Posts filed under ‘Food and Agriculture’
| Peter Klein |
A friend tipped me off to this, um, interesting paper on farmers markets, which the authors place within the larger field of “critical agrifood scholarship.” We all know what “critical” means, and I’m familiar with much of the agrifood literature, but I didn’t know about this particular field. I learned a lot from the paper about the slow-food movement’s ability to “create political transformation,” and build a “radicalized space” even though such markets “cluster around property and privilege.” The authors seek to “unpack the racialized and class-inflected narratives at play in farmers markets [and] to extend the alternative agriculture movement’s strategic rupturing of the veil of commodity fetishism to include the systemic inequalities on which both conventional and alternative agriculture depend.” How about that thesis statement! In passing, the authors manage to chide the slow-food movement’s “complacency with capitalism and consumerism, systems that are inherently exploitative and divisive,” while adding editorial remarks to such important scientific phenomena as “the working class performances of ‘god, guns and country’ that fill the rhetoric of the GOP.”
Thank goodness for taxpayer-subsided universities. If there were a free market for higher education, this kind of valuable scholarship would probably be grossly underfunded.
| Peter Klein |
An important contribution to the history of technology and the relationship between technology, organization, and strategy:
Gordon Winder’s The American Reaper is a solid and significant contribution to the history of American grain harvesting implements. Winder offers several revisionist challenges to standard accounts, both those that have treated Cyrus McCormick as a heroic inventor, as well as those that have touted the International Harvester Corporation (IHC, formed in 1902) as a path-breaking model of a vertically integrated and internationally dominant firm. . . . Reaper manufacturers forged licensing agreements, subcontracted with suppliers and branch factories, shared expert personnel and innovations, hired widely dispersed sales agents, and formed alliances to protect patent advantages in order to remain competitive.
Read the rest of the EH.Net review here.
To honor Julia Child on her 100th birthday, Lynne Kiesling writes a nice post combining three of my favorite things: cooking, entrepreneurship theory, and Austrian economics. Good cooking is about the combination of heterogeneous resources, it requires experimentation and creativity, and it either works or it doesn’t. Most important:
A system that will yield the most valuable and pleasing combinations of entrepreneurial economic or cooking activities will have low entry barriers (anyone can try to cook!) and a robust feedback-based system of error correction. Low entry barriers facilitate creativity in discovering new useful products from the raw elements, as well as enabling new value creation when some of those raw elements change. Error correction, whether a “yuck, that’s gross!” at home or a lack of profits due to low repeat business at a restaurant, is most effective and valuable when there are feedback loops that can inform the cook-producer about the value that the consumer did or did not get from the dish.
This emphasis on error correction highlights one of my differences with Kirzner’s approach to entrepreneurship. In Kirzner’s system, which emphasizes entrepreneurship as a coordinating agency, the entrepreneur is modeled as “piercing the fog” of uncertainty — hence the familiar metaphor of entrepreneurship as the discovery of preexisting profit opportunities. My approach focuses on action, not discovery, and gives a larger role to uncertainty. What generates coordination, in this approach, is the entrepreneurial selection process, not the “correctness” of entrepreneurial decisions.
Incidentally, Saras Sarasvathy often uses cooking to illustrate her “effectual” approach to entrepreneurial decision-making (i.e., cooks don’t always follow a recipe to produce a known dish, but use the ingredients they have in a sequential, experimental process). And for more on food, see here and here.
| Peter Klein |
[M]uch of what we do as economists is akin to what Simon calls natural science. We develop theories about how the economy works, and we conduct empirical studies that test these theories or estimate the parameters of key economic relationships that explain how general results derived from our theories manifest themselves in a particular context.We strive for results that explain what is or that predict what will be. . . .
Economists also design economic artifacts (e.g., markets, contracts, organizational structures, public policies) that reshape economic systems in order to better meet human needs. This work, which I will call economic design, is complementary with but differs fundamentally from economic analysis. While economic analysis is motivated by a question or a puzzle and focuses on explaining what is and predicting what will be, economic design is motivated by a problem or opportunity and focuses on what can be and ought to be or on what will yield a satisfactory outcome. . . .
While we are comfortable in recognizing “good science” in economic analysis, I believe we have devoted less attention to developing a shared understanding of “good science” in economic design.
It is certainly true that economists are increasingly involved in economic design (a trend that accelerated around WWII) though I am less sure this is a good idea. A lot of economic design — specifying “optimal” contracts, for example — might be considered the domain of entrepreneurs, not social scientists. But applied policy work is certainly of this character, so the essay may be read as a call for applied economists to pay closer attention to issues like decomposability, modularity, search, creativity, etc. (See Dick’s work for rich discussions of these issues.)
Kudos to Rob for a thoughtful and intelligent piece. A friend calls it “perhaps the most interesting President’s Address from AAEA in the last 20 years.”
| Peter Klein |
Most people don’t know that France is McDonald’s second-most popular market, despite the presumed French distaste for les choses américaines. Knowledge@Wharton has a nice piece suggesting that the firm’s willingness to cater to French tastes explains its success over local and multinational rivals:
In France, barely 10% of meals are eaten outside the home, compared to nearly 40% in the U.S. and the U.K. Unlike their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, French consumers rarely snack between breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a result, French meal times also last longer, and more food is consumed through multiple courses, creating unique opportunities and challenges for fast-food dining. McDonald’s decided to capitalize on the opportunity. Rather than run promotions that encourage snacking, the company freed up valuable labor by installing electronic ordering kiosks, which are used by one out of every three customers in more than 800 of its restaurants. McDonald’s has capitalized on the French cultural preference for longer meals by using surplus labor to provide table-side service, particularly in taking orders from lingering diners inclined to order an additional coffee or dessert item. Thanks to such initiatives, the average French consumer spends about US$15 per visit to McDonald’s — four times what their American counterparts spend.
Adding the McCafé — featuring macaroons baked by the same company that supplies Ladurée — was another savvy move.
| Peter Klein |
Following up Nicolai’s post, here’s another job listing for O&M readers interested in vertical integration and supply-chain issues in food, fiber, and natural resources (forwarded at the request of Karin Hakelius). Feel free to share similar listings with us and we’ll post them here. (We assume most of you already see the announcements posted at JOE, the BPS and ENT lists of AoM, etc.). (more…)
| 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 |
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 Klein |
O&M friend Brent Ross sends along this CFP for a track session of the 2012 Wageningen International Conference on Chain and Network Management. The session, “Managing Wicked Problems: The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Engagements for Resource and Value Creation,” is linked to a special issue of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review. Info below the fold: (more…)
| Peter Klein |
I’m very excited about Doug Allen’s forthcoming book The Institutional Revolution (University of Chicago Press). Trained by Yoram Barzel (and hence part of the Tree of Zvi), Doug is a leading contemporary scholar on property rights, transaction costs, contracting, and economic history. His work on agricultural contracting with Dean Lueck, including their 2002 book The Nature of the Farm, is a classic contribution to the economics literature on economic organization. He also has a very good introductory textbook. More information is at Doug’s informative (and amusing) website.
Here’s the cover blurb for the new book:
Few events in the history of humanity rival the Industrial Revolution. Following its onset in eighteenth-century Britain, sweeping changes in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and technology began to gain unstoppable momentum throughout Europe, North America, and eventually much of the world—with profound effects on socioeconomic and cultural conditions.
In The Institutional Revolution, Douglas W. Allen offers a thought-provoking account of another, quieter revolution that took place at the end of the eighteenth century and allowed for the full exploitation of the many new technological innovations. Fundamental to this shift were dramatic changes in institutions, or the rules that govern society, which reflected significant improvements in the ability to measure performance—whether of government officials, laborers, or naval officers—thereby reducing the role of nature and the hazards of variance in daily affairs. Along the way, Allen provides readers with a fascinating explanation of the critical roles played by seemingly bizarre institutions, from dueling to the purchase of one’s rank in the British Army.
Engagingly written, The Institutional Revolution traces the dramatic shift from premodern institutions based on patronage, purchase, and personal ties toward modern institutions based on standardization, merit, and wage labor—a shift which was crucial to the explosive economic growth of the Industrial Revolution.
Bonus: Here’s the syllabus from Doug’s course on the economics of property rights.
| Peter Klein |
- ISNIE, 16-18 June in Palo Alto. Registrations are closed but latecomers could try lobbying the Treasurer to accept a late payment — never mind, that’s me, don’t bother.
- “Open Source, Innovation, and New Organizational Forms,” 1 August in Johannesburg. “This first IPEG conference intends to explore new theoretical and empirical advances in open source organization: the interest is not just on voluntary Open Source Software production and its potential innovation implications, but also on such related ‘open source’ phenomena as collective invention, online collaboration (e.g., Wikipedia), online social networking (e.g., Facebook), open innovation, open science, open source biology, and open standards.” The conference website is not live as of this posting, but organizer Giampaolo Garzarelli can provide details. O&M’s Dick Langlois is a keynote speaker. 500-word abstracts are due 24 June.
- “Achieving Coexistence of Biotech, Conventional & Organic Foods in the Marketplace,” 26-28 October in Vancouver. Speakers include FAO Deputy Director General Ann Tutweiler and Canadian Ag Minister Gerry Ritz. Coexistence conferences have been held every other year since 2003; the first 3 conferences came out of EU Commission efforts, the next was in Australia, and this one is the first to be held in North America. A co-organizer tells me “we hope to bring a more ‘practical’ view of coexistence than is commonly held in Europe.”
| Peter Klein |
Earlier this academic year I assumed the Directorship of the McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership here at the University of Missouri. My colleague (and former O&M guest blogger) Randy Westgren retains the position of McQuinn Chair. The McQuinn Chair was established in 2004 through a generous gift from Al and Mary Agnes McQuinn, and the Center was created soon afterwards by Bruce Bullock, the inaugural McQuinn Chair.
Look for a slate of exciting programs and activities about entrepreneurship, organization, innovation, strategy, and more in the coming months. To keep you up to date on the Center’s activities, as well as news and information from the wider world of entrepreneurship, we’re blogging as well at entrepreneurship@McQuinn.
| Peter Klein |
The current issue of AAEA Exchange, the newsletter of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (formerly American Agricultural Economics Association), features three perspectives on the long-term viability of maintaining separate departments of economics and agricultural economics. (Much of the discussion would apply to business economics departments too.) Ron Mittelhammer of Washington State argues for consolidation, Ken Foster of Purdue for keeping separate departments, and Rob King of Minnesota for the transformation of agricultural economics departments to applied economics departments.
The issues are organizational and strategic and familiar to O&M readers. Mittelhammer emphasizes tangible resources and a shared intellectual heritage and downplays accumulated routines and capabilities, organizational culture, etc.:
Arguably above all other rationale, mergers are also warranted because, fundamentally, economics is economics. Agricultural economics is a field of economics, not some other paradigm of economics, and is no more distinct from its parent discipline than other fields such as labor economics, international economics, health economics. . . .
Too often of late, it appears that the last ditch attempt at justifying the separation of economic units degenerates to the issue of faculty personalities, the correlated issue of seemingly unbridgeable differences in “professional cultures,” and the fear of open faculty warfare that might be ignited by a merger, rather than the existence of truly distinct and defensible differences in the methodologies used to do economic analysis in agricultural and applied, versus the “other” economics disciplines. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
The importance of agricultural research in the intellectual history of science should be self-evident. Justus Liebig (1803-1873) was a key figure in both the development of laboratory methodology and agricultural science. Gregor Mendel’s (1822-1884) famous experiments were in plant breeding. Louis Pasteur’s (1822-1895) most celebrated work was on the cattle disease, anthrax. William Bateson (1861-1926), who coined the term genetics, was the first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in London, 1910-1926. Statistician, geneticist, and eugenics proponent R. A. Fisher (1890-1962) was employed by the Rothamsted Experimental Station, 1919 to 1933 (and temporarily relocated there from 1939 to 1943). Interwar and postwar virologists and molecular biologists did a great deal of work on the economically destructive tobacco mosaic virus.
From a very informative post at the history-of-science blog Ether Wave Propaganda (via Randy). In economics and management we’d have to add large swathes of production economics and risk-management research, the early papers in agency and contract theory dealing with sharecropping and land tenure, Grilliches’s work on hybrid corn, and much more. What else would you put on the list?
| Peter Klein |
In place of the “What I’ve Been Reading Lately” posts that show up regularly on certain blogs, I hereby offer something slightly less egocentric, the “What I’ve Been Receiving Lately” post. It contains a list of books I’ve recently received by mail, some by choice, others because publishers sent them (perhaps hoping I’d blog about them — Mission Accomplished!). Not the most scientific sample selection process, but there you go.
- Jesús Huerta de Soto, Socialism, Economic Calculation, and Entrepreneurship (Elgar, 2010). English translation of an important work first published in Spanish in 1992.
- Guinevere Liberty Nell, Rediscovering Fire: Basic Economic Lessons from the Soviet Experiment (Algora, 2010). What the failure of central planning teaches about markets and institutions.
- Koray Çaliskan, Market Threads: How Cotton Farmers and Traders Create a Global Commodity (Princeton, 2010). Economic sociology meets global commodity systems. Contains dust-jacket endorsements from Richard Swedberg and Donald MacKenzie, so expect a review from the orgtheory boys soon.
- Peter J. Boettke, ed., Handbook on Contemporary Austrian Economics (Elgar, 2010). Essays by young Austrian economists associated with George Mason University.
- Robert E. Wright, Fubarnomics: A Lighthearted, Serious Look at America’s Economic Ills (Prometheus, 2010). I think the title says it all.
- Ranjay Gulati, Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business (Harvard Business School, 2010). Looks fluffy, but I have a teaching interest in change management so I’ll give it the benefit if the doubt.
- David Stark, The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life (Princeton, 2009). Also deals with organizational change, but in a more serious way. Ethnographic studies of three organizations dealing with large exogenous shocks. Looks interesting.
| Peter Klein |
Congratulations to Decio Zylbersztajn and the rest of the group at PENSA on their 20th anniversary. PENSA, a research center within the University of São Paulo, is the home of New Institutional Economics research and teaching in Brazil (and Latin America more generally), producing papers, training graduate students, hosting international conferences, and other activities. The group celebrated its 20th year with a party this past weekend. You can see current and former PENSA personnel in the photo below, including Decio, my Missouri colleague Fabio Chaddad (to Decio’s right), Luciana Florencio de Almeida (just in front of Decio), Paulo Furquim de Azevedo (back row), Sergio Lazzarini (front row), Sylvia Saes (middle row, right side), and other well-known New Institutional Scholars.
The current issue of the Revista de Administração da Universidade de São Paulo has an article on financial constraints and agricultural contracting in Brazil by Decio, Luciana, and me.
| Peter Klein |
- A new paper by Randall Morck and Bernard Yeung, “Agency Problems and the Fate of Capitalism.” A very good comparative-institutional analysis of shareholder democracy and its benefits and costs relative to “stakeholder” models.
- A Washington Post story on “moral licensing” (via Sheen Levine) — suggesting that some people view ethical behavior, like goods and services, in terms of trade-offs at the margin!
- A call for contributions to The Ethics and Economics of Agrifood Competition, a Springer volume in preparation by my colleague Harvey James.
- Videos and papers from the Coase centenary conference held last year at the University of Chicago Law School.
| Peter Klein |
A new Australian public-service ad compares fast food to heroin: “You wouldn’t inject your children with junk. So why are you feeding it to them?” (See the ad, along with Katherine Mangu-Ward’s funny meditations on the theme.) But does fast food really contribute to health problems, particularly obesity?
Not much, according to Richard Dunn’s study, “The Effect of Fast-Food Availability on Obesity: An Analysis by Gender, Race, and Residential Location,” in the July 2010 issue of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (it’s peer reviewed, and not funded by corporations!). Previous research finds links between the number and density of fast-food restaurants and health problems, but has difficulty identifying cause and effect (fast food could make people overweight, but fast food restaurants could be put in areas where people are overweight anyway). Dunn uses the number of interstate exits as an instrument for restaurant location to tease out the causal relations, and finds little overall effect of fast food on obesity — none at all in rural areas, a bit in medium-density areas, and only among women and minorities.
| Dick Langlois |
As economists like Benito Arruñada and Eric Hilt have shown, fishing and whaling have always used an incentive system in which crew members are paid a share of the profits of the voyage. Recall that Ishmael in Moby Dick contracted for a 300th lay, a 300th “part of the clear nett proceeds of the voyage, whatever that might eventually amount to.” This provides relatively high-powered incentives, in that it is a reward based on results, though it works only when team members can monitor each other easily and when the market for workers is competitive. (This contrasts with the reward system in, say, professional sports, where one is rewarded on the basis of one’s own performance rather than on that of the team. But that may be changing.)
I was surprised to discover that even Soviet factory ships used a similar system, as described in the Martin Cruz Smith novel Polar Star — a work of fiction but clearly well researched and probably accurate. “The Polar Star’s pay was shared on a coefficient from 2.55 shares for the captain to 0.8 share for a secondclass seaman. Then there was a polar coefficient of 1.5 for fishing in Arctic seas, a 10 percent bonus for one year’s service, a 10 percent bonus for meeting the ship’s quota, and a bonus as high as 40 percent for overfulfilling the plan. The quota was everything. It could be raised or lowered after the ship left dock, but was usually raised because the fleet manager drew his bonus from saving on seamen’s wages. Transit time to the fishing grounds was set at so many days, and the whole crew lost money when the captain ran into a storm, which was why Soviet ships sometimes went full steam ahead through fog and heavy seas.”
Presumably, however, the share was not of profit but of some fixed amount. The incentive came from the quota bonuses, which, as the novel details, were subject to political manipulation. Interesting nonetheless that the system used incentives of the broadly traditional kind, and that it explicitly rewarded workers differently for different skill level and status.
| Peter Klein |
Congratulations to my colleague Pat Westhoff for his new book, The Economics of Food: How Feeding and Fueling the Planet Affects Food Prices (Financial Times Press, 2010). A highly readable account of food markets and food and agricultural policy. Includes some wise words about forecasting:
One thing FAPRI has learned over the years is that people who make and use market projections need a good sense of perspective — and humor. In a rapidly changing world, even the best projections have a very short shelf life. The economic models used to develop the projections necessarily rely on a long series of assumptions, and at least some of these assumptions always prove to be incorrect when viewed with 20-20 hindsight. . . .
For all these reasons, this book uses market projections by FAPRI and other institutions simply to illustrate important points, rather than to predict what will actually happen. If there is one lesson readers should take away from this book, it is that analysts who say they know exactly who food prices will evolve in the future are misleading their audience or fooling themselves.
Update (20 April 2010): While stranded in Germany waiting for a flight home, Pat wrote an item for Freakonomics.