Posts filed under ‘Ephemera’
| Dick Langlois |
I was trying to avoid jumping into the fray about Capital in the Twenty-First Century so as not to participate in the mania, as if throwing one more tiny ember into a wildfire would cause measurable additional damage. But I couldn’t resist after seeing an article entitled “How Thomas Piketty Explains American Sports.” Written by someone called Kevin Lincoln in a left-wing mag called Pacific Standard, the article discusses the NBA’s proposal to raise the minimum roster age from 19 to 20, thus reducing the number of one-and-done college players and depriving John Calipari of his livelihood. (Did I forget to mention that UConn won both men’s and women’s national championships this year?) Lincoln correctly points out that such a change is in the interest not only of the D-1 colleges, who get to keep their stars longer, but also of the NBA, since it offloads more player development to the colleges. Sounds perfectly reasonable – exactly the kind of analysis you would expect from, say, a free-market public-choice economist. What on earth does this have to do with Piketty?
The concept of “over-accumulation” was coined by economist David Hershey, and with the ascent of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century into bestsellerdom, it’s something that anyone with even a passing interest in economics is probably familiar with. In our current economy, actors who have gathered large amounts of capital tend to invest it in the creation of further capital for themselves rather than funneling it back into production. In turn, the economy stagnates, with the world’s financial resources concentrating in the hands of the rich with no money left over to raise wages for the working class.
Yes, this scheme will probably raise the wealth (a little) of NBA owners. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the accumulation of capital. For both owners and players, the NBA is all about people getting wealthy from entrepreneurial insight and scarce valuable skills — exactly contrary to Piketty’s predictions.
The author is obviously economically illiterate — how exactly can people “create further capital for themselves” without somehow “funneling it back into production”? Yet the fact that someone smart enough to write a free-lance article would connect the NBA to Piketty speaks, it seems to me, to what the Piketty phenomenon is all about. In my view, we should not be comparing Piketty with Marx or Keynes. We should be comparing him with Dan Brown. Like the Da Vinci Code, Capital is an otherwise unremarkable book that managed to put together a volatile mix of elements. Both books captured some kind of zeitgeist, of course, but they did so in a remarkably precise way. They rely on similar elements: a theory of how the world works that doesn’t stand up to minimal scrutiny but is easy to understand, seems to explain the mysterious and ineffable, and, most importantly, confirms the gut prejudices of its readers. Capital is not as much a conspiracy theory as the Da Vinci Code; it’s a nineteenth-century story about aggregate income shares. But it is also an empty-enough vessel into which readers (especially those who haven’t actually read it) can pour their own conspiracy theories. The NBA is the Opus Dei of capitalist sports.
While we’re on the subject, I also want to mention that, to my mild surprise, the best review of Piketty I have run across is by Larry Summers. He gathers together all the technical criticisms in many other reviews and then adds a few of his own. While he pats Piketty on the back for his wonderful interest in inequality, he leaves the theoretical claims in a tattered pile on the floor.
[A guest post from Peter St. Onge, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Feng Chia University in Taiwan.]
Is academia the epitome of mankind’s quest for knowledge? Is it an adjunct to the productive forces that drive us ever-closer to a utopia of plenty? Or is it a self-licking ice cream cone? Here are a few data points.
For each keyword or phrase-in-quotes, the first column measures google searches (average ttm, in thousands, reported 5/15/14 on Google Adwords Keyword Planner). The second column measures academic papers on Google scholar between 2012-2013 (as of 5/15/14). The third column measures the ratio of academic papers divided by monthly searches. And the fourth column gives Google Adwords’ “suggested bid” — this suggests what an advertiser might offer for a “click” when somebody enters the search term or phrase, so is roughly the market value of a visitor searching for that term.
These measures are roughly intended to capture popular interest (the quest for knowledge) and market value (adjunct to production) compared to academic interest.
First, some general business terms, with “gender identity” thrown in for fun, ranked by papers-to-search ratios:
|Google Scholar||Google monthly searches (k)||Papers 12-13 (k)||Papers/ searches||Suggested Bid|
The highest ratio of academic vs popular interest? Management. Beating even “gender identity.” And the lowest? Finance, followed by entrepreneurship. The people demand more finance and entrepreneurship papers. Perhaps because they want to learn how to invest and start businesses, but this is conjecture.
What else jumps out here is the overwhelming interest among the public in finance. Indeed, there are more than 4 times more searches for the word finance than all the other terms together. “Finance” is 20 times more popular than accounting or management, and 15 times more than marketing. Perhaps business schools are misallocating their resources unless their departments aren’t at least 80% finance? (more…)
| Nicolai Foss |
In management, that is. Here. Hardly surprising that Clay Christensen is #1. But … where is Klein?
| Dick Langlois |
How failure to proofread can improve the quality of your coauthors. Note the use of “we” in the abstract. I suppose that Penrose’s idea that resources come in discrete bundles is a kind of quantum mechanics of the firm.
| Dick Langlois |
From the Stanford alumni newsletter:
Goodbye @SUAthletics, Hello @gostanford
Stanford athletics knows how to drive a hard bargain. The department recently traded its longtime Twitter handle, @SUAthletics, to Syracuse University in exchange for a yet-to-be determined order of local goods, including one case of oranges. The fruit will be used to refill Stanford’s 2011 Orange Bowl trophy. Athletics will now tweet as @GoStanford, which had emerged as a more popular choice.
| Peter Klein |
Technological advance and economic growth are ruining modern life — people don’t write long letters anymore, they don’t spend time together at meals, they speak quickly, and nobody stops to smell the roses. So said critics starting in 1871. A new entry for our “Nothing New under the Sun” series (via Josh Gans). NB: Some of you will tag 1871 as the start of modernity, for a different reason!
| Peter Klein |
Almost all dissertations in economics and business are of the “three-essays” variety, rather than conventional book-length treatises. The main reason is pragmatic: economics, management, finance, accounting, etc. are mainly discussed in journal articles, not books. Students writing treatises must spend the first year post PhD converting the dissertation into articles for publication; why not write them that way from the start? (An extreme example — perhaps apocryphal — concerns Larry Summers, who began teaching at MIT several years before receiving his PhD from Harvard. Rumor has it he forgot to submit the PhD thesis, and simply bundled three of his published articles and turned it in.)
Some counter that the traditional model, or some variant of it, has value — for instance, the treatise conventionally includes a lengthy literature review, more than would be acceptable for a published journal article, which demonstrates the student’s mastery of the relevant literature. My view is that the standalone literature review is redundant at best; the student’s mastery of the material should be manifest in the research findings, without extra recitation of who said what. I tell students: don’t waste time putting anything in the dissertation that is not intended for publication!
The May 2013 AER has a piece by Wendy Stock and John Siegfried, “One Essay on Dissertation Formats in Economics,” on the essays-versus-treatise question. The evidence seems to weigh pretty heavily against the treatise:
Dissertations in economics have changed dramatically over the past forty years, from primarily treatise-length books to sets of essays on related topics. We document trends in essay-style dissertations across several metrics, using data on dissertation format, PhD program characteristics, demographics, job market outcomes, and early career research productivity for two large samples of US PhDs graduating in 1996-1997 or 2001-2002. Students at higher ranked PhD programs, citizens outside the United States, and microeconomics students have been at the forefront of this trend. Economics PhD graduates who take jobs as academics are more likely to have written essay-style dissertations, while those who take government jobs are more likely to have written a treatise. Finally, most of the evidence suggests that essay-style dissertations enhance economists’ early career research productivity.
| Peter Klein |
Have you noticed that when you search for a person on Google, the sidebar shows you other linked people searches (“People also search for”)? E.g., if you search for yours truly, it pulls up Nicolai Foss, Joe Salerno, Bob Murphy, and Israel Kirzner. I’m not sure how the algorithm works; is it the likelihood these searches are combined, or searched in sequence, or does it have to do with cross-links in search results? Anyway, it’s interesting to see who Google things is related to whom. For instance
Peter G. Klein ==> Nicolai Foss, Joseph Salerno, Robert P. Murphy, Israel Kirzner
Nicolai Foss ==> Peter G. Klein, Edith Penrose, Israel Kirzner, Oliver E. Williamson
Oliver E. Williamson ==> Ronald Coase, Elinor Ostrom, Douglass North, Armen Alchian
Murray N. Rothbard ==> Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Frédéric Bastiat, Henry Hazlitt
Paul Krugman ==> John Law, P. T. Barnum, Charles Ponzi, Beelzebub
| Peter Klein |
Going through some old files, I came across a 1995 Wall Street Journal piece I had saved, with the following passages highlighted:
Mr. Klein caught the fanaticism of the converted and convened a special commission to audit the books. It summed up its findings in six words: the need for change is urgent. Polls showed the public agreed. . . .
Mr. Klein doggedly pursued a program of breathtaking change. Government will fall from 24,000 to 18,000 in two and a half years. Sixty school boards were eliminated, the health budget was cut by 17%, and the number of hospital beds cut in half. Seniors earning over $21,000 (U.S.) a year were asked to pay their own Medicare premiums. . . .
The Klein Revolution did meet with opposition. . . . “My day wasn’t complete without a protest,” Mr. Klein recalls with a smile. But each success spurred him on: “You’re nervous the first time you try something new, but once you do it, you sort of get used to it.” . . .
Last year, he spoke to a group in Toronto and was asked if books by F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises had inspired his policies. Mr. Klein smiled and said, . . . “Do I look like the kind of guy who would read those books?” The crowd laughed, because while Mr. Klein may not have read Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” he has proved he knows how to build a policy exit ramp away from it.
The full article is below the fold. (more…)
| Nicolai Foss |
So, my school is now deep into discussing the results of the recent “employee satisfaction survey.” Thus, each department is expected to spend minimum 2,5 hours discussing the results, and to come up with an action plan to handle those problems that — per definition — exist. And in my capacity as department head I have just ended this round of annual reviews which focus on the “competence development” of faculty. The practice of management has changed, to be sure. An approach that is decidedly not acceptable anymore, at least in my part of the world, is exemplified by this great drummer chewing out the band he led (more here; here is the mandatory Hitler version; and, in case you really want to practice, here are the transcriptions). Bob Sutton wouldn’t like it.And yet, badass approaches to management may work — perhaps not for those autonomously motivated, self-directed types (i.e., us), but certainly for those with motivational issues (see Emily Bazelon’s Slate piece on Rutgers coach Mike Rice). Toughness has costs and benefits. It seems that much current management thinking focuses on the costs of tough management approaches and neglects the potential benefits. No?
| Peter Klein |
Nicolai was kind enough to mention my Facebook page but neglected to add that he has one too, and that O&M itself is on Facebook and Twitter. You can read, like, share, and comment on O&M posts at those sites as well as the main site. Which raises the interesting issue, is the blog format obsolete? We started O&M in 2006, an eon ago in Internet time. Since then, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms have appeared, and they duplicate most functions of the old-fashioned blog. They usually allow cross-posting and let you compose on one and push to the others. So, are blogging platforms like WordPress (which we use) on the way out? Google’s unfortunate decision to kill Google Reader has some people suggesting that RSS itself is dead. What should we do, to stay on the cutting edge? What’s the future of structured online group discussion? Should we create the first MOOOB (Massively Open Online Organizations Blog)?
| Nicolai Foss |
Our Moral Leader at O&M has his own fan page on Facebook. He mixes entertaining libertarian outbursts with info on new conferences and links to cool new papers, articles, and so on–in other words, O&M en miniature. Pay a visit and like Peter’s page.
| Peter Klein |
Hayek famously argued that prices embody information and that economic actors, responding to price changes, act as if they knew the underlying circumstances generating these changes. “[I]n a system in which the knowledge of the relevant facts is dispersed among many people, prices can act to coordinate the separate actions of different people in the same way as subjective values help the individual to coordinate the parts of his plan.” To economize, people don’t need “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place,” they only need access to prices. “The mere fact that there is one price for any commodity . . . brings about the solution which (it is just conceptually possible) might have been arrived at by one single mind possessing all the information which is in fact dispersed among all the people involved in the process.” Hayek illustrates with his famous example of the tin market: “All that the users of tin need to know is that some of the tin they used to consume is now more profitably employed elsewhere and that, in consequence, they must economize tin. There is no need for the great majority of them even to know where the more urgent need has arisen, or in favor of what other needs they ought to husband the supply.”
Hayek offers a powerful argument against interference with the price mechanism. But we should remember that prices embody information about the past, and the entrepreneur’s job is to anticipate, or “appraise,” the future. Entrepreneurs, far from discovering and exploiting “gaps” in the existing structure of prices, deploy resources in anticipation of expected — but uncertain — profits generated by future prices. For this, they rely on what Mises called a “specific anticipative understanding of the conditions of the uncertain future,” an understanding that requires a lot of knowledge of particular circumstances of time and place!
The knowledge requirements of the successful entrepreneur or arbitrageur are vividly illustrated in this passage from Carsten Jensen’s magnificent novel, We the Drowned, in a passage about 19th-century ship brokers, entrepreneurs who own, lease, and manage ships and shipping contracts:
A ship broker needs to know how the Russo-Japanese War will hit the freight market. He doesn’t need to be interested in politics, but he has to pay attention to his skippers’ finances, so a knowledge of international conflict is essential. Opening up a newspaper — he’ll see a photograph of a head of state and if he’s bright enough, he’ll read his own future profits in the man’s face. He might not he interested in socialism, in fact he’ll swear he isn’t: he’s never heard such a load of starry-eyed nonsense. Until one day his crew lines up and demands higher wages, and he has to immerse himself in union issues and other newfangled notions about the future organization of society. A broker must keep up to date with the names of foreign heads of state, the political currents of the time, the various enmities between nations, and earthquakes in distant parts of the world. He makes money out of wars and disasters, but first and foremost he makes it because the world has become one big building site. Technology rearranges everything, and he needs to know its secrets, its latest inventions and discoveries. Saltpeter, divi-divi, soy cakes, pit props, soda, dyer’s broom — these aren’t just names to him. He’s neither touched saltpeter nor seen a swatch of dyer’s broom. He’s never tasted soy cake (for which he can count himself lucky), but he knows what it’s used for and where there’s a demand for it. He doesn’t want the world to stop changing. If it did, his office would have to close. He knows what a sailor is: an indispensable helper in the great workshop that technology has made of the world.
There was a time when all we ever carried was grain. We bought it in one place and sold it in another. Now we were circumnavigating the globe with a hold full of commodities whose names we had to learn to pronounce and whose use had to be explained to us. Our ships had become our schools. They were still powered by the wind in their sails, as they had been for thousands of years. But stacked in their holds lay the future.
Arrunada Seminar: Nuno Garoupa – From the Washington Consensus to Arruñada’s Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange
| Nuno Garoupa |
From the Washington Consensus to Arruñada’s Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange
Since the Washington Consensus and the deregulation movement took place thirty years ago, administrative simplification and reduction of bureaucracy has been on the agenda of policymakers. In fact, economists tended to agree that a strongly market-based approach requires an effective public administration imposing light burdens on economic players (thus creating a business-friendly economic environment). This view was later popularized by De Soto’s The Other Path in 1989 which inspired the work of many international organizations and the (by now) famous Doing Business Project in the late 1990s. Simplification, cutting red tape, one-stop bureaucratic agencies, reduction of licenses and procedures, de-formalizing business activities have become popular slogans with many governments around the world.
The important work of Benito Arruñada takes a fresh look at these issues. We all know that the Washington Consensus promotes deregulation, but it also defends strong legal security for property rights (understood in a nontechnical way, that is, both rights in rem and rights in personam) in the tradition of Coase, Williamson and North. In his book, Arruñada convincingly shows that certain simplifications of procedures and some forms of de-formalization actually hurt important safeguards. In other words, there could be an intrinsic and convoluted trade-off between the popularized programs of administrative simplification and adequate legal certainty. Eliminating certain formalisms might save some apparent costs in the immediate, but augment considerably transaction costs in time, therefore damaging the proper functioning of markets.
Economists have a tendency to see formalism as an example of capture by private interests, thus promoting rents, increasing transaction costs and, as a consequence, damaging business activity (including business creation and investment) and economic growth. In the context of contractual registries, Arruñada explains that some formalism responds to efficient institutional design precisely to reduce transaction costs and facilitate impersonal exchange. More importantly, in the absence of such formalism, efficient transactions might not take place and market failures could be more acute.
My understanding of the policy implications from Arruñada’s work is simple. First, not all simplification is good, not all formalism is bad. A degree of formalism is important to promote development and trade in a globalized world of impersonal exchange. Second, when de-formalizing, policymakers should consider the extent to which they are eliminating unnecessary procedures (those in place to satisfy mainly a few particular private interests) and not institutions governing property rights protection. Finally, the appropriate formalization in the context of contractual registries (for property as well as for business transactions) responds to a set of determinants identified by Arruñada that could vary across jurisdictions. Concerning de-formalizing, there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” policy.
Professor Nuno Garoupa. H. Ross and Helen Workman Research Scholar. Co-Director, Illinois Program on Law, Behavior and Social Science
| Peter Klein |
It’s been a wild and crazy 2012, with the continued global recession, new developments and trends in strategic management and entrepreneurship research and practice, the resurgence of the Austrian school, and perhaps the most exciting worldwide event of 2012, the publication of the Foss and Klein book. We have an exciting 2013 planned as well.
Here are our most popular posts written in 2012:
- The Sorry State of Economic Journalism
- Life in the Echo Chamber
- What Is a Firm?
- Italian Social Science: Generalized Low Quality?
- Perceptions of Opportunities – Part 1
- Hayek on Schumpeter on Methodological Individualism
- The Bizarro World of Professor Sen
- A Curious Case of Vertical Integration
- “Give Me Money!”
- Handbook of Economic Organization
- Coase-Theorem Behavior Actually Does Happen
- Perceptions of Opportunities – Part 2
- Economists, (Hard) Data, and (Soft) Data
- First, They Ignore You. . . .
- Against Brainstorming
| Peter Klein |
True confession: I love quickmemes. Yes, I know, they’re juvenile, most are silly, and more than a few are vulgar. But they make me laugh, sometimes uncontrollably. What about versions for academics? We could have Success Prof, Overly Attached Coauthor, Successful Grad Student, Sheltering Suburban Department Head, and so on. I’ve made a few below; try your hand at the quickmeme site and share the results in the comments.
Bonus: Earlier this year I was struggling with a particularly difficult revision and created this Karate Kyle collage as a therapeutic exercise. (It did make me feel better.)
| Lasse Lien |
2013 will get a flying start here at O&M. Wednesday the 3rd of January we will kick off a virtual seminar over former guest blogger Benito Arruñada’s new book, Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange (Chicago UP). Here are some reasons you should log on and join the discussion:
- The book deals with issues that O&M readers love: Conditions that make transactions more or less difficult, and the implications of this for—among other things—investment, economic growth, and a number of other issues. Benito’s analysis is not some slightly modified version of the standard transaction cost story, though. It is quite original in its focus on the importance of impersonal exchange, and the tradeoffs involved in designing institutions that facilitate impersonal exchange.
- The book is both original and well written, but don’t take my word for it. As Henry E. Smith of Harvard Law School puts it: “This is law and economics at its best. Benito Arruñada’s brilliant book greatly advances our understanding of how law and legal institutions affect the possibilities for trade. Very unusually, it also demonstrates how the needs of transacting parties and the interests of those who serve them profoundly shape a wide range of institutions from contract enforcement to title registries.”
- A number of interesting contributors have already agreed to post comments, critique, and thoughts inspired by Benito’s book, including:
- Wade Channell (USAID)
- Pamela O’Connor (Monash University)
- Klaus Deininger (World Bank)
- Paul Dower (New Economic School)
- Nuno Garoupa (University of Illinois)
- P.J. Hill (Wheaton College and PERC)
- Paul Holden (The Enterprise Research Institute)
- Philip Keefer (World Bank)
- Stuart Kerr (Millennium Challenge Corporation)
- Amnon Lehavi (Radzyner School of Law, IDC)
- Corrado Malberti (University of Luxembourg and Commissione Studi Int.li Consiglio Nazionale del Notariato)
- Richard Messick (Consultant)
- John Nye (George Mason University)
- Matteo Rizzolli (Free University of Bozen)
- Rod Thomas (Auckland University of Technology)
- Giorgio Zanarone (CUNEF)
- And of course Benito himself….
We hope many more will join in the discussion as it get’s going from Wednesday January 3rd. The more the merrier. So read the book and join the discussion—or join the discussion even if you haven’t read the book, but have thoughts on the subjects discussed.
| Peter Klein |
Game theorists often discuss finitely repeated games by asking, “What if both parties know the world ends in period T?” If the principle of backwards induction holds, then I suppose no Mayans have been able to achieve cooperation in a repeated prisoners’ dilemma game for thousands of years — both parties know the other will defect in T-1, so each defects in T-2, and so on. . . . But where beliefs about the end of the world differ, there are potential gains from trade.
See also this Hummer commercial, one of my favorites in explaining how time preference and discount rates affect behavior.
| Nicolai Foss |
Proto-pomo Jean-Paul Sartre was a certified commie. I was therefore baffled to read about Sarte’s views on ownership (here). In Being and Nothingness Sarte argues that “to have” is one of the three fundamental categories of human existence (along with “to do” and “to be”), and notes that the “totality of my possesions reflects the totality of my being … I am what I have … what is mine is myself.” More broadly, there is a highly interesting literature on “psychological ownership,” informed mainly by philosophy and psychology, but with interesting linkages to evolutionary anthropology. The “endowment effect” in behavioral economics may be seen as part of this. Although the main applications of psychological ownership theory so far seems to have been to organizational behavior (e.g., this paper), there seem to me to be potentially interesting applications to the political philosophy, particularly for those who find the Lockean theory of ownership a bit lacking in the psychological dimension.
| Nicolai Foss |
In economics, the hierarchical firm arises for reasons related to economizing with transaction costs, managerial attention allocation, information synthesis and what not. Many organizational economists would argue that absent transaction costs, there would be no hierarchies as there would be no firms. But, what if the existence of hierarchy has a partly genetic basis, that is, humans evolved in such a way that they have come to “like” hierarchies (which may therefore exist even if transaction costs were zero)? After all, those small hunting bands roaming the African savannahs 30, 000 years ago likely had leaders, a division of labor and so on, and evolutionary anthropology suggests that our brains evolved to handle the intricacies of handling this division of labor. Thus, we may be “hardwired for hierarchy.”
OK, speculation to be sure, but in “The Fluency of the Social Hierarchy: The Ease With Which Hierarchical Relationships Are Seen, Remembered, Learned, and Liked,” recently published in the prestigious Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Emily Zitek and Larissa Tiedens provide some potentially supportive evidence: In five studies, they show that hierarchies are perceived, understood, remembered and learner faster and more efficiently than other kinds of social relationships.
There may be many reasons for this finding, but one is the simple one that hierarchical superiors have potentially strong influence on our lives. Very apropos, another recent study, “The hierarchical face: higher rankings lead to less cooperative looks,” by four UMichigan psychologists, finds that the “higher ranked an individual’s group is, the less cooperative the facial expression of that person is judged to be.” Interestingly, one of their settings is interaction with deans!
Abstracts below. (more…)