Posts filed under ‘Institutions’
| Peter Klein |
Over at The Conglomerate, Gordon Smith asks:
Law professors teach and write about topics like public choice, agency capture, rent seeking, etc., but I don’t often hear law professors talking systematically about the use of law for strategic purposes. . . . In simplest terms, the study of law and strategy views the world from the perspective of a business and asks: how can we use law to gain a competitive advantage? This question ought to be of interest to lawyers, but does any law school teach a class on law and strategy?
The context is Richard Shell’s book Make the Rules or Your Rivals Will, which sounds interesting and important. Perhaps the O&M readership can help? The emerging field of non-market strategy (1, 2), led by people like David Baron, Vit Henisz, and the de Figueiredo brothers, studies how firms use not only law but also the regulatory system, bureaucracies, and other non-market features to achieve competitive advantage. The older economics literatures on public choice and rent-seeking of course deal with these issues as well, but typically from “society’s” point of view, rather than the firm’s. As for teaching, I see from a little Googling that John de Figueiredo is teaching law and strategy at Duke, and I suspect other members of the non-market strategy crowd housed at law schools do so as well. Suggestions for Gordon?
| Peter Klein |
Via Scott Masten, an important call for papers:
The Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is issuing a call for original research papers to be presented at the Conference on the Law & Economics of Organization: New Challenges and Directions. The conference will be held at the Haas School of Business in Berkeley, CA, on Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. The purpose of the conference is to take stock of recent advances in the analysis of economic organization and institutions inspired by the work of 2009 Nobel Laureate Oliver Williamson and to examine its implications for contemporary problems of organization and regulation. Empirical research and research informed by detailed industry and institutional knowledge is especially welcome. Conference papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization. Submissions are due March 31, 2012. See the Call for Papers for details.
| 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 |
J. Vernon Henderson and Yong Suk Lee have released a fascinating study of the make-or-buy decision in the provision of disaster relief. “We distinguish four organizational structures by implementation method. . . . (1) donor-implementers who are NGO donors who do their own implementation in villages, (2) international implementers who represent different donors who choose not to do their own implementation, (3) domestic implementers hired by donors which have chosen neither to do their own implementation nor to hire an international implementer, and (4) a country level governmental organization . . . used primarily by domestic and foreign governments.” Henderson and Lee find that donor-implementers offer the highest-quality aid, and the government agency the lowest, with the contract implementers in-between. The framework is agency theory, not transaction cost economics, but there may be a role for asset specificity as well, particularly in cases where a longer-term commitment is required. In any case, this is an interesting and important application of organizational economics to an unconventional setting.
| 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.
| 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 |
The Financial Times has named Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty the best business book of 2011. Here’s the book’s webpage. Here are previous O&M posts on the Banerjee-Duflo approach, which is obviously gaining momentum.
| Peter Klein |
The NSF recently commissioned a set of papers on long-term research agendas in economics:
This is a compendium of fifty-four papers written by distinguished economists in response to an invitation by the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (NSF/SBE) to economists and relevant research communities in August 2010 to write white papers that describe grand challenge questions in their sciences that transcend near-term funding cycles and are “likely to drive next generation research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.” These papers offer a number of exciting and at times provocative ideas about future research agendas in economics. The papers could also generate compelling ideas for infrastructure projects, new methodologies and important research topics.
Here are a few of particular interest for O&Mers:
Making the Case for Contract Theory
Research Opportunities in Social and Economic Networks
Matthew O. Jackson
The Economics of Digitization: An Agenda for NSF
Shane M. Greenstein, Josh Lerner, and Scott Stern
You can find the whole set at SSRN.
| Peter Lewin|
- 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.
| Peter Klein |
Friend of O&M and leading management scholar Anita McGahan will present the University of Missouri’s Monroe-Paine Distinguished Lecture in Public Affairs, “The Health of Humanity 2050,” Thursday, 27 October 2011. She’ll also do a faculty-student seminar, “Changing the World,” that morning. Besides her important contributions to industry and competitor analysis Anita has become a leading expert in public health, poverty, and economic growth. Local O&Mers, make plans to attend!
Monroe-Paine Distinguished Lecture in Public Affairs
You’re invited to attend
Dr. Anita McGahan
Associate Dean-Research, Director of the PhD Programs, Professor of Strategic Management and
Rotman Chair in Management, Rotman School of Management,
Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
“The Health of Humanity 2050”
October 27, 2011 — 1:30 pm
2501 Missouri Student Center, Chambers Auditorium
RSVP to McGahan Lecture
For more information on Dr. McGahan, please visit the Truman School website.
| Peter Klein |
The European Group of Organizational Studies (EGOS) is having the 2012 annual conference in Helsinki, July 2-7. The overall theme is design, and one of the subthemes is “Self-reinforcing Processes in Organizations, Networks and Professions,” a subject sure to interest many O&Mers. See the links above for details. Blurb after the fold: (more…)
| Peter Klein |
It’s by Malcolm Rutherford, titled The Institutionalist Movement in American Economics, 1918-1947: Science and Social Control (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Rutherford reinterpretes the American (or “Old”) Institutional Economics as a much broader and deeper movement than simply the ideas of Veblen, Commons, and Mitchell. Reviewers Robert Van Horn and Richard McIntyre say that “institutional economics should be understood as a ‘movement’ that shared core ideas and beliefs and as a network of people with a self-conscious unity, and Rutherford marvelously shows how the self-conscious unity of this network shaped institutionalist economics and American economics more generally in the first half of the twentieth century.” The reviewers also praise Rutherford for debunking three important “myths” about the Old Institutionalists:
First, he challenges the notion that institutional economics was only a critique of neoclassical economics and that institutional economics disappeared because it did not make any substantial contributions to economics. Second, Rutherford successfully assails the idea that institutional economics was just a set of facts and bereft of theory. Third, Rutherford dispels the notion that institutional economics was Veblenian; he shows that Veblen was an intellectual inspiration to the movement but not central to the networking process.
My previous forays into the writings of the Old Institutionalists have not yielded much fruit, but I will look at Rutherford’s book and try to keep an open mind.
| Peter Klein |
Three newly published papers of likely interest to O&Mers:
- Jeffrey L. Furman and Scott Stern, “Climbing atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research,” American Economic Review 101, no. 5 (August 2011).
While cumulative knowledge production is central to growth, little empirical research investigates how institutions shape whether existing knowledge can be exploited to create new knowledge. This paper assesses the impact of a specific institution, a biological resource center, whose objective is to certify and disseminate knowledge. We disentangle the marginal impact of this institution on cumulative research from the impact of selection, in which the most important discoveries are endogenously linked to research-enhancing institutions. Exploiting exogenous shifts of biomaterials across institutional settings and employing a difference-in-differences approach, we find that effective institutions amplify the cumulative impact of individual scientific discoveries.
- Antti Kauhanen, “The Perils of Altering Incentive Plans: A Case Study,” Managerial and Decision Economics 32, no. 6 (September 2011).
This paper studies a retail chain that introduced a sales incentive plan that rewarded for exceeding a sales target and subsequently cut the incentive intensity in addition to increasing the target. Utilizing monthly panel data for 54 months for all 53 units of the chain the paper shows that the introduction of the sales incentive plan increased sales and profitability, whereas the changes in the plan lead to a marked drop in sales and profitability. Thus, modifying the incentive plan proved costly for the firm. The results are consistent with the gift-exchange model of labor contracts.
- Oriana Bandiera, Iwan Barankay, and Imran Rasul, “Field Experiments with Firms,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 25, no. 3 (Summer 2011).
We discuss how the use of field experiments sheds light on long-standing research questions relating to firm behavior. We present insights from two classes of experiments—within and across firms—and draw common lessons from both sets. Field experiments within firms generally aim to shed light on the nature of agency problems. Along these lines, we discuss how field experiments have provided new insights on shirking behavior and the provision of monetary and nonmonetary incentives. Field experiments across firms generally aim to uncover firms’ binding constraints by exogenously varying the availability of key inputs such as labor, physical capital, and managerial capital. We conclude by discussing some of the practical issues researchers face when designing experiments and by highlighting areas for further research.
| 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 Lewin |
Many of the same theoretical tools and concepts that we use for the business firm are applicable to that other ubiquitous social institution, the family; though of course there are important differences (even though I am sure you know people who are “all business”). Steve Horwitz and I have written a paper that illustrates some of this.
The affects of the march of technology on the firm — for example, rendering obsolete certain kinds of physical and human capital, reducing production cost, increasing specialization and product variation, etc. — receive considerable attention. I have not seen much on these affects insude the family. Our article does analyze the long-term effects of the rising opportunity cost of labor in general and of women’s work in particular, which is the theme of a massive research literature. I have in mind rather the “mundane” effects on the family, and on the marriage, of unanticipated technological changes that, for example, affect the spouses differently. In effect, this is an unanticipated change in the marriage bargain that will plausibly bring with it additional un-bargained for stresses and tensions — an unanticipated rise in the cost of marriage (or of staying in the marriage).
I love my wife and I am not contemplating leaving, but I do feel the stress of having to perform all of the 21st century tasks for which I have a substantial comparative advantage, and which have become necessary and routine — like ordering things online, backing up data, downloading audio books (a necessity for exercising!) and so on. I wonder how common this is.
I might be in real trouble for this one :-).
| Dick Langlois |
Inspired by Peter Lewin’s recent post on the beauty of Africa, I decided to hop on a plane to Peter’s native South Africa. I haven’t been to a wildlife park, though I have found myself twice down in caves, one containing fossils and one a disused gold mine. I also took in the Apartheid Museum, which seemed to me (as an outsider) to be extremely well done. It didn’t pull any punches but always appeared neutral, even analytical. For me, the museum’s story underscored the point that Walter Williams and others always used to argue while apartheid was going on: that the system required, and was implemented through, central planning and massive government intervention in markets. (Apparently they even had a wacky scheme to move people from their distant segregated homes to and from urban work using high-speed bullet trains.) I was struck by how similar the revolution here was to the contemporaneous one in Eastern Europe. It was a revolt by a middle class that was denied human and political rights — and also economic opportunity — by an increasingly inefficient and distortive state apparatus.
A couple of exhibits at the Apartheid Museum asserted that in the heyday of gold mining the British had “fixed the price of gold.” This price fixing forced the mine owners constantly to lower production costs, which they did by deskilling mining operations – using technology to break the process into simpler tasks (Ames and Rosenberg 1965) — in order to hire cheaper labor. By contrast, the mining museum suggested that there was plenty of skill-enhancing innovation as well, like pneumatic drills replacing the hammer and chisel, which reduced from eight hours to five minutes the time it took a worker to carve out a blasting hole.
Oddly, neither museum mentioned that gold was the monetary standard. (You know this already: it’s not that the “price of gold” was fixed; it’s that the value of the currency was defined in terms of units of gold.) This might sound like an economist’s carping. But I mention it because on this trip I also encountered the strange combination of task design and monetary economics in a strikingly different African context. I’m actually in south Africa not primarily for the tourism (at least in principle) but to visit Giampaolo Garzarelli and his Institutions and Political Economy Group at the University of the Witwatersrand and, as Peter Klein mentioned in an earlier post, to attend a conference on “Open Source, Innovation, and New Organizational Forms,” which took place on Monday. Joel West, another of the participants, has already blogged elsewhere about the conference. One paper, by an MA student from Kenya – Joel has already blogged about this as well – discussed an amazing phenomenon I had never heard about before: crowdsourcing in developing countries using mobile phones. A company called txteagle allows customers to outsource cognitive work by breaking tasks into small pieces, which pieces are then sent to participants via text message. (As phones have become cheaper they have become ubiquitous in the developing world.) For example, the participant could be asked to translate a phrase into his or her local language or to transcribe a voice snippet. The txteagle computers then aggregate the output and use redundancy and artificial intelligence to validate the results. The participant is paid for the task, via the same mobile phone, using M-Pesa, a system I first heard about only a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly, M-Pesa is itself a formalization of a spontaneous monetary system – think cigarettes at a prison camp – in which people without access to banks would save and transact in airtime minutes. The amount a participant can earn in this system is quite meaningful in the context of poor countries with high unemployment.
| Peter Lewin |
Naomi Riley’s new book on university tenure is creating a bit of a stir. It is of a kind with a number of similar works reflecting growing unease about the traditional arrangements in academe. One reads frequently about the lack of value for money that students get for persistently rising tuition fees. And a colleague of mine says he thought he was hired to do research and found out he was actually hired to create publications — and these can be drastically different things. (Witness the recent post by Nicolai).
I wonder how these arrangements have survived in the marketplace. Clearly, universities are multi-product firms. Education (for which tuition is paid) is only one of the products. Another is “research.” This is supposedly a public good (in large part — I guess some products of research could be proprietary). So it is reimbursed by the public purse — aka we have a rent-seeking situation with all its dysfunctions, including minimal feedback on product quality. There is no constituency of consumers to speak of. In effect the producers (the researchers) end up judging their own work and setting the standards and (perhaps most importantly) the rules of the game. Put this in motion and you get a system that serves only the players of the game — provides them with formidable isolating mechanisms and protections.
One implication is that the larger the share of revenue accounted for by tuition (as with liberal arts colleges) the higher the quality of teaching should be. And a growing share of tuition dollars should put pressure on these isolation mechanisms. Of course, where this tuition is paid mainly by the state (state schools) this would not be the case.
So, its a bit of a puzzle to me why the liberal arts colleges don’t have a larger market share. Why do the big “research” schools maintain their prestige attraction when they cost so much and produce such low quality teaching? Maybe its a kind of screening effect — the job market rewards students who graduate from prestigious schools so good students tend to go there and the teaching is irrelevant — a network effect.
| Peter Klein |
The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, co-founded by Oliver Williamson in 1985, has created a new best article prize in his name. The first winner is “Juvenile Delinquency and Conformism” by Eleonora Patacchini and Yves Zenou. Details about the award and this year’s winner and runners-up are available at Oxford’s JLEO site. Congrats!
| Peter Klein |
Contemporary data indicate that, on average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. D’s and F’s total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. At schools with modest selectivity, grading is as generous as it was in the mid-1980s at highly selective schools. These prestigious schools have, in turn, continued to ramp up their grades. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.
| 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.”