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The most common business enterprise form in Germany today is the Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH). The GmbH offers entrepreneurs the flexibility of a partnership combined with limited liability, capital lock-in, and other traits associated with corporations. Authorized in 1892, the GmbH appeared during a period of ferment in German enterprise law and was an early example of the private limited-liability company prevalent in many economies today. The new form reflected challenges created by the corporation reform of 1884, problems in German colonial companies, and the view that British company law had put German firms at a competitive disadvantage. Significant sections of the financial and legal community harbored strong reservations about this legal innovation.
Our 2017 article in this Journal stresses the pitfalls of using choice-based samples in economic history. A prominent example is the literature addressing the so-called antebellum puzzle. Heights researchers claim that Americans grew shorter in the first half of the nineteenth century, a period of robust economic growth. We argue that this result relies on choice-based samples. Without knowing the process that led to inclusion in the sample, researchers cannot properly estimate conditional mean heights. We proposed a diagnostic that can detect, but not correct for, selection bias. Komlos and A’Hearn’s interpretation of our analysis confuses diagnosis with cure. We dispute their view that selection bias has been appreciated in the heights literature.
British general incorporation law granted companies an extraordinary degree of contractual freedom. It provided companies with a default set of articles of association, but incorporators were free to reject any or all of the provisions and write their own rules instead. We study the uses to which incorporators put this flexibility by examining the articles of association filed by three random samples of companies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as by a sample of companies whose securities traded publicly. Contrary to the literature, we find that most companies, regardless of size or whether their securities traded on the market, wrote articles that shifted power from shareholders to directors. We find, moreover, that there was little pressure from the government, shareholders, or the market to adopt more shareholder-friendly governance rules.
Understanding long-term changes in human well-being is central to understanding the consequences of economic development. An extensive anthropometric literature purports to show that heights in the United States declined between the 1830s and the 1890s, which is when the U.S. economy modernized. Most anthropometric research contends that declining heights reflect the negative health consequences of industrialization and urbanization. This interpretation, however, relies on sources subject to selection bias. Our meta-analysis shows that the declining height during industrialization emerges primarily in selected samples. We also develop a parsimonious diagnostic test that reveals, but does not correct for, selection bias in height samples. When applied to four representative height samples, the diagnostic provides compelling evidence of selection.
Germany introduced compulsory industrial accident insurance in 1884. The accident-insurance system compensated injured workers and survivors for losses, but initially failed to limit the growth of accident rates. We trace this failure to the 1884 law's faulty incentives and to an initial unwillingness to use the tools built into the law. The government regulator increasingly stressed rules that forced firms to adopt specific safety-enhancing innovations and practices. Econometric analysis shows that more consistent use of the rules and the limited incentives available under the law would have reduced industrial accidents earlier and more extensively.
Despite the recently demonstrated importance of consumer credit for the economic health of nations and families, little is known about the history of consumer credit markets and their regulation. An important chapter in the history of consumer credit regulation came between 1909 and 1941, when policy experts at the Russell Sage Foundation (RSF) engaged in a national campaign to transform small loan markets and policy in the United States. Concentrating its efforts on state-by-state passage of the Uniform Small Loan Law, the foundation's political success hinged upon an alliance with the American Association of Personal Finance Companies. While most scholarship portrays experts as being dominated or co-opted by industry, our case provides a countervailing example. Far from controlling RSF experts, lenders became dependent on the foundation for legitimating their political lobbying and their business activities. We explain how the foundation built its expert reputation through a process of reputational entrepreneurship, and we trace how RSF experts deployed this reputation as a power resource in their negotiations with small loan lenders.
By the mid-nineteenth century, Prussian miners could rely on their own mutual social insurance system in form of the so-called Knappschaft. This institution's historical as well as economic importance stems from its continuous existence as an instrument of occupational provision against the risks of sickness and invalidity for nearly 750 years, and from its status as an influential precursor of the Bismarckian social insurance system. As part of the Prussian mining reform, the Knappschaft law of 1854 combined mandatory contributions for all miners with the insurance principle and legal claims, thereby creating one of the few occupational social insurance schemes that co-existed with Bismarck's social insurance later on. The 1854 law standardized for Prussia what miners had already practised before at different locations and with their own sense of mutuality.3 The reader will associate Knappschaften with other prominent institutions of the nineteenth century, especially with British Friendly Societies. However, Knappschaften were different in that joining a Knappschaft and thus paying contributions was compulsory for workers in covered activities. Membership in Friendly Societies was strictly voluntary in contrast, implying a different, perhaps stronger, sense of solidarity.
This chapter examines a series of arguments concerning the ways in which the size of the Knappschaften affected their ability to satisfy their members’ needs. As we shall see, the societies' primary functions were to provide different benefits for people experiencing short term illnesses (sickness insurance), long-term or disabling illness (invalidity pensions) or old-age (old-age pensions).
Germany's cooperative movement grew and thrived from its inception in the late 1840s to World War I and beyond. Cooperatives were divided along several lines, and perhaps the most serious point of contention concerned the role of the state in the movement. Cooperative leaders in the two decades before World War I especially debated whether they should accept direct grants and subsidized credit from the Reich and the Länder. The several parts of the cooperative movement construed the question differently; much internecine conflict turned on the answers. The cooperative movement's historiography has largely framed the question as did Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and other cooperative leaders opposed to state assistance. To him, the issue was whether cooperatives would be based on “self-help” or “state help.”
Studies of Spanish cooperatives date their spread from the Law on Agrarian Syndicates of 1906. But the first legislative appearance of cooperatives is an 1869 measure that permitted general incorporation for lending companies. The 1931 general law on cooperatives, the first act permitting the formation of cooperatives in any activity, reflects the gradual disappearance of the cooperative's «business» characteristics. In this paper, we trace the Spanish cooperative's legal roots in business law and its connections to broader questions of the freedom of association, the formation of joint-stock enterprises and the liability of investors in business and cooperative entities. Our account underscores the similarities of the organizational problems approach by cooperatives and business firms, while at the same time respecting the distinctive purposes cooperatives served.
The Knappschaft was a mutual association through which German miners insured themselves against accident, illness, and old age. The Knappschaft underlies Bismarck's sickness and accident insurance legislation, and thus Germany's system today. This article focuses on moral hazard, which plagued the Knappschaften in the later nineteenth century. Sick pay made it attractive for miners to feign illness that made them unable to work. We outline the moral hazard problem the Knappschaften faced as well as the mechanisms they devised to control it, and then use econometric models to demonstrate that those mechanisms were at best imperfect.
Une longue tradition admet la supériorité de la société anonyme comme forme d’organisation. Une autre, plus récente, estime que les systèmes juridiques anglo-américains donnent aux investisseurs une meilleure protection que les systèmes de droit civil. Cet article remet en cause ces deux idées. Il s’intéresse à l’introduction des sociétés à responsabilité limitée en France, en Allemagne, au Royaume-Uni et aux États-Unis à la fin du XIXe siècle et au XXe siècle. Ces sociétés combinent les avantages de la personnalité juridique et de la société par actions avec des règles de gouvernance interne flexibles. Sont ainsi évités la menace de dissolution inhérente aux sociétés en partenariat et le danger propre aux sociétés anonymes d’une oppression des minoritaires. La SARL fut introduite avec succès d’abord en Allemagne, régie par un code juridique, et en dernier lieu seulement aux États-Unis, pays où domine la common law. La SARL fut partout privilégiée par les sociétés petites et moyennes, même dans les pays où les sociétés anonymes étaient faciles et peu coûteuses à créer et où les règles juridiques les régissant étaient assez légères.
An economic enterprise faces two, related, problems: effectively managing its activities and communicating to outsiders that it is, in fact, well run. The credit cooperative movement that grew up in Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century had to wrestle with both. These cooperatives thrived, in part, because they adopted strategies first to obtain and then to harness the information they needed about the communities in which they were located, giving them an advantage over other lenders. Particularly effective was the tactic of using local people as managers, which helped to cement their ties with the community. Yet because few, if any, locals had banking experience and most were not even familiar with basic accounting methods, the managers created internal management problems, intensifying outside suspicion of the cooperatives as banking enterprises. The methods the cooperatives developed to overcome these problems drew on a combination of local initiative and regional assistance that was typical of the movement as a whole. The movement's ability to train its own talent suggests that it had a broader impact than has been captured by statistics on its membership or financial assets.
Credit cooperatives were widespread in nineteenth-century Germany, which is surprising given that country's highly developed banking system. One general explanation for the success of credit cooperatives emphasizes their ability to capitalize on superior information and to impose inexpensive but effective sanctions on defaulters. These features supposedly permit cooperatives to lend to individuals whom banks would spurn, and to tailor loan terms more closely to borrowers' needs. I use the business records of several German credit cooperatives to test this claim. The results show that real efficiency advantages are at least part of the explanation for their success.
Tenant-right, or a tenant's right to sell his holding, was one of the most puzzling institutions of nineteenth-century Irish land tenure. Historians have argued that the institution reflects the tenants' assertions of a proprietary interest in the land, an assertion often backed up by threats and violence. In this article we argue that landlords respected tenant-right because they could profit from the instistution. Our model reflects comments by contemporaries and explains that tenant-right functioned as a bond aganist nonpayment of rent and was part of a rational landlord's income-maximizing strategy.
The past 20 years have witnessed a thorough reassessment of the basic features of nineteenth-century Ireland’s economic experience. Much of this reassessment was focused on the Great Famine of the 1840s, but the post-Famine period (which means, for the purposes of this essay, from the Great Famine to the Great War) has undergone its own quieter but no less complete reassessment. The two books under review here convey the flavor of this new research.