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THE UK’S UNPAID WAR DEBTS TO THE UNITED STATES, 1917-1980

Date:
06 Apr 2018

Summary:

The story of the UK’s unpaid First World War debts to the United States remains largely untold despite the fact that the default played an important role in British and American policy-making for at least four more decades. New research by David James Gill of the University of Nottingham, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference, explores the causes and consequences of those unpaid debts.

In 1934, the British government defaulted on its war loans from the United States, leaving unpaid debts exceeding $4 billion. The UK decided to cease repayment 18 months after France had defaulted on its war debts, making one full and two token repayments prior to Congressional approval of the Johnson Act, which prohibited further partial contributions.

WAGES IN THE MIDDLE AGES: New estimates

Date:
06 Apr 2018

Summary:

Research to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference provides a new method for computing real wages for agricultural labourers in medieval England. An accurate understanding of these wages is critically important for our understanding of historic economic development and precisely how, when and why Western Europe grew rich while other parts of the world did not.

The study by Jordan Claridge of the London School of Economics adopts a new method for determining the wage profile of workers on medieval English demesnes (the home farms of lords as against those of their tenants). It uses uniquely detailed agricultural accounts from these demesnes, which survive in tens of thousands for the period from AD 1250 to AD 1450.

WHEN COMMITTING TO A FREE TRADE POLICY ISN’T ENOUGH: Evidence from colonial Africa

Date:
06 Apr 2018

Summary:

Formal commitment to free trade policies might be insufficient to reap the full benefits of free trade, according to research by Federico Tadei of the University of Barcelona, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference. His study of colonial Africa, which measures the degree of competitiveness of trade under the two colonial powers of Britain and France, shows that in spite of formal policies, other factors were at play in determining the actual implementation of free trade in Africa.

In the Western colonies, the longer history of trade and higher level of commercialisation reduced the operational costs of trading companies. At the same time, most of agricultural production was based on small African farmers, with little political power and ability to oppose de facto trade monopsonies.

HOW BRITAIN FAILED TO LEARN FROM GERMANY’S POST-WAR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

Date:
04 Apr 2018

Summary:

‘Almost idyllic’ – this was the view of one British commentator on the state of post-war industrial relations in West Germany. No one could say the same about British industrial relations. Here, industrial conflict grew inexorably from year to year, forcing governments to expend ever more effort on preserving industrial peace.

Deeply frustrated, successive governments alternated between appeasing trade unionists and threatening them with new legal sanctions in an effort to improve their behaviour, thereby avoiding tackling the fundamental issue of their institutional structure. If the British had only studied the German ‘model’ of industrial relations more closely, they would have understood better the reforms that needed to be made.

These are among the conclusions of research by Colin Chamberlain of the University of Cambridge, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference. His study notes that Britain’s poor state of industrial relations was a major, if not the major, factor holding back Britain’s economic growth, which was regularly less than half the rate in Germany, not to speak of the chronic inflation and balance of payments problems that only made matters worse.

HOW THE FIRST WORLD WAR BOOSTED BRITISH INVESTMENT, INDUSTRY AND WEALTH

Date:
04 Apr 2018

Summary:

The First World War brought about an upheaval in British investment, forcing savers to repatriate billions of pounds held abroad and attracting new investors among those living far from London. That is one of the findings of research by Norma Cohen, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference. Her study also points to declining inequality between Britain’s wealthiest classes and the middle class, and rising purchasing power among the lower middle classes.

The new research is based on samples from ledgers of investors in successive War Loans. These are lodged in archives at the Bank of England and have been closed for a century. The research covers roughly 6,000 samples from three separate sets of ledgers of investors between 1914 and 1932.

DEBTORS’ PRISONS WORKED: Evidence from 18th century London

Date:
03 Apr 2018

Summary:

While it is often assumed that the debtors’ prisons of history were illogical and ineffective, new research by Alex Wakelam of the University of Cambridge demonstrates that they were extremely economically effective for creditors though they could ruin the lives of debtors.

His study, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference, notes that the debtors’ prison is a frequent historical bogeyman, a Dickensian symptom of the illogical cruelty of the past that disappeared with enlightened capitalism. As imprisoning someone who could not afford to pay their debts, keeping them away from work and family, seems futile, it is assumed creditors were doing so to satisfy petty revenge.

THE IMPACT OF CONVICT LABOUR ON LOCAL WAGES AND EMPLOYMENT: Evidence from modern American history

Date:
03 Apr 2018

Summary:

There is a significant negative effect of convict labour on wage growth and manufacturing employment in the local area, according to research by Michael Poyker, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference. His study of convict labour in the United States for the period 1886-1940 shows that local firms often struggled to compete with prison-made goods in terms of labour costs.

He also shows the effects of convict labour on other economic outcomes. Convict labour gave police the incentives to arrest more people. Counties more exposed to convict labour had higher incarceration rates. And there is evidence that convict labour adversely affected intergenerational mobility in the long run.

ITALIAN AND GERMAN MONETARY UNIFICATION IN THE 19th CENTURY: Lessons for the euro

Date:
03 Apr 2018

Summary:

Is the euro area sustainable in its current membership form? New research by Roger Vicquéry of the London School of Economics provides lessons from past examples of monetary integration, looking at the monetary unification of Italy and Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century.

His study, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference, explores the adverse effects of monetary integration on regional inequality. He concludes that Italian monetary unification played a role in the emergence of the regional divide between Italy’s Northern and Southern regions by the turn of the twentieth century.

THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 1866: Long-term consequences just like 2008

Date:
03 Apr 2018

Summary:

The London banking crisis of 1866 was a global event on the scale of 2008, according to research by Chenzi Xu of Harvard University, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference.

The new study reveals that when the bank Overend and Gurney failed in May 1866, a panic erupted and almost 20% of banks headquartered in London failed. The cities around the world that depended on those banks suffered immediate losses in export activity. These losses took decades to recover, with the effects persisting until the twentieth century.

GLOBAL MARKET VOLATILITY: Experiences of the Anglo-French wine in the late Middle Ages

Date:
03 Apr 2018

Summary:

Prices in international markets in the late Middle Ages could be just as volatile as today and have just as far-reaching consequences, according to research by Robert Blackmore, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference. His study of the wine trade between Gascony and England shows how prices were responsive to economic shocks in ways that would be well understood today.

For English-controlled Gascony, as in Venezuela today, an over-dependence on foreign imports meant that surges or falls in the value of wine, their single exported commodity, resulted in sudden strong trade surpluses or deficits. Foreign currency, then in the form of precious metals, poured in and out of the economy with fluctuations in the wine trade.

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