FRAL - Appel Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

The Metabolism of Capital: A Historical Account and Statistical Analysis of Corporate Profitability in France and Germany – MECAPHIST

Submission summary

Recent research has revealed that the profit rate of long-lived US corporations is surprisingly the same and has remained stable since 1980, despite considerable idiosyncrasies in corporate characteristics. This project seeks to determine whether this stability is a fundamental trait of capitalist economies, rather than a temporary or region-specific occurrence. To investigate this question, we adopt a long-term historical approach and compare France and Germany, which was previously impossible due to inadequate data. This project has three main goals. The first objective is to create a new dataset that covers the period from 1907 to 2001, using available historical sources that provide a wealth of economic and financial information about French and German corporations, such as profits, total assets, debt levels, dividends, and stock prices. The second objective is to conduct a systematic investigation of the rate of profit to determine whether it exhibits the same stability that has been observed recently in US companies, and whether this stability persists across different economic and historical periods in France and Germany. Finally, we aim to examine how corporate dividend strategies affect their survival probabilities, and the extent to which these strategies contribute to the stability or instability of the rate of profit, while maintaining a historical and comparative perspective, which is a key aspect of this project.

The primary expected contribution of this project is to enhance our comprehension of how capitalist economies operate over the long term and across different countries. By adopting a historical perspective, we also expect to shed new light on the role of corporate governance principles, such as the maximization of shareholder value, and how they contribute to significant societal costs, including employment instability, inequalities, and environmental harm. We expect that the findings of this project will make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of these important issues. A second key contribution of this project is the creation of a new, accessible historical dataset that can be utilized by a wide range of stakeholders. This dataset will be open to interested researchers and policymakers, with the ultimate goal of supporting research and informing public policies. By facilitating access to this valuable resource, we hope to contribute to a deeper understanding of the economic and financial history of France and Germany and to enhance cultural heritage, while promoting a more collaborative and informed approach to research and policymaking.

Project coordination

, Angelo Secchi (Paris School of Economics)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Universitat Bamberg
PSE Paris School of Economics

Help of the ANR 510,519 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2024 - 36 Months

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