Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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‘Back to the Failure: an Analytic Narrative of the De Lorean Debacle’
Graham Brownlow

Last modified: 2014-05-19


There has been a recent identification of a need for a New Business History. This discussion connects with the analytic narrative approach. By following this approach, the study of business history provides important implications for the conduct and institutional design of contemporary industrial policy. The approach also allows us to solve historical puzzles. The failure of the De Lorean Motor Company Limited is one specific puzzle. Journalistic accounts that focus on John De Lorean’s alleged personality defects as an explanation for this failure miss the crucial institutional component. Moreover, distortions in the rewards associated with industrial policy, and the fact that the objectives of the institutions implementing the policy were not solely efficiency-based, led to increased opportunities for rent-seeking. Political economy solves the specific puzzle; by considering institutional dimensions, we can also solve the more general puzzle of why activist industrial policy was relatively unsuccessful in Northern Ireland.