Archive for April, 2012

The Bizarro World of Professor Sen

| Peter Klein |

Here is another of those head-scratchers, this one from Amartya Sen, about how neoclassical economics is partly responsible for the financial crisis because neoclassical economists believe that markets work “perfectly”:

Since the crisis broke out the economics profession in general and mainstream economics in particular have been severely criticised. Do you think this is justified?

The criticism of mainstream economics is justified to a limited extent. It is certainly true that the focus of attention in mainstream economics has tended to be on assuming the market to be working perfectly and there being no need for regulation. However, while this view has been a very dominant part of mainstream economics, you have to bear in mind that mainstream economics is not all centered around one unified theme. I don’t think all of mainstream economics should be held responsible.

Do you think that neoclassical macro economists should bear the brunt of the blame?

This would be an oversimplification. Neoclassical economics has many different paths. There are mainstream neoclassical economists who have been very critical of the complete reliance on the markets.

I’ve been around neoclassical economists since my undergraduate days and I can’t think of a single neoclassical economist who says that markets work “perfectly” and favoring “complete reliance on the markets.” David Friedman comes to mind, but even his arguments for anarchism are not based on the belief that markets are somehow “perfect,” but that they are less imperfect than regulation. The truth, of course, is that virtually all neoclassical economists favor a substantial amount of economic regulation — government production of law and order, government control of the monetary system, competition policy, and other government actions to combat purported market failures.

Statements like Sen’s make sense only as a rhetorical ploy to fool the reader. If the mainstream thinks, say, that government should control 25% of the economy, and you think government should control 75%, you describe the mainstream as “extremists” who believe in “no government,” thus making your position seem like a reasonable middle ground.  Krugman of course employs the same rhetorical strategy. Sen is obviously too intelligent to mean what he says literally, so I can only assume mendacity. Am I missing something?

26 April 2012 at 10:12 am 2 comments

Part-time Work and Discursive Resistance and Foucault and Stuff

| Lasse Lien |

I both challenge and reify this:

Contributing to a Foucauldian perspective on ‘discursive resistance’, this paper theorizes how part-time workers struggle to construct a valid position in the rhetorical interplay between norm-strengthening arguments and norm-contesting counter-arguments. It is thereby suggested that both the reproductive and the subversive forces of resistance may very well coexist within the everyday manoeuvres of world-making. The analysis of these rhetorical interplays in 21 interviews shows how arguments and counter-arguments produce full-time work as the dominant discourse versus part-time work as a legitimate alternative to it. Analysing in detail the effects of four rhetorical interplays, this study shows that, while two of them leave unchallenged the basic assumptions of the dominant full-time discourse and hence tend instead to reify the dominant discourse, two other interplays succeed in contesting the dominant discourse and establishing part-time work as a valid alternative. The authors argue that the two competing dynamics of challenging and reifying the dominant are not mutually exclusive, but do in fact coexist.

Nentwich, J. and Hoyer, P. (2012), “Part-time Work as Practising Resistance: The Power of Counter-arguments.” British Journal of Management, forthcoming.

24 April 2012 at 2:22 am 3 comments

Explosive Economists

| Peter Klein |

I’ve always liked the actor John Lithgow, not only because of his smarmy yet likeable weirdness (keep your comments to yourselves, please), but also because he’s married to an economist, the UCLA economic historian Mary Yeager. (The late Fred Bateman told me that when he and Yeager were just starting out, no one in their professional circles could understand why she was hanging out with this struggling actor who was obviously never going to make it big.)

So I was amused by a profile in Thursday’s WSJ about Lithgow’s role in an upcoming Broadway play about cold-war journalist Joseph Alsop. Reporter: “You portray Joe Alsop as an explosive man. Did you model him on someone from your own life?” Lithgow: “I’ve known mercurial people who emotionally completely turn on a dime, and they’re very exciting people. My wife is a little like that.”

OK, most economists are not exciting, but I’ve known plenty of mercurial and explosive ones.

22 April 2012 at 9:10 pm 1 comment

Birger Wernerfelt Receives Honorary Doctorate from CBS

| Nicolai Foss |

Wernerfelt, a key originator of the resource-based view of strategy (here) who has made numerous important contributions to the economics of organization, marketing, and other fields, received the degree at a ceremony at the Copenhagen Business School yesterday (another recipient of the honorary doctoral degree was Deirdre McCloskey). I motivated the degree with the following remarks: (more…)

20 April 2012 at 4:58 pm 1 comment

No Best Practice for Best Practice

| Lasse Lien |

An important selling point for the consulting industry is that consultants can presumably help a firm identify and implement “best practice.” Surely the consulting industry is an important channel for disseminating knowledge of better ways of doing things, but identifying what constitutes best practice for a given firm in a given situation is no trivial task, and even if the best practice could be identified, transferring it will be a significant challenge.

This begs the question of whether there is a best practice for identification and transfer of best practices, and whether the consulting industry has identified and adopted such a practice. According to this paper Benjamin Wellstein and Alfred Kieser, the consulting industry in Germany is nowhere near a best practice for best practice. This goes for for both inter- and intra-industry transfer. I’ll bet my hat that this finding holds everywhere.

Well, I guess as long as the consulting industry keeps finding better practices for transferring better practices, we shouldn’t be too disappointed that there is no best practice for best practice. (HT: E.S. Knudsen)

20 April 2012 at 4:56 am 4 comments

Time to Say Goodbye, but Not Really

| Peter Lewin |

After a most enjoyable and productive tour as a guest blogger on this site (at least for me), the time has come to say goodbye.

I do so at an auspicious moment, having just received my copy of Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment. This book brings together important work by two of the hosts of this site in a very accessible format that promises to spread their message to many who have yet to hear it. To understand the firm one must understand entrepreneurship and vice versa. We live in a dynamic world in which individual judgments concerning the value of resources and the path of future events play a key role and organizational structures develop to give traction to those judgments. For an unrepentant Austrian subjectivist like me it is all very exciting. I look forward to observing further developments as an observer and casual participant on this blog, and elsewhere.

I would like to warmly thank the hosts of this blog Dick, Nicolai, Lasse, and Peter for extending to me the invitation to participate and look forward to ongoing productive associations with all of them.

19 April 2012 at 2:45 pm 1 comment

Paradigm Shift

| Peter Klein |

Did you know this year is the semicentennial of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions? David Kaiser offers some reflections at Nature.

At the heart of Kuhn’s account stood the tricky notion of the paradigm. British philosopher Margaret Masterman famously isolated 21 distinct ways in which Kuhn used the slippery term throughout his slim volume. Even Kuhn himself came to realize that he had saddled the word with too much baggage: in later essays, he separated his intended meanings into two clusters. One sense referred to a scientific community’s reigning theories and methods. The second meaning, which Kuhn argued was both more original and more important, referred to exemplars or model problems, the worked examples on which students and young scientists cut their teeth. As Kuhn appreciated from his own physics training, scientists learned by immersive apprenticeship; they had to hone what Hungarian chemist and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi had called “tacit knowledge” by working through large collections of exemplars rather than by memorizing explicit rules or theorems. More than most scholars of his era, Kuhn taught historians and philosophers to view science as practice rather than syllogism.

Kuhn did not, to my knowledge, say much about the social sciences, though in a later essay he described them in somewhat unflattering terms:

[T]here are many fields — I shall call them proto-sciences — in which practice does not generate testable conclusions but which nonetheless resemble ph9ilosophy and the arts rather than the established sciences in their developmental patters. I think, for example, of fields like chemistry and electricity before the mid-eighteenth century, of the study of heredity and phylogeny before the mid-nineteenth, or many of the social sciences today. In those fields, . . . though they satisfy [Popper's] demarcation criterion, incessant criticism and continual striving for a fresh start as primary forces, and need to be. No more than in philosophy and the arts, however, do they result in clear-cut progress.

Murray Rothbard took an explicitly Kuhnian approach to his history of economic thought, agreeing with Kuhn that there is no linear, upward progression and condemning what he called the “Whig theory” of intellectual history.

18 April 2012 at 10:00 am 4 comments

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
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