up, our thermometer reported 0.7F in the backyard; now it's down to 0.0F.

"The Evolution of Manufacturing"

From the email list comes the following. Compare the earliest piece--Henry Ford's 1909 article on "System"--with the NYT article on Dell the other day (see my post on "flexible mass production"):
[Forwarded from AIB-L, a list for the Academy of International Business. Note that the format of this sponsored archive, in which the company selects the articles with which it wishes to be associated, is itself an interesting development. The focus on narratives of technological progress is hardly surprising; others may wish to comment on the specific articles that have been reproduced. Also, from a practical perspective, H-Business members may wish to store soft copies of some of the articles for future use. - ed.]

For those interested in a historical perspective on manufacturing operations in the U.S., there is a collection of original New York Times articles that is being made freely available online for a limited time. The collection consists of 12 articles published between 1909 and 2000. The archive is sponsored by PeopleSoft, and it is not apparent how long it will be available. The articles can be accessed from a link in the Business section of or with the direct link shown below.

The Evolution of Manufacturing
David A. Kirsch
Co-editor, H-Business

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Capitalism and democracy

This morning's NYT article on the Yukos auction quotes Robert Mabro, chairman of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies:
"You've got to compare Russia to other oil producers like Iran or Saudi Arabia, not democracies like Denmark or Holland. After 80 years of communism, you don't turn into a liberal democracy overnight. That's a romantic notion that has no historic foundation."
That "romantic notion" likely derives from the theoretical economic determinism that sees capitalism as automatically giving rise to democracy. Certainly there are liberalizing pressures at work, visible in this case in the response of international investors to the Russian government's actions. But historically more accurate is sociologist Theda Skocpol's observation that capitalism has proven compatible with a wide variety of political systems: "capitalism in general has no politics," she notes, "only (extremely flexible) outer limits for the kinds of support for property ownership and controls on the labor force that it can tolerate." (Politics and Society 10 [1980]: 200.)

Monday, December 20, 2004

Flexible mass production

Fordism + scientific management + computers = flexible mass production, aka Dell: Gary Rivlin, "Who's Afraid of China? How Dell Became the World's Most Efficient Computer Maker," New York Times, 12/19/04, sec. 3, pp. 1, 4.

Govt. & business in a global age

The news last week that the Russian oil company Yukos had sought bankruptcy protection in American courts offered an interesting example of the phenomenon of "jurisdiction-shifting," one of several ways of exploiting fractures in a political structure to gain political advantage. In this case, Yukos is seeking protection in U.S. courts from the Russian state, in essence seeking to shift the struggle from one jurisdiction to another in hopes of gaining a more favorable hearing. Other techniques that emerged in battles between railroads and the American states in context of the U.S.'s federal-legislative structure in the 19th century: branch-shifting and level-shifting.

(For more, see Colleen A. Dunlavy, "Bursting Through State Limits: Lessons from American Railroad History," in Private Actors and Public Interest: The Role of the State in Regulated Economies, eds. Lars Magnusson and Jan Ottosson [Edward Elgar, 2001], which was inspired originally by legal historian Harry Scheiber's article "Federalism and the American Economic Order.")

The business of slavery

Catching up on the news . . . (I've been consumed with end-of-the-semester obligations, which included giving an exam on Saturday evening [sic]).

Thursday's New York Times had an article (NYT, 12/16/04, D1, 9) about small steps taken recently to commemorate the slave market in Natchez, which was second in sales only to the New Orleans market. Although slavery is a standard topic in American economic history, the business of slavery has been flat-out ignored by business historians. This is not so surprising, given the historical orientation of the field of business history around big business and mass production, but it is shocking to realize that we know so little about a business that was so signficant and pervasive in the antebellum period, in North and South. Walter Johnson is not a business historian himself, but his book, Soul By Soul: Life in the New Orleans Slave Market (if I remember the subtitle right), does an admirable job of opening up the subject--"must" reading for business historians.