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

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