Friday, January 30, 2009

More historical perspective on financial crises

Richard Sylla, Robert Wright and David Cowen examine Alexander Hamilton's response to the financial crisis of 1792.

Business History at Oxford

Chris McKenna talks about business history at Oxford's Said School of Business.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Narrative History and the Social Sciences

I just listened to an interview with John Demos at the Making History Podcast. Demos is author of the award winning books Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England(1982) and The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1994). He talks about his movement from doing social science history to doing narrative history. I was thinking I would rather not draw a line between the two. It doesn't matter whether you consider yourself a social scientist or an historian, sometimes the best way to answer a question is to tell a story.

Some places narrative never seems to go out of style. Story appears to be the primary method of learning at top business schools. And, by the way, MIT is putting more free stuff on the web including case studies from the Sloan school.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Historical Perspective on Economic Crises

Video of a forum at The Council on Foreign Relations with Michael Bordo, Jerry Muller, Robert Shiller, and Richard Sylla

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Historical Perspective on Financial Crises

For many years it was regarded as appropriate to lay the blame for the Panic of 1837 on Andrew Jackson. In 1832 Jackson vetoed the recharter of the second Bank of the United States and began to place the government’s deposits in other banks. With the conservative influence of the Bank of the United States gone, his critics claimed, other banks over issued their notes, fueling a speculative boom. Peter Temin showed that this explanation of the Panic of 1837 paid insufficient attention to the international sector. If banks were over issuing their notes, he argued, then the ratio of notes to reserves should have been decreasing, but it was increasing. The number of bank notes in circulation was increasing, but bank reserves were increasing even more rapidly. Reserves were increasing not because of Jackson’s policies but because of international forces. Because the country was on a bimetallic standard, the supply of money was ultimately dependent on the amount of specie in the country. Temin argued that both the inflation of the early 1830s and the crisis were caused by specie flows that were driven by external events. While acknowledging the negative influence of external forces, Peter Rousseau has recently shifted attention back to internal forces. International forces set the conditions for the Panic, but the economy was pushed over the edge by distribution of the federal surplus and the Jackson administration’s requirement that land purchases be made in specie, both of which drained specie from New York City banks.
The Panic of 1837 has received far more attention than the Panic of 1839, but for many the real trouble did not begin until 1839. The Panic of 1839 initially appeared to be a sequel to the Panic of 1837. However, unlike the Panic of 1837, there was no quick recovery. John Wallis has attributed the difference between the two panics to the run up in state debt that occurred between them. The boom of the 1830s involved mutually reinforcing expansions of land sales and internal improvements. The prospect of low cost transportation fueled demand for western lands; land sales in turn raised the revenue of western states and promised even further increases in revenue in the future. People were willing to buy land because states were going to build railroads and canals, the states were willing to borrow for internal improvements because people were going to come and buy the land. The credit crunch brought and end to both. Land sales and prices fell, the market for state bonds collapsed.
Possibly the most useful lesson to be gained from this history is humility. More than a century and a half after the panics of 1837 and 1839 we are still trying figure out what happened. It might be useful to keep this in mind when reading (or writing) diagnoses of the current financial problems.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What I am listening to

Russell Roberts and Robin Hanson talking about truth and disagreement in economics at econtalk

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2009/01/roberts_and_han.html