Greece and the Sociology of Money

The sociology of money provides an illuminating discussion about the connections between uncertainty, trust, and stability; a trio that is particularly relevant as we think about Greece and its current battle with the Euro zone. For Georg Simmel, considered one of the founders of sociology, money has important implications for society. To become a base for economic exchange, money requires a “civilized social order” with stable social relationships that provide protection of value.

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Economics of Downton Abbey: Financing a Wireless

Season Five, Episode Two

This week Downton was abuzz with talk of the wireless. They set up a wireless at Downton and we hear the first broadcast speech by King George V at the opening of the 1924 British Empire Exhibit. The exhibit was a tribute to modern scientific achievements. Having the King deliver a speech over the wireless while at the event was, as one Times reporter wrote, “another marvel of modern science which helps to knit the Empire together.”

The wireless had potential for people of all backgrounds to come together to listen. As the Times noted after the event, “More wonderful still was to think that even while we who were present were hearing [the speech]…it was being heard…all over London, the United Kingdom, and the Empire.”

Header from the first issue of the Radio Times, September 28, 1923.
Header from the first issue of The Radio Times, September 28, 1923.

At the time of the King’s broadcast, the use of the wireless for entertainment was just taking off. The BBC formed in 1922 and, as Rose notes, broadcasts were improving in clarity and quality. Bowden and Offer (1994) note that the need for a radio quickly became seen as “imperative” (p. 735). With even this small snippet of Downton Abbey showing the discussion surrounding the King’s speech on April 24, it is easy to see why. If the King is supporting the wireless, so must the Crawleys…and all of Britain.

Diffusion of the Home Wireless

The home radio became the first entertainment consumer durable that penetrated the majority of households, regardless of class (Todd 2005). Bowden and Offer argue that this is due in part to the idea of the home wireless as a “status display.” Unlike other durables, like washing machines or vacuums, the radio (and later, the television) is on display for visitors and has important implications for the social standing of the household. Furthermore, as Bowden and Offer note, “as the medium became a staple of discourse…access to a radio…was required to avoid social exclusion” (p.740).

Diffusion studies, which track the spread of an innovation through a population, are used to gain insight to societies through examination of responses to and implementation of the innovation.  One of the most interesting things about the wireless is that home radios began to fill houses all over England, regardless of economic background. Compared to the diffusion of other home appliances, the diffusion of the wireless was rapid – within 10 years, fifty percent of British households owned a radio. The vacuum cleaner, on the other hand, took 40 years to get to that level of penetration in England and Wales (Bowden and Offer, 1994). Continue reading Economics of Downton Abbey: Financing a Wireless

Economics of Downton Abbey: It’s Electric

Episode Five of Downton Abbey seems to be setting the stage for several larger story lines. Mr. Napier and Mr. Blake have arrived not, as Mary initially thought, to help the landowners, but to analyze whether the sales of great estates will affect food production. And of course, there are some growing worries with Edith (pun intended).

I’m working on a more detailed post for next week to go along with the themes developing in episodes five and six. In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at technology and efficiency.

Economic Growth Through Technology

In Britain, advancements in technology developed at a rapid pace in the inter-war period, improving industry efficiency and easing household burdens. Aldcroft (1967) notes that World War I was a “sharp stimulus” for technology and modernization (p. 323). Following the war, progress continued. Through technology, industries saw increased productivity with minimal additional capital.  Technological advancements boomed primarily due to electricity. The broad transition from steam to electric power resulted in an increase in the use of electric power in industry from 25 to 66 percent across the sector between 1912 and 1930 (Aldcroft, p. 318).

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