Posts filed under ‘Former Guest Bloggers’

Business Cycles and the Structure of Production

| Peter Klein |

A new paper from former guest blogger Peter Lewin:

A Financial Framework for Macroeconomic Cycles: The Structure of Production is Relevant

Peter Lewin
University of Texas at Dallas – School of Management – Department of Finance & Managerial Economics

Nicolas Cachanosky
Metropolitan State University of Denver

A comprehensive understanding business-cycles needs to account not only for the allocation of resources over time, but also for resource allocation across industries at any point in time. Intertemporal disequilibrium has been a common theme of many theories of the business-cycle. But to properly understand how these “time-distortions” take place and how the price-mechanisms that drive them work, a clear and well-defined conceptualization of the “average length” of the structure of production, is required. The insights provided by Macaulay’s duration and Hicks’s Average Period do this. We show that financial duration and related concepts have a direct connection to macroeconomic stability. By doing this we point to important implications for macroeconomic policy. We claim not only that a low interest rate contributes to the creation of asset bubbles, we show also the market mechanism through which the real sector is affected. We argue that to accept that duration matters for resource allocation is to accept the core of the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle (ABCT) and, therefore, that to reject the ABCT core thesis suggests also rejecting the importance of duration for resource allocation.

Management and entrepreneurship scholars new to business-cycle theory might find this, this, and this to be useful background reading.

30 May 2014 at 9:06 am 2 comments

Is Human Capital Theory Compatible with the Strategy Literature?

[Another Becker-themed guest post, this one from former guest blogger Russ Coff, a leader in the emerging field of Strategic Human Capital.]

| Russ Coff |

Human capital theory (HCT) has brought a lot to the strategy literature. It has also held it back as scholars import logic that is inconsistent with core assumptions of the literature.

Before I launch into my heretical rant, let me acknowledge, as others have said so eloquently, Gary Becker was a truly innovative thinker. The most unique part was that, while he was firmly grounded in economic logic, he did not hesitate to venture into new terrain. Though he is most known for his work in HCT, his thoughtful explorations of marriage, discrimination, crime, and many other topics demonstrate the breadth and depth of his intellect.

However, strategy represents new terrain that is often inconsistent with the logic of HCT. In this sense, I think Becker would have relished the opportunity to examine this context as a new problem. Human capital challenges the strategy literature in the most fundamental ways possible – if we go beyond a cursory integration with Becker’s world. Here are some examples:

How much does firm-specific human capital (FSHC) matter? Drawing on HCT, scholars often assume firm specificity is important since it hinders mobility and allows the firm to capture rent. However, recent work suggests that this effect may be overstated. It requires strong information about human capital as opposed to the coarse signals that employers often rely upon. Thus, a worker moving from a successful firm may have ample opportunities as the firm’s success serves as a signal of the worker’s capabilities – FSHC investments are ignored. Even with strong information, individuals who invest in FSHC may be in demand by firms seeking employees who are willing and able to make such investments. When we consider such market imperfections (at the core of strategy theory), some of the classical HCT logic breaks down.

General human capital as a source of competitive advantage? Recent work in economics (Lazear’s skill-weights model) and the literature on stars focuses on workers who have skills that are valuable across firms. Both literatures point out how valuable and rare such skills can be (at very high levels). The scarcity and imperfect markets suggest that general human capital can be a source of advantage. Such people may be much more scarce and much less mobile than is assumed in classical HCT. Practitioners focus extensively on this type of knowledge. Can it lead to an advantage?

What is competitive advantage? From this, we might ask some more fundamental questions about competitive advantage, firms, and ownership. Most scholars implicitly adopt an agency theoretic view where shareholders are the only residual claimant and competitive advantage is therefore rent that flows to shareholders. Any value that flows to employees is considered not to have been captured by the firm. Joe Mahoney points out that shareholders would be the sole residual claimants if all factors are traded in perfectly competitive markets (e.g., wage = MRP). For this to be true, firms would have to be homogeneous and human capital would need to be a commodity. As such, this logic assumes away the possibility of competitive advantage altogether. If firms are heterogeneous and there are factor market failures, shareholders would not generally be sole residual claimants. What, then, is competitive advantage? (more…)

7 May 2014 at 5:37 pm 3 comments

Gary Becker: A Personal Appreciation

[The following is from former guest blogger Peter Lewin, who wrote his PhD under Gary Becker at Chicago.]

| Peter Lewin |

Professor Gary Becker died yesterday at the age of 83. At the time of his death, he was arguably the most highly respected living economics scholar.

The blogosphere will soon be flooded with obituaries, appreciations, and evaluations of his work by people better placed than I to offer them. Given, however, that I was privileged to have been able to study with him for a short period of time as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and that he acted as the chairman of my Ph.D. dissertation committee, I would like on the occasion of his passing to offer a few words of personal appreciation.

Becker will be remembered mostly for his work on human capital and the economics of the family. It is hard to overstate the influence of his contributions to these fields. Indeed, he pretty much created them — though one must not minimize the contributions of others early scholars like Simon Polacheck, and especially the independent and complementary work of Jacob Mincer.

By his own account, Becker came to these subjects through the influence of his mentor Milton Friedman whose approach led him to see economics as the study of people “in the ordinary business of life” (as Alfred Marshall would have it). But his first foray beyond the traditional borders of the subject was not in those subjects (human capital or the economics of the family) but rather in the economics of discrimination, a very volatile subject at the time. He literally wrote the book on The Economics of Discrimination (see also here). It seemed to him at the time that the conversation on civil rights and segregation was hopelessly confused by the lack of an understand of the social processes at work, an understanding that was accessible using the eternal principles of economics to investigate how people act on their preferences, whatever they are and whatever we may think of them. So he quite controversially investigated the likely results of economic processes in which people had given (race or gender) preferences and showed quite simply that, as long as people were free to act in open markets as employers, workers, or consumers, the act of discrimination would carry a price. For example, discriminator-employers who indulged their preferences who be outcompeted by those who hired the most qualified person for the job, and, in this way, open competition would tend to erode discriminatory outcomes (if not discriminatory attitudes). (more…)

4 May 2014 at 4:48 pm 10 comments

Pirrong Responds

| Peter Klein |

Here’s Craig’s initial (and hopefully not final!) response to David Kocieniewski’s “farrago of dishonesty, insinuations, innuendo, and ad hominem.” As expected, Craig pulls no punches. Kocieniewski’s failure to point out that most of Craig’s professional work argues against the interests of his alleged paymasters “betrays his utter unprofessionalism and bias, and is particularly emblematic of the shockingly shoddy excuse for journalism that his piece represents.” The insinuation that Craig’s paid work deals with speculation, when none of it does, is “misleading, deceptive, and plainly libelous.” The Times piece is riddled with factual and chronological errors, deliberately inserted to score political points: “dishonest to its very core because of its egregiously biased omission of some essential material facts and deceptive presentation of others.” I can’t say I’m surprised; this is mainstream journalism, after all.

Craig also provides this roundup of posts defending him and Scott Irwin, including ours.

30 December 2013 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

NYT Smears Craig Pirrong, Scott Irwin

| Peter Klein |

The NYT runs a hatchet-job on the brilliant financial economist (and former O&M guest blogger) Craig Pirrong. Apparently Craig not only does academic research on commodity markets and participates in public policy debates about commodity-market regulation but also — gasp! — is a paid consultant for commodity-trading firms. Without detailing any specific impropriety, the Times implies that Craig is little more than a shill for big evil corporations, or something. “Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward,” screams the Times headline.

Thousands of economists are paid consultants for the Federal Reserve System, World Bank, IMF, USDA, and virtually every government agency around the world, but you will never hear the Times suggest that their research or public advocacy could in the slightest way be compromised by these ties. As Larry White and E. C. Pasour have pointed out, the academic work funded by government agencies nearly always — surprise! — comes out in defense of those agencies, their missions, and their generous contributions to the public good. Did the prospect of heading the world’s most powerful economic planing agency influence Janet Yellen’s public testimony, her research, or her leadership at the San Francisco Fed? Can you imagine a Times headline, “Academics Who Defend Fed Reap Reward”?

Scott Irwin, a distinguished agricultural economist at the University of Illinois is also targeted. Again, the message is clear. If you oppose the Times’s editorial position on regulation (or any other issue), you are compromised by financial or other ties. If you support the Times’s position, you are a scholar or public figure of great integrity.

Update: See also Felix Salmon’s excellent summary of the “non-scandal.”

28 December 2013 at 4:15 pm 9 comments

Postrel on Dynamic Capabilities

| Peter Klein |

Former guest blogger Steve Postrel weighs in on the future of the dynamic capabilities approach (reprinted, with permission, from a thread on Academia.edu). Steve responds to the question, “Is the dynamic capabilities approach outdated?” with some typical insightful remarks.

Since DC is primarily an ex post facto construct measured by sampling on the dependent variable — i.e., if the firm successfully adapts, then it had DC — its prominence is not a sign that it is doing much intellectual work. . . .

[T]o a first approximation, arguments for the importance of DC have tended to be of the form “We know a priori that firms need to be able to change their operational capabilities from time to time; we have examples of successful firms that have adapted in this way and examples of less-successful firms that haven’t; therefore we can say that the successful adapters had more of this valuable thing we will call ‘dynamic capability.’”

Certainly there have been empirical papers that do better than that, by, for example, trying to look at firms that have adapted multiple times, or by identifying specific organizational structures and practices that might enhance adaptability. The difficult issue with looking at a “precursor” like experience is that theoretically experience could reduce DC by causing specialization and lock-in. Other putative precursors suffer from the ex post measurement problem — how do we know if a firm has the right knowledge for adaptation until we see whether it succeeds?

I suspect there are also deeper conceptual problems because DC is equivocal even with perfect measurement. It would be pretty hard to specify what one meant by the “amount” of DC a firm has or to compare the “amounts” that any two firms have. DC is certainly not a completely ordering relation and I’m not sure it’s even a partial order. Without presenting formal models and going back and forth between those and peoples’ intuition about what DC is “supposed” to mean, however, one really can’t pin these problems down enough to tell if they are serious. . . . (more…)

10 December 2013 at 9:42 am 3 comments

Arrunada Seminar: Grand Opening

| Lasse Lien |

Today we are proud to launch a virtual seminar over Benito Arruñada’s important new book: Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange: Theory and Policy of Contractual Registries (U. of Chicago Press).

First, what on earth is a virtual seminar? In this case a virtual seminar means that we over the next two weeks will launch a series of posts that address issues in Arruñada’s book, or issues that are inspired by issues in Arruñada’s book. Our hope is that many of you will join the discussion by adding your reflections, objections, or thoughts under the lead posts in the usual O&M way. Please note that if you haven’t had the time to read the book, but have thoughts on the subjects brought up or think additional subjects should be brought up, don’t let that stop you. We want to hear your thoughts!

Who is Benito? Benito is Professor of Business Organization at the Department of Economics and Business at Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona. Prior to joining Pompeu Fabra and after graduating from the universities of Oviedo and Rochester, he held positions at the Universities of Oviedo and León, and was John M. Olin Visiting Scholar in Law and Economics at Harvard Law School. He has also taught at the Universities of Paris (I and X), Frankfurt, Autónoma de Madrid and Pablo de Olavide in Seville, and visited UC Berkeley, Washington and George Mason Universities. Benito Arruñada was a member of the founding board of directors and served as President (2005-2006) of the International Society for New Institutional Economics, ISNIE. And most prestigious of all; he is a former guest blogger at O&M.

What about the book? As the title reveals, the essence of the book is the institutional foundations for impersonal exchange. If you are reading a blog called Organizations and Markets, it seems safe to assume that you will find this topic interesting and profoundly important. To flesh it out a bit more, what could be better than to let Benito himself explain the main thrust of the book:

| Benito Arruñada |

Governments and development agencies spend considerable resources building property and company registries to protect property rights. When these efforts succeed, owners feel secure enough to invest in their property and banks are able use it as collateral for credit. Similarly, firms prosper when entrepreneurs can transform their firms into legal entities and thus contract more safely. Unfortunately, developing registries is harder than it may seem to observers, especially in developed countries, where registries are often taken for granted. As a result, policies in this area usually disappoint.

In this book, I have aimed to avoid such failures by deepening our understanding of both the value of registries and the organizational requirements for constructing them. Presenting a theory of how registries strengthen property rights and reduce transaction costs, I analyze the major tradeoffs and propose principles for successfully building registries in countries at different stages of development. The focus is on land and company registries, explaining the difficulties entailed, including current challenges like the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States and the dubious efforts being made in developing countries toward universal land titling. But the analytical framework covers other registries, including intellectual property and organized exchanges of financial derivatives.

Arruñada, Benito, Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange: Theory and Policy of Contractual Registries, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012. (Amazon site: http://ow.ly/cBMU5).

3 January 2013 at 7:57 am Leave a comment

Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012)

| Peter Klein |

A guest post from former guest blogger Joe Mahoney, the Caterpillar Chair in Business and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Business Administration, University of Illinois:

As many readers of O&M know by now, Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University (born August 7, 1933) died of pancreatic cancer on Tuesday, June 12th at the age of 78.  She shared the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 with Professor Oliver Williamson (UC-Berkeley). Elinor along with her husband Vincent Ostrom (now 93) founded Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy in the mid-1960s, in which she remained active until this Spring, only a couple of weeks before her hospitalization. She also donated most of her Nobel Prize money to the Workshop, as Elinor and Vincent had no children and few living relatives.  Williamson said in a statement that Ostrom was “a great human being,” an inspiring teacher and colleague and accomplished social scientist. “She had a wonderful sense of joy about the importance of her work that she successfully communicated to others,” he said. A record five women won Nobel prizes in 2009, and Elinor Ostrom is the only woman to have been awarded the prize in Economics.

Elinor Ostrom, who was born and raised in Los Angeles as a child of the Great Depression, and received her education from undergraduate through Ph.D. at UCLA, contributed to our understanding of the evolution of institutions for collective action in common resource contexts such as forests, fisheries, oil fields, and grazing lands. She emphasized citizen involvement, the creativity of local communities, and cutting through sterile dichotomous classifications and ideological “solutions” that are glib and inaccurate. Ostrom states that “neither the State nor the market is uniformly successful in enabling individuals to sustain long-term, productive use of natural resources” (1990: 1). She emphasized the complementarities between public and private mechanisms for solving collective good problems (see Governing the Commons, Cambridge University Press, 1990.) Ostrom conducted field studies of the world’s fisheries, roamed with shepherds in Swiss pastures, and trudged around the Los Angeles water basin (during her dissertation work) to distill the essentials of harnessing cooperation. She writes in the preface to her 1990 book: “It is my conviction that knowledge accrues by the continual process of moving back and forth from empirical observation to serious efforts at theoretical formulation.” From this theoretically informed field case study method Elinor Ostrom concludes that instead of presuming that individuals sharing a common resource are “inevitably caught in a trap from which they cannot escape, . . . the capacity of individuals to extricate themselves from various types of dilemma situations varies from situation to situation” (1990: 14).

Ostrom championed unlocking the spirit of “public entrepreneurship” — a term she coined in her 1965 UCLA dissertation. Her spirit can live on within us, if we decide to “make it so.” Good years.

13 June 2012 at 6:44 pm 2 comments

Lewin on Austrian Capital Theory

| Peter Klein |

A very nice overview of “Austrian” capital theory and its relevance for the current economic crisis from former guest blogger Peter Lewin.

With the resurgence of Keynesian economic policy as a response to the current crisis, echoes of past debates are being heard — in particular the debate from the 1930s between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. . . . Hayek pointed out that capital investment does not simply add to production in a general way but rather is embodied in concrete capital items. That is, the productive capital of the economy is not simply an amorphous “stock” of generalized production power; it is an intricate structure of specific interrelated complementary components. Stimulating spending and investment, then, amounts to stimulating specific sections and components of this intricate structure.

See also the recent SO!APbox essay by Rajshree Agarwal, Jay Barney, Nicolai, and me, “Heterogeneous Resources and the Financial Crisis: Implications of Strategic Management Theory.”

4 June 2012 at 11:35 pm 1 comment

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

New Article from Langlois

| Peter Lewin |

Since it hasn’t been mentioned here yet, I would like to take the liberty of recommending a great “how it all fits together” article by Dick Langlois forthcoming in the Review of Austrian Economics, entitled “The Austrian Theory of the Firm: Retrospect and Prospect.” I just reread it with great pleasure (I saw it a few years ago at a seminar). With characteristic Langlois ease (or so it seems) Dick weaves the connections between Coase, Hayek, Lachmann, Richardson, Pensrose, Chandler, Foss, Langlois, and others to provide a very clear picture.

1 March 2012 at 10:55 am 3 comments

Perceptions of Opportunities – Part 2

| Peter Lewin |

The second review article in the latest issue of AMR by Venkataraman, Sarasvathy, Dew, and Forster (VSDF) is more ambitious than the first by Shane, discussed in Part 1. In fact one might describe the ambition motivating the article as grandiose. VSDF “seek to recast entrepreneurship as a science of the artificial” an entirely new way of looking at entrepreneurship in the interest of uncovering (what I take to be universal) principles that can serve as the basis of a new empirical and policy-useful science of entrepreneurship. [I see this article as a companion piece to the article by Sarasvathy and Venkataraman (SV) in ET&P January, 2011, in which this grandiose vision is even more apparent.]

The science of the artificial(supposedly a distinct category of science from natural or social science) is derived from the work of Herbert Simon (1996).

As a theory develops it splits into two streams: (1) “basic” research that continues to refine the causal explanations and (2) “applied” research that seeks to alter the variables of explanation. At that point the phenomenon of interest has become an artifact. …

A science of the artificial is interested in phenomena that can be designed [and controlled]. … Design lies is the choice of the boundary values; control lies in the means to change them. (24).

So a useful theory is itself an artifact something that can be used to understand and (importantly) control aspects of the (social) world. And, I suppose, the new science of entrepreneurship will eventually develop such artifacts. [At the end of the article they talk about “recasting opportunities as artifacts” – so I am not sure how this is all connected.]

My lack of expertise regarding the work of Herbert Simon (something which I am now more encouraged to remedy) prevents me from pronouncing with confidence on this part of the article. Suffice it to say that the meaning and contribution of this new “science of the artificial” is far from clear to me. I am left with a feeling that if it is indeed such an important and path-breaking meta-scientific turn, the authors should be able to explain it better. It should be more accessible and transparent. I am left highly skeptical, but I urge readers of this post to read the article and perhaps enlighten me and others. (more…)

5 February 2012 at 1:32 am 8 comments

Perceptions of Opportunities – Part 1

| Peter Lewin |

The January 2012 issue of the AMR (available here for subscribers or those with academic access) features two review articles assessing the progress of the “Promise” examined in the well-known article by Scott Shane and Sankaran Venkataraman (AMR 2000: The Promise of Entrepreneurship as a Field of Research) — one from each of the original co-authors. The first is an interesting, if somewhat pedestrian, article by Scott Shane. The second is a much more profound and ambitious contribution by Venkataraman together with Saras Sarasvathy, Nicholas Dew, and William Forster.

In the decade since that article there has, indeed, been a significant shift in the focus of research in entrepreneurship. Most notable, perhaps, is the focus on entrepreneurial “opportunities” — familiar to Austrian economists from the work of Israel Kirzner, but by now a standard element in the story. Each of the articles spends considerable time revisiting questions about the nature of entrepreneurial opportunities and provides its own resolutions. Here I will provide just a quick overview of this part of Shane’s article. (I intend to provide one for the second article soon).

In considering the “nexus of opportunities and individuals” offered originally in “Promise” as a reason to shift attention from the person to the function, Shane addresses the question of whether entrepreneurial opportunities should be considered “objective” or “subjective” — a question that has proliferated in this research stream, albeit with varying focus and terminology. The problem is, it seems to me, that the notion of “opportunity” is one that depends on the formation of a mental image by some individual or individuals. Opportunity implies plan — a plan of action to use, transform, combine, existing resources in a profitable way. Without the plan there is just the world. So how can “opportunity” be objective? This is related to the question: are opportunities “discovered” (Alvarez and Barney: Organizaҫões em Contexto, 2007) or are they created; or in the words of Venkataraman, et. al. are they made or found? (more…)

23 January 2012 at 3:38 pm 18 comments

Keynes-Hayek again!

| Peter Lewin |

I am not sure if this book has already been review on this blog space — I haven’t seen it. Similarly, I haven’t seen any other reviews, so these are my fresh impressions. The book is Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott (W. W. Norton: 2011).

With the growing interest in Hayek as the antidote to the resuscitated Keynes, this book is timely providing for the reader lively insight into the life and times of these two key individuals. In terms of the details of the lives of Keynes and Hayek the book appears to be well researched. I learned a few things from it — interesting details about events and personalities. On Keynes particularly one gains a sense of the power of the man and how a whole generation of economists at the LSE and Cambridge were won over by his revolutionary vision. Though Wapshott provides a lot of material on Hayek, I could not fight the impression that it was Keynes who captured his interest (and admiration?) most. Hayek is presented in all of his aspects, including the not so wholesome ones. The picture of Keynes seems less forthcoming, or differently spun to cast a more favorable light. But maybe that is just me and my biases.

When it comes to the economics, however, the case is much clearer. Wapshott is very weak on this part of the story, especially when it comes to Austrian economics. He is able to do a fairly good job of Keynesianism, again positively spun — including the story of multiplier. It adds to the plausibility of Keynes’s appeal. But when it comes to explaining the essence of Hayek’s opposition, his treatment is very inadequate at best and complete wrong at worst. Like Keynes himself, Wapshott does not understand capital theory and the time structure of production. So he gets the story of the business cycle wrong. He simply parrots in a formulaic way the ingredients of Hayek’s case. His treatment of Mises is almost a caricature. He does not understand the nature of the Austrian turn from classical economics and has some misleading things to say about the concept of “value.” Likewise he does not understand the differences and similarities between the economics of the Austrians  and the Monetarists and invents bogus differences. I found this part of the book frustrating.

So, the question in my mind is: do I recommend this book to my macro/money students? I think I probably will, with suitable warnings, just because it is such a vital and interesting story.

13 January 2012 at 1:19 pm 6 comments

The First (Unlikely) Significant Entrepreneurial Team?

| Peter Lewin |

Who was the most significant entrepreneur in the bible (old Testament)?

I ask my students this trying to lead them to Joseph. As a result of his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, not only he, but the whole of Egypt reaps enormous profit. He recognizes the meaning in the dreams and counsels Pharaoh on how to profit from impending misfortune — thus also alleviating the misfortune of many others (by investing in times of plenty to cover the looming famine).

But, thinking about this a bit more, one may argue that what we have here is a veritable entrepreneurial team. After all, it is Pharaoh who has the dream, the vision, though he needed Joseph to interpret it. One without the other was nothing — together they were everything. And then there is the fact that that Pharaoh exercises his judgment in believing Joseph. He takes a huge risk and elevates this lowly, condemned Jewish prisoner to the highest office. He puts aside his ego and courageously follows his better judgment. Surely Schumpeter should have been proud, no?

21 December 2011 at 12:16 am 6 comments

Rationalistic Hubris and Opportunistic Behavior

| 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.

27 November 2011 at 2:42 pm Leave a comment

Easterly at the Southerns

| 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.

24 November 2011 at 12:57 pm 1 comment

Entrepreneurial Paradoxes and Simulations

| 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 (lwhite11@gmu.edu).

24 November 2011 at 12:15 am 7 comments

SDAE Conference

| 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.)

13 November 2011 at 2:16 pm 2 comments

Self Employment, Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth

| Peter Lewin|

Interesting new monograph from the IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) in the UK on: Self Employment, Small Firms and Enterprise. A pdf is available for free here. And here is the executive summary.

Summary 

  • Self-employment is a form of contractual relationship which, in certain circumstances, will have greater benefits to the parties involved than an employer–employee relationship. Government intervention, however, may make selfemployment artificially more attractive by raising the costs of employment relationships.
  • Certain ethnic minority groups, older people and those without English as a first language tend to be overrepresented among the self-employed. This is partly because of the flexibility the arrangement provides but also because self-employment offers a ‘safety valve’ for those who find it difficult to find employment in the formal labour market.
  • It is vital that businesses are not impeded from moving from a situation where the owner is self-employed without employees to a situation where the business has employees. There is evidence that businesses are impeded in this way. In just nine years to 2009, the proportion of micro-businesses with employees fell by almost one fifth. At the same time the proportion of self-employed with no employees rose rapidly.
  • Women, individuals from certain ethnic groups, those with young dependants, those with low or no qualifications, those for whom English is not a first language and those who have recently experienced unemployment make up a much greater proportion of the workforce of small firms. For example, whereas 11 per cent of employees of small firms had no qualifications, only 4 per cent of employees of large firms had no qualifications.
  • Some workers will prefer to work for small firms because of the greater flexibility they offer in their working practices. In many cases, however, small firms will employ people who are talented but who are not able to negotiate the more formal recruitment processes of larger firms. Micro-businesses therefore perform an important economic and social function – employing people who might be overlooked by larger employers.
  • Genuine entrepreneurial insight and discovery tends to come from small firms. Entrepreneurship is crucial for economic growth. The nature of entrepreneurial insight is such, however, that we have no idea where it will come from – not even in the most general terms. Probably only one in every thousand ‘start-up’ firms will become one of the large businesses of the future.
  • Policies to promote entrepreneurship must come in the form of removing impediments to business and should not involve the promotion of particular business activities. It is simply not possible for government intervention to pick this tiny number of winners. All government can do is create a climate in which entrepreneurship can thrive.
  • The smallest firms are a key driver of job creation. Businesses do not start big. One quarter of employees working in firms that were established ten years earlier are working for firms that started from a position of employing only one person.
  • The cost of regulation has grown enormously over the last fifteen years. This particularly affects small firms with employees because regulatory costs act like a ‘poll tax’. Wide ranging exemptions from employment regulation and the minimum wage would be appropriate for small firms. Such exemptions would have the additional advantage of allowing the government to ‘experiment’ with deregulation. Standard terms and conditions of employment could be drawn up which would ensure that employees clearly understood the exemptions. Radical reforms of the tax system would also assist small firms which experience much greater compliance costs than large firms.
  • Moves by the government to promote entrepreneurship through the state education system or provide specific tax exemptions and reliefs for particular forms of business activity are wasteful or counterproductive.

20 October 2011 at 11:48 am 4 comments

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