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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Diminishing varieties of capitalism?

Yesterday's Handelsblatt reported that Allianz, Münchener Rück, and Commerzbank just sold their shares of MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg). Their combined holdings amounted to 25% of MAN's capital (valued at more than a billion euros), and they had held the shares for more than thirty years. "The sale [translating roughly] constitututes one more step down the road to dismantling the close relationship between financial and industrial firms in Germany," the article observes. MAN now has only one major shareholder (the insurance firm Axa), which has 5% of its shares; the other 95% are widely dispersed (= "Streubesitz"), which is more in line with U.S. conditions.
"Großaktionäre steigen aus -- MAN jetzt allein unterwegs," Handelsblatt, 13 January 2005, 1.
By the way, newspaper readers, if you haven't checked out, do so! It offers (for a modest price) access to some 200 newspapers from around the world, and the resolution is fabulous.

Worldly history

Yesterday's New York Times carried an obituary for Robert Heilbroner, author of The Worldly Philsophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers. Currently in its seventh edition, the book has been in print continuously since 1953. What an amazing achievement (not to mention that he wrote it as a twerp, academically speaking).

Teaching "worldly history"--that is, the history of capitalism or any of the subfields that compose it: business, economic, political economic, technological, etc. history--is always a challenge because most students who are attracted to history gravitate to social, political, or cultural history and are put off by anything smacking of the "economic." This semester I will be teaching a comparative history seminar on the U.S. and German political economies since the 1870s. I'm using Heilbroner's Worldly Philosophers as one of the course's foundation stones in hopes that it will get the students past their fears of the economic and give them a basic knowledge of the historical range of perspectives on economic change before we delve into the details of the U.S. and German political economies.

The seminar should be a lot of fun since the U.S. and Germany, industrial upstarts that they were, looked more similar than different in the 1870s but ended up in our own time as exemplars of opposing models of capitalism (liberal vs. coordinated market economies--see, for example, Peter A. Hall and David Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism).

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Corporate governance has arrived?

As a New York Times editorial observes today: "corporate governance, a relatively obscure issue a few years ago, has now grown big enough to generate its own scandals."
"New Twist on Corporate Goverance," NYT, 1/11/05, A26, emphasis added--the rest of piece is about the "forced resignation" of the director of Yale's International Institute for Corporate Governance.
The creation of Yale's institute in 1999 was one sign that corporate governance had become a recognized "issue" in the academy, its importance affirmed by the corporate scandals of recent years. But business historians have been much slower on the uptake. Aside from a few works by legal historians and the 1932 classic, Private Property and the Modern Corporation by Berle and Means, there are hardly any studies of the history of corporate governance, especially in the years before the 1930s.

Why so little attention by historians? One reason is that business historians tend to conflate the history of big business, on which a great deal of research has been done, with the history of corporations. As a result, most of my colleagues don't realize how little we actually know about the history of corporations per se.

Monday, January 10, 2005

More on Yukos and jurisdiction shifting

Is it me or the season? Doesn't seem like there's much of interest these days in the business pages -- or maybe it's just that I'm too swamped with the approaching semester and a variety of other obligations to keep up.

In any case, here's the only item of note recently: More on Yukos' efforts to shift its battle with the Russian government to U.S. terrain in Simon Romero and Erin E. Arvedlund, "U.S. Court to Hear Arguments for Dismissal of Yukos Case," NYT, 1/7/05, C5.