Archive for August, 2011
| Peter Klein |
A somewhat disheartening report on US workplace safety:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has its fascinatingly morbid fatality census report out! Are you a manager of some sort? Watch your back, because the study says if you die on the job, there’s a 10% chance it’s murder.
That’s correct. Out of the 4,547 workplace deaths in 2010, 10% of the kaput management was a direct result of homicide. Gulp.
| Peter Lewin |
Many of the same theoretical tools and concepts that we use for the business firm are applicable to that other ubiquitous social institution, the family; though of course there are important differences (even though I am sure you know people who are “all business”). Steve Horwitz and I have written a paper that illustrates some of this.
The affects of the march of technology on the firm — for example, rendering obsolete certain kinds of physical and human capital, reducing production cost, increasing specialization and product variation, etc. — receive considerable attention. I have not seen much on these affects insude the family. Our article does analyze the long-term effects of the rising opportunity cost of labor in general and of women’s work in particular, which is the theme of a massive research literature. I have in mind rather the “mundane” effects on the family, and on the marriage, of unanticipated technological changes that, for example, affect the spouses differently. In effect, this is an unanticipated change in the marriage bargain that will plausibly bring with it additional un-bargained for stresses and tensions — an unanticipated rise in the cost of marriage (or of staying in the marriage).
I love my wife and I am not contemplating leaving, but I do feel the stress of having to perform all of the 21st century tasks for which I have a substantial comparative advantage, and which have become necessary and routine — like ordering things online, backing up data, downloading audio books (a necessity for exercising!) and so on. I wonder how common this is.
I might be in real trouble for this one :-).
| Peter Klein |
Thanks to Peter L. for his report on the “Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurship Studies” PDW at the Academy of Management conference. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the slides: my opening remarks on the origins and development of the Austrian school, Henrik’s discussion of Israel Kirzner and his influence on entrepreneurship scholarship, and Todd’s presentation on Ludwig Lachmann’s unique approach. Enjoy!
| Peter Lewin|
I have an all-in-one color printer, fax, scanner (Canon MX7600). It is pricey, but the real kicker is the cost of the toner. It uses 6 different cartridges. Some of them run out pretty frequently. Each costs around $20, basically for a small container of ink. When any one of the cartridges runs out the machine shuts down — though it could easily print black and white when one of the colors runs out. Also, and this is the interesting thing, when any toner cartridge runs out all of the other functions of the machine shut down — no outgoing faxes, no scanning — even though these have nothing to do with printing. This way I am inclined to replace the cartridge sooner rather than later. Annoying. I suspect this is deliberate and maybe not enough of a nuisance to be a selling point in the competition for consumers.
Very different: I am running out of my blood-pressure medicine. I have my own blood pressure machine, and as horrendously complicated as it is to use it, I have somehow managed to master the art. My blood pressure is normal while on the medication. I attempt to refill the prescription (which costs $12 without insurance — not even worth claiming). No refills left. The pharmacy calls the doctor. The doctor’s office calls me to make an appointment. For what? To get my blood pressure taken. I have my own machine. That is not good enough. We have to do it! My appointment is at 10:45. I see the nurse at 11:15, after filling out paperwork that I have filled out multiple times before. I see the doctor at 11:45. I leave the doctor’s office at 12:05 after he has sent in my refill prescription. I pay him $30 copay. The insurance pays him about $150 for an office visit. Do the math to see how much this $12 prescription cost me (include the opportunity cost of my time and the cost of the office visit — which is reflected in my insurance premium). This ability to tie-in the purchase of a prescribed medicine with the purchase of an office visit is a massive social cost that we all face. It is the result of the non-market delivery of health-care.
| Peter Klein |
Jobs and Apple have done the best job of answering with their products the question posed by wiki inventory Ward Cunningham: What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? As I’ve stressed before, most technologists / nerds / geeks don’t think this way — they think that success comes from cramming in features and functions, bells and whistles.
I’ve made this point many times in my speaking and teaching on technology and innovation, particularly with regard to so-called “QWERTY effects” and the claim that markets with network externalities tend to select suboptimal technologies. A serious problem in this literature is that “optimal” is almost always defined from the engineer’s point of view, not the consumer’s (e.g., Betamax was “really” better than VHS because the picture quality was higher and the tapes more compact, even though the recording time was shorter and the recorders much more expensive). Aside from what the market chooses, by what standard do we deem one technology more “efficient” — in an economic sense — than another?
As one disgruntled RIM employee complained recently to upper management: “The whole campaign around the [Blackberry] Playbook seems to be ‘IT DOES FLASH! LOOK!’ . . . but honestly, my mother doesn’t know or care about that. She wants to know ‘can I play Angry Birds?’”
| Nicolai Foss |
“Selective intervention” and the more narrow notion of the “impossibility of selective intervention” are among the more elusive notions in the theory of the firm. We have blogged on them a number of times (the most explicit treatment is here). Coined by Oliver Williamson, selective intervention simply means intervention to produce net gains. Thus defined, selective intervention is, of course, not “impossible.” The” impossibility” refers to the conjecture that firms cannot just be grown continuously by selective intervention; at some point various commitment and enforcement problems associated with managerial intervention kicks in, resulting in zero net gains. However, demonstrating this is a “puzzle.”
A new paper, “Solving the Selective Intervention ‘Puzzle’,” by noted French economist, Jacques Cremer, usefully places the problem in context, provides a nice overview of the extant literature, and argues that the problem has essentially been solved:
I have shown that the common thread to all the solutions is the fact that the principal stays in the game” after the contract is signed, and cannot commit himself to a policy which would make the world similar to the world in which there would be no vertical integration. On this basis, solutions that stress incompleteness of contracts, the change in the allocation of authority, the change in the amount of information available to the principal, all provide solutions that are theoretically consistent, and, furthermore, often not incompatible with each other. Determining which solution provides a better guide to applied analysis requires an examination of other features of the model.
| Peter Klein |
Adrián Ravier has put together a nice collection of Spanish-language interviews with economists of the Austrian school (volume 1, volume 2). The leading modern figures are all included: Mises, Hayek, Machlup, Lachmann, Rothbard, Kirzner, fellow travelers such as Buchanan and Shackle, and contemporary Austrians such as Garrison, Block, Hoppe, Higgs, Ebeling, Salerno, Boettke, and more.
Guest blogger Peter Lewin’s interview is coming out in a third volume, to be published later this year, and Adrián has given me permission to post the English version here. You’ll find Peter’s intellectual odyssey very interesting!
(I am also featured in the collection, via translation of an old interview from 1995. Those were the days!)
| Peter Klein |
[E]very now and again one encounters an article in the American business press about jugaad, the uniquely Indian capacity to join broken things, and make them work, using country fixes. In on-going debates about innovation in India, it seems inevitable that one returns to the ‘ingenious fixes’ of those days, to ask how that talent and human inventiveness can be better harnessed towards the future.
The classic theory of innovation is provided in economic terms by Joseph Schumpeter, who listed several different kinds of changes that could be brought about through entrepreneurial action. These included the discovery and creation of new markets, the development of new methods of production and transportation, as well as new forms of industrial organization, and — this is critical — new kinds of consumer goods and the new experiences of value that they afford. It is striking to me that even though the country-mechanics and other jugaad specialists of India are capable of achieving none of these aims, they are still held up as somehow occupying a place or showing a kind of direction for innovation, that is not otherwise visible to us. It is as if we know, somehow, that all the abstract jargon of business thinking and economic reasoning has its place, but that it cannot replace that hands-on messing about with tools and things that artisans, craftspeople, and repairmen share. Jugaad seems to serve as a figure for design-thinking and problem-solving in the real world, capabilities which are scarce to the point of being unknown and unheard in many corners of Indian industry and public life.
Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja, writing last year in HBR, call jugaad “the art of creative improvisation,” the Indian version of the long-standing tradition of user-driven innovation associated with Cyrus McCormick, the Danish windmill industry, and open-source software.
| Nicolai Foss |
The late über-influential management thinker C K Prahalad would have been 70 this August. booz&co’s strategy+business magazine features an interesting interview with CK, “The Life’s Work of a Thought Leader.” It may surprise some that Prahalad was trained as a physicist, and in the beginning of his career worked as an industrial engineer. And for someone, like myself, who has criticized the absence of microfoundations for notions such as “core competence” (e.g., here), it certainly came as a surprise to find Prahalad stating that
If I had to characterize my deepest belief, I would say it’s the centrality of the individual…. Institutions are not central. Institutions are different ways of combining skills and capabilities of the moment. That, of course, is the opposite of the traditional way of thinking, starting from Max Weber and Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century. They posited that institutions were central to society, not individuals. I believe the contrary is true.
Another notable feature in the interview is Prahalad’s view of scientific progress in strategic management which does not come from the kind of cross-sectional studies that take up 93 % of the pages of the Strategic Management Journal, but, he says, from in-depth small-N research:
If you look historically at the strategy literature, starting with Alfred D. Chandler Jr.’s Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise [MIT Press, 1962], the most powerful ideas did not come out of multiple examples. They came out of single-industry studies and single case studies. Big impactful ideas are conceptual breakthroughs, not descriptions of common patterns. You can’t define the “next practice” with lots of examples. Because, by definition, it is not yet happening.
| Nicolai Foss |
I confess that I was a bit skeptical when I was invited by Geoff Hodgson eight years ago (or so) to join the editorial board of the Journal of Institutional Economics. Given Hodgson’s prolific work within the tradition of so-called “old” institutional economics, I frankly saw a risk that what was lined up could end up as another (in addition to the Journal of Economic Issues or the Cambridge Journal of Economics) journal specialized in Williamson-bashing and Veblen-exegesis, crusading against “individualism” (methodological, ontological, political), “mainstream economics,” and the like.
Now, Hodgson is, of course, non-doctrinaire and open-minded, and he enlisted prolific co-editors (O&M blogger Dick Langlois, Esther-Mirjam Sent, Benito Arrunada and Jason Potts), who, although all non-mainstream, were non-mainstream in quite different ways. The result, now in its 7th year of existence, has been an undeniable success, publishing all sorts of institutional economics papers (including some relatively mainstream ones), and featuring contributions by luminaries such as Robin Dunbar and Richard Posner.
As a result of a sustained emphasis on quality, JoIE has now been selected by Reuters Thomson for the SSCI, Journal Citation Reports (Social Sciences Edition) and Current Contents (Social and Behavioral Sciences), that is, it is now what was formerly called an ISI journal. Congratulations to Geoff, Dick and the rest of the gang for founding and very efficiently running a journal that caters to the interests of O&M and our readers!
| Nicolai Foss |
We have often blogged on the work of Axel Leijonhufvud on O&M (here). Here is a 2008 talk which was given in Denmark (and which, unfortunately, somehow missed my attention at that time) on “Keynes and the Crisis.” The talk contains many characteristic Leijonhufvudian themes (smashing of Ricardian equivalence, representative agent modeling, and the foundations of financial theory), little on Keynes (luckily!), and much critique of monetarism, in particular the choice of the CPI as the unique target of central bank policies and the notion of the independence of central banks from the political system. Here is Leijonhufvud’s overall diagnosis of the root causes of the current crisis:
The process leading up to today’s American financial crisis had the dollar exchange rate supported by foreign central banks exporting capital to the United States. This capital inflow was not even to be discouraged by a Federal Reserve policy of extremely low interest rates. The price elasticity of exports from the countries that prevented the appreciation of their own currencies in this way kept US consumer goods prices from rising. Operating an interest-targeting regime keying on the CPI, the Fed was lured into keeping rates far too low far too long. The result was inflation of asset prices combined with a general deterioration of credit quality (Leijonhufvud 2007a). This, of course, does not make a Keynesian story. It is rather a variation on the Austrian overinvestment theme.
| Peter Klein |
In the spirit of yesterday’s advice post for MBAs, here is some vital information for professors to share with their undergraduates, courtesy of the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources. The hook: “Have you received an e-mail from a student that made you wonder whether English was still taught in high school? Has a student asked you whether he or she was ‘missing anything important’ by not attending class? How about the cell phone? Have fingers been on the move during class — perhaps not in recording lecture notes?”
- E-mail Etiquette – Help students develop a habit of using professional e-mail communication by following these recommended guidelines.
- Missing Class – If students decide they must miss a class or laboratory session due to an extra-curricular or co-curricular activity they should follow these guidelines.
- Classroom Etiquette – To ensure a positive learning environment, students should adhere to these classroom expectations.
Please add your own links, suggestions, etc. in the comments!
| Peter Klein |
“What about the organizational design?” Figure out what is causing the problem, and then think about how to avoid the problem. A lot of papers identified a bad decision, and then suggested reversing it. But they neglected to address the issue of why the bad decision was made, and how to make sure the same mistakes wouldn’t be made in the future.
“Don’t define the problem as the lack of your solution.” For example, if the problem is “the lack of centralized purchasing,” then you are locked into a solution of “centralized purchasing.” Instead, define the problem as “high acquisition cost” and then examine “centralized purchasing” vs. “decentralized purchasing” (or some other alternative) as two solutions to the problem.
“What is the trade-off?” Every solution has costs as well as benefits. If you list only the benefits, it makes your analysis seem like an ex post rationalization of a foregone decision, rather than a careful weighing of the benefits and costs. If you spent some time thinking through the tradeoffs, show it. If not, then you should.
These are excellent suggestions. For example, students want us to teach them solutions, but usually the best we can do as instructors is help them understand the relevant tradeoffs.
| Peter Lewin|
Back from the AOM 2011 meetings in San Antonio, it is worth adding a few words on the Professional Development Workshop (PDW) on Austrian Economics organized by the Henrik Berglund, Todd Chiles, and our own Peter Klein. Also there were Roggl Koppl and Maria Minniti.
I, for one, found the session extremely enjoyable and worthwhile. I am not good at estimating numbers, but I believe there were in excess of fifty people there of diverse backgrounds — all shapes and sizes. The one thing they had in common was an interest in Austrian economics as applied to entrepreneurship. Some appeared to know more about it than others, but they all seemed to be genuinely curious. Very encouraging for those of us laboring for many years on behalf of the Austrian School.
Henrik began with a nice introduction, which he later followed up with a discussion of Kirzner on entrepreneurship. Peter Klein was first up with a masterful overview of Austrian Economics for newcomers, and Todd finished up with an interesting account of Lachmann’s work drawing on his recent work. We then split into spontaneously organized small groups to discuss various topics leading to suggested research topics. The group I was in arrived at the topic “The Anatomy of Disequilibrium Order.”
As I suggest to Peter K, this might be a manifestation of a development many of us have anticipated — in a nutshell, the bifurcation of the discipline of economics. While the mainstream has moved on to ever more narrowly technical and precisely irrelevant scholarly activities, those wishing to do real economics (economics that matters for the real world) are drawn to other closely related fields. I see this developing into a kind of “applied economics.”
| Peter Klein |
Several people have called to my attention this extraordinary interview in which Paul Krugman states his belief that a military buildup to fight a mythical alien invasion would pull the economy out of recession. I guess it would be more entertaining than paying people to dig holes in the ground and paying other people to dig them up. Were Krugman’s remarks tongue-in-cheek? Unlikely, as he seems to believe in a sort of old-school, 1950s-era, hydraulic Keynesianism, and hasn’t otherwise demonstrated a sense of humor.
Of course, as Bob Higgs has tirelessly demonstrated, World War II didn’t end the Great Depression, but that doesn’t stop this canard being trotted out every time someone wants to justify deficit spending. Notes Mary Theroux: “the Great Depression ended in 1946, when 10 million individuals were returned to the ranks of the unemployed, and federal spending plunged 40% in the aftermath of FDR’s death and the abandonment of the New Deal.” But the more fundamental point is that spending for spending’s sake does not increase economic well-being. To see why, we must challenge the core Keynesian concept of “idle resources,” the idea that, when the economy is away from “full employment,” the usual laws of microeconomics — resources are scarce, decision-makers face tradeoffs at the margin, costs are opportunity costs — don’t apply. As Brad Delong recently put it in one of his characteristically classy missives: during a recession, “[t]he full-employment world of Bastiat is very very far away.” Of course, Bastiat’s brilliant demonstration of hidden costs and the fallacy of spending one’s way into prosperity has nothing to do with “full employment,” a concept that isn’t even coherent, given that efficiency in resource employment makes sense only with regard to the subjective production plan of the entrepreneur (cf. Penrose, 1959; Kirzner, 1966).
W. H. Hutt’s powerful and underappreciated critique of Keynes, The Theory of Idle Resources (1939) — available for free download at Mises.org — attacks this core Keynesian concept. As Hutt explains, all resources have alternative uses, and even “idleness” is a use, in the sense that the resource owner prefers to hold the resource for a future, as-yet-unavailable or unimagined use — a real option, if you like. Dragooning such resources into some random use, outside the price mechanism, serves no productive purpose. Even outside the mythical world of “full employment,” there are no free lunches.
So put those ray-guns back into storage, boys. We may need them later.
| Peter Klein |
The Academy of Management conference in San Antonio is in full swing, with lots of interesting activities for O&Mers. Friday I co-facilitated the theory workshop for the Entrepreneurship Division Doctoral Consortium (slides here), and Peter Lewin and I participated yesterday in a great Professional Development Workshop on the role of Austrian economics in entrepreneurship research. Today O&M friend Joe Mahoney will receive the Irwin Outstanding Educator Award. And there are paper sessions, roundtables, keynotes, and other events dealing with organizational design, entrepreneurship, strategy, innovation, regulation, and other topics near and dear to our collective hearts. A good time is being had by all!
| Peter Klein |
The idea of a renegotiation-proof equilibrium — a situation in which all commitments are credible such that no party has an incentive to alter the arrangement — became popular in the game-theoretic contract literature in the 1980s. A recent paper by Michael Roberts shows that renegotiation is much more common in bank lending than is commonly recognized (by academics), suggesting that in many cases, formal financial contracting arrangements should be seen as starting points for future negotiation, not equilibrium agreements.
We show that bank loans are repeatedly renegotiated by the borrower in an effort to loosen contractual constraints designed to mitigate information asymmetry. The typical loan is renegotiated every eight months, or four times during the life of the contract. The frequency of renegotiation is closely linked to the restrictiveness of the initial contact and the degree of information asymmetry between borrower and lender. In addition to significantly altering the terms of the contract, renegotiation reduces the speed of information revelation – more anticipated renegotiation rounds lead to longer durations between those renegotiations as information evolves more slowly. Consequently, later renegotiation rounds are more sensitive to new information regarding the borrower and their outside options than early rounds. An important by-product of our study is to show that many of the observations in the Dealscan database correspond to renegotiations of the same credit agreement, as opposed to originations of new loans.
| Lasse Lien |
In case you wonder the author of this paper — Stefano Allesina — works in Chicago:
Abstract: Nepotistic practices are detrimental for academia. Here I show how disciplines with a high likelihood of nepotism can be detected using standard statistical techniques based on shared last names among professors. As an example, I analyze the set of all 61,340 Italian academics. I find that nepotism is prominent in Italy, with particular disciplinary sectors being detected as especially problematic. Out of 28 disciplines, 9 – accounting for more than half of Italian professors – display a significant paucity of last names. Moreover, in most disciplines a clear north-south trend emerges, with likelihood of nepotism increasing with latitude. Even accounting for the geographic clustering of last names, I find that for many disciplines the probability of name-sharing is boosted when professors work in the same institution or sub-discipline. Using these techniques policy makers can target cuts and funding in order to promote fair practices.
Allesina, S. (2011). “Measuring Nepotism through Shared Last Names: The Case of Italian Academia.” PLoS ONE 6(8): e21160. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021160
| Dick Langlois |
Inspired by Peter Lewin’s recent post on the beauty of Africa, I decided to hop on a plane to Peter’s native South Africa. I haven’t been to a wildlife park, though I have found myself twice down in caves, one containing fossils and one a disused gold mine. I also took in the Apartheid Museum, which seemed to me (as an outsider) to be extremely well done. It didn’t pull any punches but always appeared neutral, even analytical. For me, the museum’s story underscored the point that Walter Williams and others always used to argue while apartheid was going on: that the system required, and was implemented through, central planning and massive government intervention in markets. (Apparently they even had a wacky scheme to move people from their distant segregated homes to and from urban work using high-speed bullet trains.) I was struck by how similar the revolution here was to the contemporaneous one in Eastern Europe. It was a revolt by a middle class that was denied human and political rights — and also economic opportunity — by an increasingly inefficient and distortive state apparatus.
A couple of exhibits at the Apartheid Museum asserted that in the heyday of gold mining the British had “fixed the price of gold.” This price fixing forced the mine owners constantly to lower production costs, which they did by deskilling mining operations – using technology to break the process into simpler tasks (Ames and Rosenberg 1965) — in order to hire cheaper labor. By contrast, the mining museum suggested that there was plenty of skill-enhancing innovation as well, like pneumatic drills replacing the hammer and chisel, which reduced from eight hours to five minutes the time it took a worker to carve out a blasting hole.
Oddly, neither museum mentioned that gold was the monetary standard. (You know this already: it’s not that the “price of gold” was fixed; it’s that the value of the currency was defined in terms of units of gold.) This might sound like an economist’s carping. But I mention it because on this trip I also encountered the strange combination of task design and monetary economics in a strikingly different African context. I’m actually in south Africa not primarily for the tourism (at least in principle) but to visit Giampaolo Garzarelli and his Institutions and Political Economy Group at the University of the Witwatersrand and, as Peter Klein mentioned in an earlier post, to attend a conference on “Open Source, Innovation, and New Organizational Forms,” which took place on Monday. Joel West, another of the participants, has already blogged elsewhere about the conference. One paper, by an MA student from Kenya – Joel has already blogged about this as well – discussed an amazing phenomenon I had never heard about before: crowdsourcing in developing countries using mobile phones. A company called txteagle allows customers to outsource cognitive work by breaking tasks into small pieces, which pieces are then sent to participants via text message. (As phones have become cheaper they have become ubiquitous in the developing world.) For example, the participant could be asked to translate a phrase into his or her local language or to transcribe a voice snippet. The txteagle computers then aggregate the output and use redundancy and artificial intelligence to validate the results. The participant is paid for the task, via the same mobile phone, using M-Pesa, a system I first heard about only a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly, M-Pesa is itself a formalization of a spontaneous monetary system – think cigarettes at a prison camp – in which people without access to banks would save and transact in airtime minutes. The amount a participant can earn in this system is quite meaningful in the context of poor countries with high unemployment.
| Peter Klein |
Daniele Besomi, writing at the SHOE list (and shared with permission):
[N]ot only memory is treacherous and selective, but even archival sources are not always fully reliable. In my work on the papers of Roy Harrod I have found examples of self-selection of documents to be preserved for posterity. Already aged 30 he annotated some documents as witnessing his position on some university matters; at 32 he preserved his own side of the correspondence he entertained with some politicians apparently because he deemed it important to keep a trace of it (he normally never kept copies of his outgoing correspondence, almost all handwritten); at 45 he started going through his own archives, annotating some correspondence for the benefit of “future historians of thought.”
At some (probably later) point in life he organized his own archives for the benefit of future readers, and he is likely to have manipulated some contents (besides rearranging the correspondence: annoyingly, the archivists undid some of Harrod’s work and moved some papers to different folders …).
It is in fact very strange that one who preserved tailor’s bills and bus tickets had kept no documents relating to his activities with the New Fabian Research Bureau in the early 1930s: he didn’t keep any of the memoranda he wrote (two at least survive in the NFRB’s archives) nor the correspondence he received about it (but the outgoing letters are in the recipients’ archives), except for a letter from James Meade dealing with theoretical matters and mentioning the NFRB in a postscript — perhaps (I am speculating here) Sir Roy turned conservative was embarrassed of the left-wing tendencies of his younger self.
Look below the fold for some annotations and sources (via Daniele). (more…)