Meredith M. Paker

Economic History

Notes & updates

Pairing voices with the data: deep dives into responses from the 1911 NCF survey

This summer I explored the National Civic Federation 1911 survey of labor and business leaders in my RA work for a Politics professor at Oxford. Though I ended up programming for most of my work, I did have reason to look into some of the smaller firms more deeply. Throughout the process, I collected links to blogs, articles, and websites about some of these firms that I found particularly interesting. Below, I offer links to these external sources, pairing them with the response to the questions on the Sherman Anti-Trust Act given in my survey data. If you love minutiae, dive in!

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The interesting life of Alfred Mummery

An economist and a mountain climber? The perfect nineteenth century combination! Alfred Mummery built his mountain climbing reputation on the Matterhorn and led the first team to attempt to climb the 8126m Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. This fatal attempt was in 1895, and Nanga Parbat would take 30 more lives before it was successfully summited in 1953.

Mummery also co-authored The Physiology of Industry in 1889 with economist J.A. Hobson, the famous proponent of under-consumptionist theories. This was a notable contribution to heterodox economics at the time, and J.M. Keynes discussed the work at length in the General Theory chapter 23 (which apparently nobody reads these days). Keynes offers an extended quote from Hobson about how they came to work together...

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J.M. Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money

The General Theory is a classic, and rightly so. That said, the book is dense, and Keynes's writing is occasionally unclear. After a close reading this summer, I wanted to share the notes I took on the work to offer a sort of "guide" to the text. The notes are straightforward summaries and extended quotes with little commentary. For good commentary on the work, I recommend Mark Blaug's guide in Economic Theory in Retrospect, as well as Paul Krugman's introduction to the General Theory here.

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A brief history of building societies

I really enjoyed learning about building societies this spring, which are a classic British banking institution I was unfamiliar with before I crossed the pond. Here are some (edited) notes I took during my studies offering a short history of building societies (and elaborating why I think they are so cool!)

Building societies formed as a type of friendly society in the late eighteenth century. Their purpose was to provide members with homes by pooling member savings deposits to provide mortgage loans for tenured members, many of whom were working class. Friendly societies were recognized legally in 1793 and were considered separately under the law from joint-stock corporations, who were limited at the time by the 1720 Bubble Act. Building societies were treated as a type of friendly society under the law until they were officially recognized in the 1836 Regulation of Building Societies Act...

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Socially-determined choice sets

Some thoughts on how we evaluate the choices of individuals that I prepared for a class. I'm eager to hear any thoughts or reactions!

The standard economic model takes an individual’s preferences as given and stable -- the foundations of a complete and transitive preference ordering that permits agents to maximize a utility function that corresponds to their well-being. By using a more nuanced philosophical model of preferences from Hausman (2012), we can disentangle the effects of imperfect information, cognitive biases, and non-self-interest on final choices. I argue below that these factors fail to explain all irrational or counterintuitive economic choices, and that instead, societal constraints determine choice sets in addition to influencing the choice among alternatives of a given set. The implication of modelling socially-constrained choice sets is that it becomes impossible to immediately distinguish counterintuitive choices due to irrationality from those due to agents facing different initial choice sets.

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