Posts filed under ‘Institutions’
| Peter Klein |
As with other technologies involving network effects, the early telephone industry featured competing, geographically overlapping networks. Robert MacDougall provides a fascinating history of this period in The People’s Network: The Political Economy of the Telephone in the Gilded Age (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). From the book blurb:
In the decades around 1900, ordinary citizens—farmers, doctors, small-town entrepreneurs—established tens of thousands of independent telephone systems, stringing their own wires to bring this new technology to the people. Managed by opportunists and idealists alike, these small businesses were motivated not only by profit but also by the promise of open communication as a weapon against monopoly capital and for protection of regional autonomy. As the Bell empire grew, independents fought fiercely to retain control of their local networks and companies—a struggle with an emerging corporate giant that has been almost entirely forgotten.
David Hochfelder wrote a thoughtful review which appeared today on EH.Net. As Hochfelder points out, the history of the telephone is not just about technology and market structure, but broader social themes as well:
At one level, this is a story about industrial competition. At a deeper level, it reveals competing visions of an important technology, the social role that it ought to play. MacDougall shows that the Bell System and the Independents envisioned the telephone in far different ways. Bell, especially under Theodore Vail, president of AT&T between 1907 and 1919, sought to build a unified telecommunications network that spanned the United States. Bell Canada espoused a different vision, that the telephone ought to remain an expensive urban medium primarily used for business purposes. Both Bell systems shared the ideology that the telephone industry ought to be controlled by centralized, national corporations. On the other hand, the Independents described the Bell System as a grasping octopus that wanted a stranglehold over the nation’s communications. The Independents offered instead a vision of the telephone as a people’s network that enhanced local ties and preserved community autonomy. In the United States, MacDougall claims that the Independents’ vision for the telephone “descended from a civic understanding of communication that went back to the American Revolution,” that “free and open communications were a basic ingredient of democracy” (p. 5). On a more mundane level, the Independents encouraged social uses of the telephone — like gossiping and banjo-playing — that the Bell System actively discouraged at the time.
| Peter Klein |
Nicolai and I are interviewed by Angel Martin for the Spanish-language site sintetia. An English-language version is here. We wax eloquent on entrepreneurship theory, research, teaching, policy, and more. Personally, I think I sound more profound in Spanish, but that’s probably because I can’t read Spanish.
| Peter Klein |
Some findings that would not have surprised Carl Menger:
Ode to the sea: Workplace Organizations and Norms of Cooperation
Uri Gneezy, Andreas Leibbrandt, John A. List
NBER Working Paper No. 20234, June 2014
The functioning and well-being of any society and organization critically hinges on norms of cooperation that regulate social activities. Empirical evidence on how such norms emerge and in which environments they thrive remains a clear void in the literature. To provide an initial set of insights, we overlay a set of field experiments in a natural setting. Our approach is to compare behavior in Brazilian fishermen societies that differ along one major dimension: the workplace organization. In one society (located by the sea) fishermen are forced to work in groups whereas in the adjacent society (located on a lake) fishing is inherently an individual activity. We report sharp evidence that the sea fishermen trust and cooperate more and have greater ability to coordinate group actions than their lake fishermen counterparts. These findings are consistent with the argument that people internalize social norms that emerge from specific needs and support the idea that socio-ecological factors play a decisive role in the proliferation of pro-social behaviors.
I await comments below about how social norms emerge and persist not because they facilitate cooperation and joint gains, but because they legitimize existing social structures or support exploitation or power or. . . .
| Peter Klein |
The International Society for New Institutional Economics has established four new awards, named after the pioneers of new institutional social science: the Ronald Coase Best Dissertation Award, Oliver Williamson Best Conference Paper Award, Douglass North Best Paper or Book Award, and Elinor Ostrom Lifetime Achievement Award. Details on the awards, and a call for nominations for the Coase, North, and Ostrom awards, are on the ISNIE site. (Sadly, my suggestion for a Best Organizational and Institutional Economics Blog Award was not heeded.)
| Peter Klein |
That’s the title of an interesting new law review article by Kevin Davis (New York University Law Review, April 2013). Just as we can treat organizational structure as as sort of technology, and study the introduction and diffusion of new organizational forms with the same theories and methods used to study technological innovation and diffusion, we can think of contracts as structures or institutions that emerge, are subject to experimentation and competition, and evolve and diffuse. Here’s the abstract:
If technology means, “useful knowledge about how to produce things at low cost”, then contracts should qualify. Just as mechanical technologies are embodied in blueprints, technologies of contracting are embodied in contractual documents that serve as, “blueprints for collaboration”. This Article analyzes innovations in contractual documents using the same kind of framework that is used to analyze other kinds of technological innovation. The analysis begins by laying out an informal model of the demand for and supply of innovative contractual documents. The discussion of demand emphasizes the impact of innovations upon not only each party’s incentives to collaborate efficiently, but also upon reading costs and litigation costs. The analysis of supply considers both the generation and dissemination of innovations and emphasizes the importance of cumulative innovation, learning by-doing, economies of scale and scope, and trustworthiness. Recent literature has raised concerns about the extent to which law firms produce contractual innovations. In fact, a wide range of actors other than law firms supply contractual documents; including end users of contracts, specialized providers of legal documents, legal database firms, trade associations, and academic institutions. This article discusses the incentives and capabilities of each of these potential sources of innovation. It concludes by discussing potential interventions such as: (1) enhancing intellectual property rights, (2) relaxing rules concerning the unauthorized practice of law and, (3) creating or expanding publicly sponsored clearinghouses for contracts.
See also Lisa Berstein’s comment. (HT: Geoff Manne)
| Dick Langlois |
February 28 is the deadline for submitting an abstract to the first conference of the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR), which will take place 11-14 September 2014 at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Keynote speakers include Timur Kuran. Information and abstract submission at the WINIR website.
| Dick Langlois |
Everyone knows that people who want to go into government jobs have high pro-social preferences and impeccable honesty. Well, not so in India, according to Rema Hanna from the Kennedy School at Harvard, who spoke in our department seminar series Friday. Here is the abstract:
In this paper, we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service. Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption. Students who demonstrate lower levels of prosocial preferences in the laboratory games are also more likely to prefer to enter the government, while outcomes on explicit, two-player games to measure cheating and attitudinal measures of corruption do not systematically predict job preferences. We find that a screening process that chooses the highest ability applicants would not alter the average propensity for corruption among the applicant pool. Our findings imply that differential selection into government may contribute, in part, to corruption. They also emphasize that screening characteristics other than ability may be useful in reducing corruption, but caution that more explicit measures may offer little predictive power.
I wonder what her colleagues at the Kennedy School think of this. Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you.
| Peter Klein |
An important announcement from Ning Wang, editor of Man and the Economy:
Man and the Economy
Call for Papers for a Special Issue in Memory of Ronald Coase
“R. H. Coase: The Man and His Ideas”
Man and the Economy will devote a special issue (December 2014) to the life and ideas of Ronald Coase, the 1991 Nobel Laureate in Economics and Founding Editor of this journal. During his long academic life, Coase devoted himself to economics, which, in his view, should investigate how the real world economy works, with all its imperfections. Coase viewed and practiced economics as a social science, a study of man creating wealth in society through various institutional arrangements. To honor the memory of Coase, we welcome original research articles that extend and develop the Coasian economics, including empirical studies of the structure of production and exchange. We also welcome critical and constructive commentaries that clarify and elaborate the Coasian themes, from a law-and-economics/new institutional economics perspective, which include, but not limited to, topics on transaction costs, property rights, theories of the firm and China’s economic transformation. In addition, we also welcome personal reflections and reminiscences of Coase as a colleague, a teacher, an editor, and/or a friend.
Submissions must be made online via the Journal’s website: http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/me
Deadline for submissions is September 30, 2014.
| Peter Klein |
The job-market value of education, as famously argued by Michael Spence (1974), derives from two sources: additions to human capital and signaling. By going to college, you learn some useful skills, but you also demonstrate to potential employers that you have the natural ability to earn a degree. Depending on the difficulty of obtaining a degree for students of varying abilities, a college degree may be valuable even if you don’t learn a thing — you distinguish yourself from those who weren’t clever or patient enough to jump through the necessary hoops.
Of course, the human-capital and signaling components aren’t mutually exclusive. But, as long as at least some part of the job-market value of education comes from signaling, the demand for higher education depends on its perceived signaling value, relative to the cost of signaling. And herein lies the rub: getting a college degree is a very costly signal. Suppose high-ability workers could demonstrate their value to the job market by obtaining some credential that low-ability workers can’t or won’t obtain, without forgoing the explicit and opportunity costs of 4+ years at college. This would be an attractive alternative for many, and bad news for the higher-education industry, which today has a virtual monopoly on credentialing.
Michael Staton makes precisely this argument in today’s HBR Blog: “The Degree Is Doomed.” Staton argues that new technologies increasingly allow the unbundling of the learning and signaling functions of higher education, and that alternative signals such as “work samples, personal representations, peer and manager reviews, shared content, and scores and badges” are undermining the value of the college degree.
There are sites — notably Degreed and Accredible — that adapt existing notions of the credential to a world of online courses and project work. But there are also entire sectors of the innovation economy that are ceasing to rely on traditional credentials and don’t even bother with the skeumorph of an adapted degree. Particularly in the Internet’s native careers – design and software engineering — communities of practice have emerged that offer signals of types and varieties that we couldn’t even imagine five years ago. Designers now show their work on Dribbble or other design posting and review sites. Software engineers now store their code on GitHub, where other software engineers will follow them and evaluate the product of their labor. On these sites, peers not only review each other but interact in ways that build reputations within the community. User profiles contain work samples and provide community generated indicators of status and skill.
These are specialized areas, and probably not substitutes for the credentialing function for other fields and industries. But low-cost, innovative, specialized signaling methods could pose a significant challenge to the university establishment.
Of course, even if higher education loses its credentialing function, it can still add value the old-fashioned way, through teaching.
Those of you attending this weekend’s ASSA meeting in Philadelphia may want to catch a great session sponsored by ISNIE and titled “The Economic Institutions of Higher Education.” I am presenting along with Henry Manne and Sarah Smith; Scott Masten is chairing and discussants are Bob Gibbons, Henry Hansmann, and Jeff Furman. The session is Saturday, January 4 at 2:30pm in the Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom, Salon L
| 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.
| Peter Klein |
Researchers: You rate products and sellers on Amazon and Ebay, you describe your travel experiences on TripAdvisor, and your students judge you on ratemyprofessors.com. I don’t know any systematic evidence on this, but consultants and journalists seem to think that companies are better off letting customers rate (and rant) online, even if this makes it more difficult to manage the brand.
A new venture called SciRev is encouraging researchers to rate their experiences with particular journals: how long are papers turned around, how good are the referee reports, how responsive is the editorial office. It’s not quite open-source peer review, because the specific papers and authors are anonymous (as far as I can tell), but it represents an interesting experiment in opening up the publishing process, at least in terms of author feedback on journals.
SciRev is a website made by researchers for researchers. The information provided by you and your fellow authors is freely available to the entire research community. In this way we aim to make the scientific review process more transparent. Efficient journals get credits for their efforts to improve their review process and the way they handle manuscripts. Less efficient journals are stimulated to put energy in organizing things better. Researchers can search for a journal with a speedy review procedure and have their papers published earlier. Editors get the opportunity to compare their journal’s performance with that of others and to provide information about their journal at our website.
SciRev aims to help science by making the peer review process more efficient. This process is one of the weakest links in the process of scientific knowledge production. Valuable papers may spent several months to over a year at reviewers’ desks and editorial offices before a decision is taken. This is a serious time loss in a process that in other respects has become much more efficient in the last decades. SciRev helps speeding up this process by making it more transparent. Researchers get the possibility to share their review experiences with their colleagues, who therefore can make a better informed choice for a journal to submit their work to. Journals that manage to set up a more efficient review process and which handle manuscripts better are rewarded for this and may attract more and better manuscripts.
There are only a few reviews at this point, so not much information to consume, but I like the concept. And I may be submitting some reviews of my own… (Thanks to Bronwyn Hall for the tip.)
| Peter Klein |
The ISNIE 2014 Call for Papers is now available. The conference is at Duke University, 19-21 June 2014, home of President-Elect and Program Committee Chair John de Figueiredo. Bob Gibbons and Timur Kuran are keynote speakers. ISNIE is one of our favorite conferences, so please consider submitting a proposal! Submissions are due 30 January 2014.
| Peter Klein |
Here is a symposium on Doug Allen’s very important book The Institutional Revolution (Chicago, 2011). The symposium features essays by Deirdre McCloskey, Joel Mokyr and José-Antonio Espín-Sánchez, and our own Dick Langlois, along with a reply by Doug. The issue revolves around the role of measurement, and Doug’s thesis that reductions in measurement costs are central to improved economic performance.
My favorite line, from Doug’s reply:
I have read “The Problem of Social Cost” more times than I can recall, and study as I may, I have never found a logical error in it. But here is the point: if the author, both at the time and 30 years later, still failed to fully grasp his own perfect work, then it is an understatement to note that the ideas are subtle.
| Peter Klein |
The WSJ profiles InfiLaw, a network of private-equity backed, for-profit law schools that is challenging the established model of legal education. From what I understand, InfiLaw seems to be the University of Phoenix of law schools, providing vocationally oriented training for the lower-end of the market (but, unlike for-profit business schools, charging upmarket prices).
InfiLaw’s schools aren’t designed to compete with the Harvards and Stanfords. The approach, the company says, has mostly been to target students, including many minorities, whose grade-point averages or LSAT scores don’t qualify them for admission at the top schools. . . .
Some in the academy think InfiLaw is compounding the problems in legal education, which is graduating far more students than there are entry-level jobs for lawyers. Critics, including former students who have sued Florida Coastal, see the company as a predatory outfit that peddles false promises to students in exchange for high tuitions.
Others think criticisms of InfiLaw are based on elitism embedded within the legal academy,
As we’ve noted before, it is unlikely that newer, private, for-profit colleges, universities, and professional schools can compete head-to-head with the traditional schools, but why should they? Certainly there is room for more creativity, experimentation, and innovation, structurally and pedagogically, in legal education, as with other forms of higher learning. InfiLaw may be ineffective, or even a scam, but viva la diversité!
| Dick Langlois |
I have recently become involved with a new organization that many readers may be interested in. It’s called the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR). From the website:
WINIR is a specialist but global network. It is set up to complement rather than rival other organisations that have the study of institutions on their agenda. Unconfined to any single academic discipline, it accepts contributions from any approach that can help us understand the nature and role of institutions. While other organisations are intended to act as broad forums for all kinds of research in the social sciences, WINIR aims to build an adaptable and interdisciplinary theoretical consensus concerning core issues, which can be a basis for cumulative learning and scientific progress in the exciting and rapidly-expanding area of institutional research.
You can learn more and sign up here. If you join now, you will be considered a founding member. WINIR is tentatively planning a conference for next year near London and one the year after that in Rio.
| Peter Klein |
Via John Hagel, a story on MOOR — Massively Open Online Research. A UC San Diego computer science and engineering professor is teaching a MOOC (massively open online course) that includes a research component. “All students who sign up for the course will be given an opportunity to work on specific research projects under the leadership of prominent bioinformatics scientists from different countries, who have agreed to interact and mentor their respective teams.” The idea of crowdsourcing research isn’t completely new, but this particular blend of MOO-ish teaching and research constitutes an interesting experiment (see also this). The MOO model is gaining some traction in the scientific publishing world as well.
| Nicolai Foss |
So, we have the Academy of Management Review and the Academy of Management Journal, commonly acknowledged as the top theory and empirical management journal, respectively. We are also blessed with the Academy of Management Perspective (formerly, the Academy of Management Executive), which seeks (successfully) to style itself as the management research equivalent to the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Then there is also the Academy of Management Learning and Education and there is the rather recently established Academy of Management Annals.
The sixth member of the family is now being launched, and has assumed the name of the Academy of Management Discoveries. The founding editor is Andrew H. Van de Ven who is the Vernon H. Heath Professor of Organizational Innovation and Change in the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota, a major figure in organization theory over the last 4 decades, and a former President of the Academy of Management. According to the journal’s website, AMD will”promote the creation and dissemination of new empirical evidence that strengthens our understanding of substantively important yet poorly understood phenomena concerning management and organizations.” The journal is “phenomenon-driven” rather than aimed at theory testing per se.
In the end, I am not entirely convinced that this is that different from the mission and practice of the Academy of Management Journal, and I can see a scenario where we get an AMJ #2. However, the journal is open to replication research and “evidence-based assessments”, and certainly the first characteristic would seem to set it apart from the AMJ (even if replication research and evidence-based assessments would seem to pull away from phenomenon-driven discovery and towards theory testing).
Here is a brief YouTube clip with Van de Ven talking about the kind of research that the AMD will publish.
Manuscripts can be submitted here.
| Peter Klein |
Ronald Coase passed away today at the age of 102. One of the most influential economists of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. His “Problem of Social Cost” (1960) has 21,692 Google Scholar cites, and “The Nature of the Firm” has 24,501. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, summed across editions, has about 30,000. Coase changed the way economists think about the business firm and the way they think about property rights and liability. He largely introduced the concepts of transaction costs, comparative institutional analysis, and government failure. Not all economist have agreed with his arguments and conceptual frameworks, but they radically changed the terms of debate in the economics of law, welfare, industry, and more. He is the key figure in the “new institutional economics” (and co-founder, and first president, of the International Society for New Institutional Economics).
Coase did all these things despite — or because of? — not holding a PhD in economics, not doing any math or statistics, and not, for much of his career, working in an economics department.
We’ve written so much on Coase already, on these pages and in our published work, that it’s hard to know what else to say in a blog post. Perhaps we should just invite you to browse old O&M posts mentioning Coase (including this one, posted last week).
The blogosphere will be filled in the coming days with analyses, reminiscences, and tributes. You can find your favorites easily enough (try searching Twitter, for example). I’ll just share two of my favorite memories. The first comes from the inaugural meeting of the International Society for New Institutional Economics in 1997. After a discussion about the best empirical strategy for that emerging discipline. Harold Demsetz stood up and said “Please, no more papers about Fisher Body and GM!” Coase, who was then at the podium, surprised the crowd by replying, “I’m sorry, Harold, that is exactly the subject of my next paper!” (That turned out to be his 2005 JEMS paper, described here.) A few years later, I helped entertain Coase during his visit to the University of Missouri for the CORI Distinguished Lecture. At lunch we talked about his disagreement with Ben Klein on asset specificity. After the lunch he got up, shook my hand, and announced, with evident satisfaction: “I see all Kleins are not alike.”