Echoes Dispatches From Economic History

Domesday Book

When it comes to collecting huge amounts of personal data, the National Security Agency had an ancient and illustrious model. One of the first iterations of the idea can be seen in the National Archives in London, in a special chest that looks like it was meant for a pirate’s treasure. Its parchment pages are worn, but still perfectly legible for those who can decipher its 900-year-old Latin script.

Its ominous name -- the Domesday Book -- is derived from the medieval spelling of doomsday and refers to the belief that its contents were final and without appeal, like the supposed judgments of the Lord at world’s end.

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup

10 months ago
Weekly Links

(Kirsten Salyer is social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

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Sally Smith Hughes

Will Genes Ruling Prevent the Next Genentech?

10 months ago
Recombinant DNA

By ruling last week to restrict the ability of companies to own human genetic sequences, the Supreme Court may have also called into question thousands of biotechnology, agricultural and drug patents.

The court’s decision that naturally occurring genes can’t be patented, though so-called synthetic ones can, may have another unintended consequence: It could undermine a precious relationship between academic scientists and the private sector by making businesses less eager to fund cutting-edge DNA research. Such ties, which have been a vital source of support for innovation in genetic engineering, rely on a model that was first developed by the iconic biotechnology company Genentech Inc. in 1976.

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David George Surdam

The NBA’s Rocky Road to Playoff Fever

10 months ago
Wilt Chamberlain

The San Antonio Spurs, one of two teams competing for the National Basketball Association championship this week, have nine international players. The league itself has 85, and the NBA finals are being broadcast to 215 counties in 47 languages.

It’s all a far cry from the NBA’s provincial precursor, the now-forgotten Basketball Association of America (BAA). Nonetheless, as the place where the business of basketball began, it’s worth remembering how the BAA gave the sport a foothold in the U.S. and, eventually, the world.

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World Economic Conference

In the spring of 1933, global trade was being undermined by nationalistic economic responses to the Great Depression, including currency devaluations, rising tariffs and declining prices.

After a year’s planning, 66 nations gathered in London in June for the World Economic Conference to try to foster greater international cooperation.

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Michael Perino

What FDR Hated About Glass-Steagall

10 months ago
Banking Act of 1933

President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the standard for the first 100 days in office with an unprecedented whirlwind of legislative activity that sought to make good on his pledge for “action and action now” to combat the Great Depression.

June 16 marks the 80th anniversary of that era, which came to a close when Roosevelt signed the Banking Act of 1933. That groundbreaking financial reform is more commonly known for its Democratic co-sponsors, Senator Carter Glass of Virginia and Representative Henry Steagall of Alabama. These days, it is mostly remembered for just one of its provisions, the separation of commercial and investment banking, designed to wall off customer deposits from the risk-taking inherent in securities underwriting.

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup

10 months ago
Weekly Links

(Kirsten Salyer is social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

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Jay Gould

Profane language can be a useful tool for ambitious executives, enabling them to express the power of their convictions and the seriousness of their cause.

It can also backfire, as the chief executive officer of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., Jim Hagedorn, found out last week. Hagedorn was reprimanded for his use of inappropriate language; three other board members of the lawn-care company resigned because of the controversy. While it is unclear what remarks led to the reprimand and resignations, Hagedorn had a habit of employing colorful language when speaking with reporters, shareholders and the public.

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Federal Telegraph Co.

The revelations that U.S. technology giants may be assisting the National Security Agency seem to contradict Silicon Valley’s image as a bastion of libertarian thinking.

But such cooperation would be nothing new: A century ago, the federal government signed a lucrative defense contract with Silicon Valley’s original technology company.

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Philip Scranton

How Hitler Decreed End of Economic Crisis

10 months ago
Hitler

As he rose to power,German Chancellor Adolf Hitler abolished leftist, labor-supporting political parties. In 1933, he defiantly chose May Day to outline his economic-recovery policies.

"What we want is to re-educate the German people by making it everyone’s duty to work," he said. "Every German -- rich or poor, son of the scholar or of the factory worker -- shall at least once in his life be inducted into manual labor so he may learn to command better, because he has learned to obey."

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Belmont Stakes

On Saturday, many Americans will tune in for the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, the final and most grueling leg of the Triple Crown. Few of us, however, know that the namesake of the race, August Belmont, was a dominant financial figure of the 19th century.

Belmont began his career as an agent for the Rothschild banking house. He was first assigned the Cuban portfolio. As he left Europe off for his posting in 1837, he stopped in the U.S., which was in the midst of a major financial panic and where the Rothschilds’ operations were in disarray. He quickly declared the U.S. his new base of operations.

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup

11 months ago
Weekly Links

(Kirsten Salyer is the social media editor of Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

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Gabriella M. Petrick

Off S&P 500, Heinz Could Recommit to Founder’s Vision

11 months ago
Heinz Pier

When U.S. stock trading begins tomorrow, H.J. Heinz Co. will no longer be listed on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Another iconic U.S. company, General Motors Co., will take its place.

Although Heinz has been a corporation since 1905, it was largely controlled by the founding family until 1987, when Tony O’Reilly became the first outsider to be named chairman. In February, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Jorge Paulo Lemann’s 3G Capital Inc. said they would buy the company for $23 billion. Back in private hands, the company should carry forward the founder’s vision of both profit and service to society.

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Flappers

“The Great Gatsby” is back, along with the glittering splendor, opulent parties, nightclubs and slinky fashions of the Roaring Twenties. Tiffany & Co. is celebrating with Jazz Age jewels; Brooks Brothers Inc. has rolled out a Gatsby line of menswear. Vogue featured the movie’s star, the U.K. actress Carey Mulligan, on its cover.

In Baz Luhrmann’s rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, Mulligan is Daisy, the slender and rich young woman with whom Jay Gatsby -- in this case, a suave Leonardo DiCaprio -- is obsessively in love. She is perfect for the part of the fashionable “new woman,” slim-hipped and small-breasted, who can pull off wispy, knee-length evening dresses and lean, no-waist chemises.

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Tiananmen Square

During the spring of 1989, Chinese activists gathered in the heart of Beijing to fight for democracy. The tragic conclusion of the events around Tiananmen Square, 24 years ago today, is well known.

What isn’t widely recognized, however, is that many of the protesters were reactionaries who opposed the Western-style economic reforms introduced a decade earlier.

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BE052226

In May 1933, Chicago hosted the World's Fair, providing a country mired in the Great Depression with some much-needed entertainment.

Planning for the fair had begun in 1928, but the stock-market crash the following year convinced many that the "Century of Progress" exhibition would be a fiasco. By 1933, New Deal reforms were taking effect, and conditions were starting to improve.

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Bridal Outfit

Weddings are a $165 billion industry in the U.S., according to the Association of Bridal Consultants. The introduction in 1934 of Bride’s magazine, the first publication devoted to this market, played a central role in its growth.

From the beginning, Bride’s linked weddings to consumption, promoting the lucrative formal white wedding ideal. Behind the scenes, the magazine worked with retailers to expand the market and introduce new “traditions.”

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup

11 months ago
Weekly Links

(Kirsten Salyer is social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

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Freedom of the Seas

Kim Dotcom, the accused online pirate who founded the cloud-storage service Megaupload.com, recently made a surprising statement to the Guardian newspaper: “I respect copyright. What I don’t respect is copyright extremism. And what I don’t respect is a business model that encourages piracy.”

Before dismissing his comments as disingenuous, consider that pirates have long been strong supporters of free markets, fighting monopolies and other restrictions on commerce.

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Train Wreckage

On May 17, a Metro-North Railroad commuter train hit a broken rail and sideswiped another train near Fairfield, Connecticut. The crash injured more than 70 people. Miraculously, no one was killed.

It could have been much worse. In 2008, the crash of another commuter train -- California’s Metrolink -- killed 25 and injured many more. Unlike the Metro-North accident, the California disaster probably was the result of human error, specifically an engineer who was distracted as he sent text messages on his phone.

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About Echoes

Echoes is Bloomberg View's economic history blog. It is edited by Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author, with Nouriel Roubini, of "Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance," and of "A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States."