Archive for May, 2012
| Peter Klein |
The next São Paulo Research Workshop on Institutions and Organizations is 1-2 October 2012. Proposals are due 15 June, so hurry! The keynote speakers are not yet announced but they’ve had, ahem, some good ones before, so expectations are high. Click the link above for details.
| Peter Klein |
I’ve received quite a few emails from various academic organizations asking me to help defeat the Flake Amendment, which would eliminate National Science Foundation funding for political science research. The American Political Science Association is all over this, even publishing a virtual special issue of APSR highlighting NSF-funded research results.
Ironically, none of the arguments I’ve seen for preserving public funding of social science research makes an argument consistent with, well, social-science research. All take the form: “Government funding has supported the following important research findings, which have had the following social benefits.” This argument receives three Fs for research design. First, there is no counterfactual. The point isn’t whether government-funded research result X is good, but whether it’s better than Y, the research result that would have obtained in the absence of government funding. Government funding doesn’t simply increase the quantity of research, it shapes the direction of research. How do we know NSF-funded work isn’t crowding out even more valuable work?
Second, there is no attempt at causal identification. Where are the natural experiments, the randomized controlled trials, the valid instruments? We already know that a main effect of government funding of hard science is to increase the wages of scientists, not the quality or quantity of research. Even if NSF funds good political science research, how do we know the funding is the cause, not the consequence, of the research?
Third, there is no cost-benefit analysis. The lobbying statements simply list purported benefits. Well, sure, the government could give me hundreds of millions of dollars and I’d do some good with it too. Would those benefits exceed the costs? “Political science research has wide-spread effects beyond specific projects,” say the APSA’s talking points. Maybe so, but what about the effects of those goods and services that would have been produced with the taxpayer dollars that went to NSF? Has nobody at the Monkey Cage read Bastiat?
Put differently, I’m certain the APSR would desk-reject an empirical paper with the logical structure of this argument for funding!
My advice to social scientists seeking government funding is to start by acting like social scientists, not K Streeters.
| Peter Klein |
Here’s the link — and the price is right, just $16.50!
According to the latest sales figures, we’re up to #1,070,026 on Amazon. So close to the top spot! Incidentally, my sole-authored Capitalist and the Entrepreneur is just behind at #1,210,245, suggesting that the market places only a small value on the marginal Foss contribution. That’s the correct inference, right?
| Peter Klein |
Russ Roberts interviews Coase on EconTalk. Familiar stuff, but it’s great to hear Coase talk about it at age 101. Some highlights:
Roberts: “[I]t’s hard to measure transactions costs; it’s hard to quantify the theory. Is that correct or is it irrelevant.” Coase: “It’s very relevant. But the state of economics is such that people don’t try to measure these things, to study them, and so people can engage in discussions and explanations without any real knowledge of what happens in the real world.”
Roberts: “What was your reaction to [game theory] and its influence on the study of the firm?” Coase: “I think the influence was wholly bad, because people developed high theoretical approaches instead of approaches based on what actually happens.”
Roberts: “[D]id you have contact with Keynes and Hayek, two great economists of that era in England?” Coase: “Yes. I was very friendly with Hayek. I liked him, and he liked me. But we didn’t have great contact. He tended to deal with these big questions, and I’m always interested in how the actual system operates. Therefore, in much smaller matters than Hayek.” Roberts: “And how about Keynes? Did you know Keynes?” Coase: “I can tell you– I was helping when Britain was trying to get a loan from the United States immediately after the war, and I was talking to one of Keynes’s assistants. And Keynes came in the room and walked over to us and the man I was talking to us said, ‘This is Coase, who is helping us with the statistics. I don’t think you know him.’ And Keynes said, ‘No, I don’t.’ And walked off. And that’s my life with Keynes. “
| Peter Klein |
Reminder: Proposals for the Managerial and Decision Economics special issue on “Effects of Alternative Investments on Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Growth” are due 15 June 2012. Don Siegel, Nick Wilson, Mike Wright, and I are editing the special issue and organizing a paper-development conference 29 October 2012 at the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan. Click the link above or go here for further details. We look forward to your submissions!
| Dick Langlois |
One of my longest-running interests has been the relationship between economic change, including technological change, and the boundaries of the firm. In broad strokes, my story is this: when markets are thin and market-supporting institutions weak, technological change, especially systemic change, leads to increased vertical integration, since in such an environment centralized ownership and control may reduce “dynamic” transaction costs; but when markets are thick and market-supporting institutions well developed, technological change leads to vertical disintegration, since in that environment the benefits of specialization and the division of labor outweigh the (now relatively smaller) transaction costs of contracting. This latter scenario is what I called the Vanishing Hand. I recently ran across a new working paper by Ann Bartel, Saul Lach, and Nachum Sicherman, called “Technological Change and the Make-or-Buy Decision,” that supports the Vanishing Hand idea empirically. Here is the abstract.
A central decision faced by firms is whether to make intermediate components internally or to buy them from specialized producers. We argue that firms producing products for which rapid technological change is characteristic will benefit from outsourcing to avoid the risk of not recouping their sunk cost investments when new production technologies appear. This risk is exacerbated when firms produce for low volume internal use, and is mitigated for those firms which sell to larger markets. Hence, products characterized by higher rates of technological change will be more likely to be produced by mass specialized firms to which other firms outsource production. Using a 1990-2002 panel dataset on Spanish firms and an exogenous proxy for technological change, we provide causal evidence that technological change increases the likelihood of outsourcing.
The Spanish dataset is based on questionnaires about outsourcing activities in various mechanical industries. The exogenous proxy is number of patents granted in the U. S. in each industry. So, basically, Spanish firms in industries in which there are a lot of American patents tend to outsource more ceteris paribus than Spanish firms in industries with fewer American patents. Although I always like empirical evidence that supports my own arguments, I also like to play the devil’s advocate. The incomplete-contracts literature (which for me is Coase and Knight as much as Hart and Moore) reminds us that it is harder to write contracts when knowledge is tacit and inchoate. Could it thus be that number of patents is a proxy for the importance of explicit versus tacit knowledge in the industry, and it is the prevalence of the explicit, rather than technological change per se, that makes contracting less costly? My money is still on the Vanishing Hand story.
| Peter Klein |
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of two major contributions to strategy and organization, Nelson and Winter’s Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change and Lippman and Rumelt’s “Uncertain Imitability: An Analysis of Interfirm Differences in Efficiency under Competition.” Both tried to explain inter-firm performance differences without reference to market power or random shocks. Interestingly, as Ruff Coff points out, both were aimed at economists, but had little impact there, instead becoming foundational contributions to the emerging strategy field. Here’s a concise summary of Lippman and Rumelt from Peter Zemsky:
Lippman and Rumelt (1982), in the first formal theoretical paper inspired by the distinctive concerns of the strategy literature, demonstrate how superior performance can arise without assumptions of imperfect competition and market power, which are the defining features of the IO approach. In their model there are a large number of potential entrants that can pay a fixed cost to enter an industry. The key assumption is that there is imperfect imitability so that each entrant’s cost function is determined by an independent draw from a known distribution. In equilibrium, firms with bad draws exit and the remaining firms on average must have abnormal returns even when in the case where the firms are all small and have no market power. Ex ante however expected profits from entry are zero. The paper remains an outstanding example of high quality theorizing in strategy. Barney (1986) in his paper on strategic factor markets applies the same reasoning in his verbal argument that from an economics perspective superior performance must be the result of luck.
L&$ also explain the background and context of their article in a new video.
Kirzner’s theory of entrepreneurship is another example of a contribution intended to change the conversation in economics — by shifting attention from equilibrium states to adjustment processes — that seems to have little impact upon its intended audience, while becoming hugely influential in a different field (entrepreneurship).