Archive for November, 2011
| Peter Klein |
It’s been fun hosting Australian writer (and frequent O&M commenter) Rafe Champion at Missouri the last couple of days. Rafe spoke to the economists about the philosophy of science (handout here), and to the graduate philosophy seminar of my colleague André Ariew on current research topics in the philosophy of biology. We’ve had many talks about Hayek, Mises, Popper, Parsons, and our mutual friend Bill Bartley, among others. Rafe blogs at Catallaxy Files and the Critical Rationalist blog, and his website The Rathouse contains a treasure-trove of writings by, and commentary on, the most important twentieth-century philosophers of science.
| Dick Langlois |
Speaking of football. I just now received an email newsletter from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the union of which I am necessarily a member. The newsletter calls attention to a New York Times op-ed by Michael Bérubé, an AAUP activist who happens to be the Paterno Family Professor of Literature at Penn State. For Bérubé and the AAUP, the Penn State sex-abuse scandal “coincided with the steady erosion of faculty governance.” Peter has written critically about shared governance, which is a central and long-standing platform of the AAUP; and we can argue about whether shared governance is likely to be efficient in general. But it seems to me dubious that faculty oversight of athletics would have meant quicker detection of the offense and the cover-up at Penn State: the problem is less one of incentives than of impacted knowledge in a large bureaucracy. In yesterday’s news came the announcement that a history professor at Utah had been arrested for viewing child pornography on his laptop during a plane flight. How could this be? Isn’t the History Department under faculty governance?
What struck me most about the AAUP newsletter was the extent to which it reflected the academic coattail effect: issues of great popular interest or concern sweeping up in their wake lots of long-existing and dubiously related academic hobby-horses. Global warming is another, more obvious, example. At a university function a while back, I heard a retired faculty member bemoan the inexplicable lack of research and funding into the role of the family in global warming. Needless to say, she was a historian of the family.
| Peter Klein |
As sports-crazed American readers know, Urban Meyer was today named Ohio State University’s head football coach. The money’s not bad — $4 million per year. The contract itself, which you can find here, is pretty interesting (HT: Skip Oliva). There are lots of performance bonuses ($100k for winning the Big 10; $150k for making a BCS bowl; $250k for making the national title game), even some for academic achievement (e.g., $150k for an 80% player graduate rate — hmmm, no pressure on OSU professors here). Transportation will be by private jet; coach gets lots of free tickets; and the university will pay dues at “a mutually agreed-upon golf course.” I guess these are included in lieu of cash for tax purposes. The university also commits “to working with Coach to create the Urban Meyer Fellowship for Ethics and Leadership in Sports.”
| Lasse Lien |
Rich Bettis makes an important point in a forthcoming issue of SMJ. Bettis points out how two unfortunate practices interact with each other to create a very serious and fundamental problem for knowledge accumulation in (strategic) management.
One is the widespread practice of running numerous regressions on a given dataset and subsequently adapting (or in milder cases “tuning”) hypotheses or theory to fit the data. By itself this practice is quite unfortunate, since data patterns can and will occur by chance, and the more regression models one tries the more likely that one will “find” something. We obviously do not want such random patterns to influence either theory building or our catalog of empirical findings. However, this problem would be a great deal less serious if replication studies were common and we gladly published non-findings. Random correlations in the data would not survive replication tests, and would be eliminated fairly quickly.
As we all know, in management, replication studies cannot get published and are basically just not done. To make matters worse, we don’t publish non-findings either. This is the second unfortunate practice. Taken together these two practices may in the worst case indicate that much of what we think we know in management are just random data patterns, discovered through data mining, and protected by our lack of replication studies and refusal to publish non-findings. This is a sobering thought. As Bettis points out, we should all be very thankful that replication studies are more common in medical research than in management.
What is the solution? Well, a first step might be to launch the Journal of Managerial Replication Studies and give it the prestige it deserves. Either SMS or AOM should see the launch of such a journal as a crucial responsibility. I mean, we really don’t want to be quacks, do we?
HT: Helge Thorbjørnsen
| Peter Lewin |
The October 2011 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization is a special issue on the work of James Buchanan, guest edited by Pete Boettke, arising out of a recent FFSO conference. In addition to Boettke, the contributors are Kliemt, Marciano, Munger, Leeson, G. Vanberg, Voigt, Horwitz, Besley, Coyne, and Horn on a variety of topics. Amartya Sen and Elinor Ostrom contributed short appreciations. This issue is full of good stuff on a variety of topics.
I focus here on the lead article by Pete Boettke somewhat clumsily entitled, “Teaching Economics, Appreciating Spontaneous Order, and Economics as a Public Science.” For my part, this article alone makes the issue worthwhile getting. Boettke presents an overview of the many facets of Buchanan’s work (and as they developed over his career) helpfully connecting and contrasting it with Hayek. Some of these ideas are directly relevant to the organization and management context.
At the risk of distorting oversimplification, we may say that whereas Hayek concentrated on the problem of rationalistic hubris, Buchanan concentrated on the problem of opportunistic behavior. Both are inevitable and related problems of social systems, and each of their works thus complements the other. In a nutshell, each is an in-depth protracted examination of the knowledge problem and the incentive problem, respectively.
As points of emphasis in their respective works, Hayek concentrated on the limits on man’s knowledge at the abstract level, and the contextual nature of the knowledge residing in the economy at the concrete level, while Buchanan stressed the institutional/organizational logic of politics and the systemic incentives that different rule environments generate. In both, however, the central message of same players, different rules, produce different games is seen throughout their work in comparative political economy. To Hayek the puzzle was how to limit the rationalistic hubris of men, to Buchanan the puzzle was how to limit the opportunistic impulse of men. Both found hope in what they called a “generality norm” embedded in a constitutional contract — no law shall be passed, or rule established which privileges one group of individuals in society.
Hayek uses an evolutionary approach and Buchanan a “veil of ignorance” contractarian approach. But both are surely applicable to organizations of all types.
| Peter Lewin |
I should also mention that Bill Easterly gave the distinguished guest lecture this year on “Does Development Economics Cause Economic Development?” I thought it was excellent — both entertaining and informative — especially for non-specialists. I hope he publishes it.
Just one instance — a story about controlled random experiments in a development context (perhaps some of you have heard this). An interesting study showed that teacher absenteeism declined when teacher attendance was monitored and rewarded (imagine that). But when the same idea was applied to health-care workers, health-care workers in the treatment group (the monitored group) declined! Apparently, as a result of being monitored, health-care workers started asking for excused absences and found out that their supervisors actually did not care one way or another. As a result excused absences increased dramatically. This illustrates the power of unintended consequences and the importance of local knowledge, and how a seemingly unobtrusive experiment actually ended up providing locals with valuable knowledge that made things worse.
| Peter Lewin |
Back from the SEA meetings in Washington DC, the venue for our annual SDAE conference and membership meeting. At the annual banquet we honored Leonard Liggio for his contribution to the teaching of Austrian economics. Dick Wagner gave the presidential address. Both received a standing ovation.
The panels were well attended and, from what I could tell, the quality very high. I presented my paper on Entrepreneurial Paradoxes (which has been around for a while). Young Bak Choi commented on it and presented an interesting paper on the role of entrepreneurship in economic development and development policy. David Harper and Anthony Endres presented a paper on another variation on the theme of heterogeneous capital and its structure. Perhaps most interesting was a paper by a strategic management Ph.D candidate at York University, Mohammad Keyhani (co-authored with Moren Lévesque), on “The Role of Entrepreneurship in the Market Process: A Simulation Study of The Equilibrating and Disequilibrating Effects of Opportunity Creation and Discovery.” Randy Holcombe commented. Interesting that the issue of equilibration is considered important enough to investigate with simulations. But it raises some important questions. My own current view, having spent a lifetime contemplating the issue, is that we are no nearer an answer than we ever were, and that perhaps the more important distinction is between entrepreneurial actions that add value and those that do not.
Next year’s meetings will be in New Orleans. The president-elect of the SDAE is Larry White. He will be putting together the panels. So if you have an interest in presenting a paper, discussing one, or chairing a panel, let him know (email@example.com).
| Peter Klein |
Many US bloggers try to post something clever on Thanksgiving about religious freedom, agricultural productivity, colonialism, property rights, immigration, etc. We’ve done it ourselves. But this year I thought I’d share something different: nerdy academic stuff about — what else? — the economic organization of the turkey industry. Tomislav Vukina’s 2001 paper on vertical integration in poultry is instructive. For example:
The pattern of vertical integration is less uniform in the turkey industry than in the broiler industry. A turkey company is less likely to own its own hatchery but is more likely to have company owned production farms (Martin et al. 1993). There is also more variation among production contracts in terms of division of risks and profits from growing turkeys than in the broiler industry. The processing plant is the center for control of placement.
A processor may contract directly with farmers or contract with a feed supplier who in turn contracts with farmers. In the turkey industry, there are still some independent producers with formal marketing contracts with processors. Such marketing contracts do not always provide any price or margin guarantees to producers. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
At this blog we love intellectual history, particularly the history of economic and management thought. Of course, intellectual history has largely disappeared from the curricula of top economics and management programs. In these fields, the trend was driven by positivism — the belief that social science, like natural science, should favor experimental methods, hypothesis testing, and the rest of the usual trappings of Science. For positivists, there is no need to study the history of the discipline, because any truths emerging from prior work have already been incorporated in to the current textbooks and journal articles. (Murray Rothbard called this the “Whig theory” of intellectual history.)
In the field of intellectual history more generally, the challenges came from the late-twentieth-century emphasis on race, gender, and ethnicity, which privileged social, cultural, and material factors over intellectual ones. But apparently intellectual history is making a comeback. The New York Times reports on the newly formed Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which is sparking new interest in the field. The Times article describes
a resurgence in the fortunes of intellectual history — a discipline long dismissed, if not as boring, then as musty, elitist and out of touch. While intellectual historians like Richard Hofstadter and Perry Miller once dominated the profession, they were swept aside in the 1960s by the rise of social and then cultural history, which regarded talk of “the American mind” as code for “the mind of white, male Americans who happened to write books.”
Today, however, a new breed of young intellectual historian is aiming to integrate the spirit of “history from below” with an approach that doesn’t chop American history off at the neck. Young intellectual historians, scholars at the conference were quick to emphasize, have fully absorbed the lessons of the profession’s increased attention to questions of race, class and gender, without losing hold of the premise that ideas matter, even in a culture that still considers “intellectual” a term of abuse.
“We still want to talk about ideas, but we see ideas everywhere,” said Andrew Hartman, a professor at Illinois State University and president of the newly formed Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which sponsored the conference. “Big ideas affect everybody. It’s not elitist to talk about them.”
| Peter Klein |
Following Knight, Mises, and Lachmann, we have often characterized entrepreneurship on this blog (and the McQuinn blog, which should be on your reading list) as experimentation with combinations of heterogeneous capital resources. Experimentation itself is relatively understudied in the entrepreneurship and strategy literature — we have general theories about the nature and effects of experimentation, indirect empirical evidence on competition as experimentation (e.g., my relatedness stuff with Lasse), case-study evidence about experimentation and innovation within firms, but don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms.
Here’s a new paper that will not be to everyone’s taste, but tries to get at these issues in a formal model of interaction between experimenting firms:
The Role of Information in Competitive Experimentation
Ufuk Akcigit, Qingmin Liu
NBER Working Paper No. 17602, November 2011
Technological progress is typically a result of trial-and-error research by competing firms. While some research paths lead to the innovation sought, others result in dead ends. Because firms benefit from their competitors working in the wrong direction, they do not reveal their dead-end findings. Time and resources are wasted on projects that other firms have already found to be dead ends. Consequently, technological progress is slowed down, and the society benefits from innovations with delay, if ever. To study this prevalent problem, we build a tractable two-arm bandit model with two competing firms. The risky arm could potentially lead to a dead end and the safe arm introduces further competition to make firms keep their dead-end findings private. We characterize the equilibrium in this decentralized environment and show that the equilibrium necessarily entails significant efficiency losses due to wasteful dead-end replication and a flight to safety — an early abandonment of the risky project. Finally, we design a dynamic mechanism where firms are incentivized to disclose their actions and share their private information in a timely manner. This mechanism restores efficiency and suggests a direction for welfare improvement.
| Peter Klein |
We university types love The Bard — we’ve got bookstores hither and yon, pizza joints, you name it. Not surprisingly, Shakespearean scholars are up in arms at Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, which they view as silly entertainment at best, disreputable Oliver Stone style revisionism at worst. I haven’t seen the movie and don’t have a particular dog in the authorship fight (though I once heard a very funny lecture by Joe Sobran based on his 1997 book Alias Shakespeare). But I’m puzzled by the core epistemological issue: what do we really know about Shakespearean authorship?
An English professor friend told me that belief in a different author for any of Shakespeare’s works is like “belief in the phlogiston theory of fire.” Stephen Marche writes in the NY Times Magazine: “It is impossible that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare. Notice that I am not saying improbable; it is impossible.” Again, I don’t know anything about the issue other than what I’ve read in recent commentaries, but Marche’s case, in the piece linked above, is surprisingly weak (some Shakespeare products are dated after de Vere died, which only proves that de Vere couldn’t have written those; the doubters are snobs who don’t believe a poor country boy could have written such beautiful verse, which could be true, but hardly establishes that the country boy did in fact write them; and other circumstantial bits and ex cathedra pronouncements.)
My question, though, is the epistemological one: How can we possibly know with 100% certainty who authored every one of the literary works attributed to Shakespeare? Heck, we don’t know who really writes the stuff published under names like “Doris Kearns Goodwin” and “Stephen Ambrose,” and those appeared in the last few years, not the 17th century. There’s even a lively controversy about what Adam Smith wrote and what he copied. Intellectual historians are frequently reinterpreting and revising, and few cows are sacred. Regarding Shakespearean authorship, then, shouldn’t we expect a little Popperian or Hayekian humility?
| Peter Klein |
Contractual completeness is a core issue in organizational economics. A colleague helpfully suggested this illustration of a nearly complete contract. Note the deliberate omission of language dealing with an extreme low-probability event (time for Nicolai and Scott to resume their debate over bounded rationality?).
| Peter Klein |
The Call for Papers for the 2012 ISNIE conference, 14-16 June 2012 at the University of Southern California, is now posted. Proposals are due 30 January 2012, so start working on those abstracts!
I have been involved with ISNIE for many years and currently serve as the organization’s treasurer. The conferences are terrific, with a variety of papers, panels, and keynotes spanning the broad range of institutional and organizational social science research.
Trivia: I first met the good Professor Foss at the inaugural ISNIE conference in 1997 in St. Louis So if it weren’t for ISNIE, this blog might not exist. . . .
| Peter Lewin |
This coming weekend in Washington DC, the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics will hold its annual meeting and membership dinner. This year it is honoring Leonard Liggio for his contributions to the teaching and dissemination of Austrian Economics (through his dedication to the cause of classical liberalism) over many decades. A scholarship fund in Leornard’s honor will be established from the donations — the Leonard Liggio Fellowship Fund to enable graduate students to attend the full SEA/SDAE meetings each year at reduced cost. The Earhart Foundation and Liberty Fund are major sponsors. Table sponsors include the Cato Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Review of Austrian Economics, the Mercatus Institute, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the Koch Foundation. See here for information on the panels organized by the SDAE. I will report on the event upon my return. (I promise for next year to ensure at least one panel dedicated to management themes.)
| Nicolai Foss |
Watching Rick Perry commit political harakiri made me wonder whether academia can report similar incidents (and with similar career-destroying results?). To be sure, many of us academics have engaged in Rick Perry-like behaviors — as is only to be expected when, as many of us do, we regularly talk to (student, executive, colleague) audiences of varying sizes, often several times a week.
I have certainly had my share of situations similar to the Perry episode. Thus, about a decade ago I was supposed to talk about the challenges of managing “knowledge workers” to a bunch of middle-aged (and beyond) medical professors, all with management responsibilities, very impressive scientific records, and all supremely arrogant and self-confident. I got 5 mins into my talk, before I was cut down. Totally. Decisively. Left dumbfounded. Another example, more research-oriented, derives one from one of the BYU-UUtah winter conferences on strategy. I gave a talk on transaction costs economics and competitive strategy. It was rather abstract. After the talk a very (in fact, extremely) prominent strategy scholar asked me in a very pointed and inquisitive manner: “What is in this that I can teach my MBA students?” Again, I was left dumbfounded, probably in awe of this person (and didn’t come up with the obvious answer: “So, do you think that is a good criterion for scientific progress?”).
Of course, there are other Rick Perry episodes from my career, but these two must suffice. Of course, these gaffes just emphasize my humanity. And your Rick Perry episodes?
| Peter Klein |
Mike Ryall writes about the 2011 HBS strategy conference:
Of the empirical papers, almost half incorporated some method aimed at causal identification. My sense is that such identification strategies will soon become a fairly standard requirement for publication in a top management journal (“soon” being measured in academic time, of course).
We’ve discussed this issue several times, including a 2008 post on the potential tradeoffs between choosing problems that are well-identified and choosing problems that are important. I agree with Mike that the management and entrepreneurship literatures — at least the quantitative empirical part of those literatures — are catching up the economists here. But consider the advantages of backwardness: can management research learn to take identification seriously without falling into the Freakonomics trap? (Please, no Freakostrategy or Super-Freakopreneurship!)
Of course, management and entrepreneurship researchers, unlike most economists, tend to sympathize with (or at least tolerate) qualitative methods, and one legitimate means of generating causal inference is careful, detailed, historical investigation, case work, ethnography, analytical narrative, and so on. I suspect, though, that the trend Mike describes will tend to push these approaches to the side as well.
| Peter Klein |
The Financial Times has named Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty the best business book of 2011. Here’s the book’s webpage. Here are previous O&M posts on the Banerjee-Duflo approach, which is obviously gaining momentum.
| Peter Klein |
According to the latest Kauffman Foundation survey of “top” economics bloggers. (I participate, so it’s not that exclusive a club.)
Full report available here. As Kauffman’s Tim Kane notes, “The economics blogging community has proven to be very insightful with rich and diverse viewpoints, but by nature they understand the importance of entrepreneurship because that’s ultimately who they are.” I agree, with the caveat that many of us don’t exactly have a lot of skin in the game. . . .