Posts filed under ‘People’
| Peter Klein |
Per Bylund and I have written a paper on Israel Kirzner’s influence on the entrepreneurship literature. It’s titled “The Place of Austrian Economics in Contemporary Entrepreneurship Research” but deals mainly with Kirzner. Comments are appreciated.
The paper was written for a forthcoming special issue of the Review of Austrian Economics on Kirzner’s contributions. We take a nuanced position: While Kirzner’s work underlies the dominant opportunity-discovery perspective in the entrepreneurship research literature, this perspective is increasingly challenged among entrepreneurship scholars, for some of the same reasons that Kirzner’s theoretical framework has been criticized by his fellow Austrian economists. Nonetheless, it is impossible to make progress in entrepreneurship studies, or the Austrian analysis of the market, without engaging Kirzner’s ideas.
| Peter Klein |
Further to my earlier post on Veblen at Missouri, here’s a newly discovered photo of the university’s Faculty of Commerce from the mid nineteen-teens, featuring Dean Herbert J. Davenport in the center with Veblen to his right. (Thanks to @MizzouBusiness for the find.)
| Peter Klein |
The University of Dundee’s Scottish Centre for Economic Methodology is hosting a conference 18 November 2013, “Origins of the Theory of the Firm: Ronald Coase at Dundee, 1932-1934.” The program looks really interesting:
- Keith Tribe, “Dundee and Interwar Commercial Education.”
- Billy Kenefick, “‘A great industrial cul-de-sac, a grim monument to “man’s inhumanity to man.” ‘ Dundee by the early 1930s.”
- Carlo Morelli, “Market & Non-Market Co-ordination: Dundee and its Jute Industry – The Case Study for Ronald Coase?”
- David Campbell, “Agency, Authority and Co-operation in the Firm: Coase, Macneil, Marx.”
- Alice Belcher, “Coase and the Concept of Direction: How Valuable are Legal Concepts in the Theory of the Firm?”
- Brian Loasby, “Ronald Coase’s Theory of the Firm and the Scope of Economics.”
- Alistair Dow & Sheila Dow, “Coase and Scottish Political Economy.”
- Eyup Ozveren & Ilhan Can Ozen, “Coase versus Coase: What if the Market Were One Big Firm Instead?”
- Neil Kay, “Coase, The Nature of the Firm, and the Principles of Marginal Analysis.”
| Peter Klein |
Michael Porter: “Why Business Can Be Good at Solving Social Problems”
Costas Markides: “Strategy Is about Making Choices”
Clayton Christensen: “Disruptive Innovation”
| Peter Klein |
Kudos to Richard Ebeling for a nice piece on Herbert J. Davenport, one of the most American economists of the early twentieth century, mostly forgotten today. (One exception: Daveport was the founding Dean of the University of Missouri’s business school, which named its donor society after him.) Davenport, one of Frank Knight’s teachers, was an early adopter of the subjective theory of value introduced by Carl Menger and, along with Philip Wicksteed and Frank Fetter, helped to spread the marginal revolution in the English-speaking world.
Davenport was also a contributor to the economic theory of entrepreneurship, as noted by Ebeling:
Here was the mechanism by which the logical causality between demands and supplies was brought into actual implementation in the complexity of market activities. The entrepreneur stood, Davenport argued, “as the intermediary in the case, representing in his hiring and buying of productive factors, the demand of the purchasing public, and representing in his cost computations, the degree of scarcity of the productive factors relative to the demand for their products.”
On the one hand, it was “the entrepreneurs who furnished the demand for all . . . the things which are called production goods,” he explained. On the other hand, it was “the competition of the entrepreneurs of each industry with the other entrepreneurs of the same industry, and the competition of the entrepreneurs of each industry with those of other industries” that brought about the emergence of factor prices. All the money outlays, the objectified market “costs” that an entrepreneur had to incur, all traced back to the demand for other things as reflected in the bids of competing entrepreneurs. . . .
“The various markets in which he [the entrepreneur] must hire and buy are fluctuating in their prices,” he said. “And the price at which he will finally market his product is uncertain . . . His alternative lines of activities, also, are subject to uncertainties.” All of the entrepreneur’s calculations, therefore, were expectiational.
His computations of “costs of production,” Davenport went on, “appears to be backward-looking computation,” but in reality was “only a basis for a further and forward-looking computation.” The entrepreneur’s glance was turned towards those future – uncertain – opportunities that still lie before him, and from which he would have to choose the one that he believed offered the greatest net advantages.
Ultimately, then, the entrepreneur’s “cost” of production was reducible to his individual judgments,
Ebeling is quoting Davenport’s 1913 book The Economics of Enterprise, which hints at the “judgment-based view” of entrepreneurship elucidated more fully by Knight.
| Peter Klein |
1. I didn’t win.
2. The award is for asset pricing — Gene Fama’s work that underlies the efficient markets hypothesis, Robert Shiller’s contributions to behavioral finance, and Lars Hansen’s development of the Generalized Method of Moments (GMM) regression technique, which is often used in studies of asset prices. (I feel bad for Kenneth French, who could also have won with Fama.)
3. Many people had anticipated a possible Fama-Shiller award, recognizing two people working in the same field but using very different approaches and reaching radically different conclusions, much like the Hayek-Myrdal award of 1974. (Hansen was on the short list for an econometrics award, but not usually bundled with Fama and Shiller.)
4. Fama holds that markets are “rational” and bubbles can’t exist. Shiller holds that markets are irrational and that bubbles are common, resulting from “animal spirits.” As usual, the Austrians take the balanced, reasonable, middle ground, holding that asset bubbles do exist, not because of irrational exuberance, but because of central-bank manipulation of the money supply and interest rates. Down with extremists!
5. Fama’s work on agency theory, while less well known than the efficient markets hypothesis, should be of particular interest to O&M readers. His “Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm” (1980) argued that competition among managers (current and potential) can help mitigate discretionary behavior, and his “Separation of Ownership and Control” (1983, with Mike Jensen) pointed out that contracts can sometimes substitute for equity ownership in reducing agency costs.
6. I’m not a huge fan of Shiller, but I appreciate his position here:
“Economists seem to miss things that are important” because they’re so busy. “Specialization coupled with strong competitive pressures within academia leads to a situation in which academics often feel that they just do not have time to ponder broad issues and learn even basic simple facts outside their specialty,” the Shiller paper says. “Their general knowledge may be embarrassingly limited, and so they may retreat into their own specialty and produce research which contributes in small ways to the development of the field, but fails to pay attention to the larger picture.”
Update: Here’s a detailed explanation of Fama’s contributions from his Chicago colleague John Cochrane.
| Peter Klein |
I never miss Hayek’s birthday but sometimes forget to celebrate September 29 as the birthday of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), Hayek’s senior colleague and mentor, whose writings are very influential here at O&M. To learn about Mises you should read Guido Hülsmann’s biography but, if you prefer shorter treatments, you can find biographical essays by Mises’s students Murray Rothbard and Israel Kirzner. Organization theorists should pay particular attention to Mises’s 1922 book Socialism as well as his (unfortunately neglected) 1944 book on Bureaucracy.
| Peter Klein |
From Jill Bradbury:
The herd strays; crops die.
Who pays? Gain and harm are weighed.
Not Pigou’s frayed nerves.
Feel free to try your hand in the comments.
| 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.”
| Peter Klein |
Here’s a picture of Ronald Coase you may not have seen, from his student days at LSE.
From Hayek: A Commemorative Album (London: Adam Smith Institute, 1998), and courtesy of Bettina Greaves.
| Peter Klein |
Following up my earlier post on artistic collaboration, and its relationship to entrepreneurial collaboration, here’s a quote from Paul Cantor on his new book, The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV:
Many people who condemn pop culture and dismiss it as artistically worthless dwell on the fact that films and television shows are almost never the products of a single artist working on his own. It is therefore important to show that many of the great works of high culture grew out of a collaborative process too. There is nothing about cooperation in artistic creation that precludes high quality. Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but they may also each add a distinctive flavor and work together to bring the recipe to perfection. The processes of synergy and feedback work in popular culture just the way they do in other areas of human endeavor. This is all part of my defense of popular culture — to demonstrate that the conditions of production in film and television are not necessarily incompatible with artistic as well as commercial success.
Likewise, entrepreneurship and innovation are collaborative media — which is easy to see once you realize that entrepreneurship is not about recognizing “opportunities,” but acquiring and controlling resources that are used in production.
| Peter Klein |
A useful management tip from the great director:
Orson Welles: Did I ever tell you the story of [Franz Joseph's] visit to the provinces? It’s a great movie story. You can use it on set almost any day with an assistant director.
Henry Jaglom: What is it?
OW: Franz Joseph is riding in his carriage through this tiny provincial town, plumes and all. The trembling mayor is sitting next to him. He says, “Your Imperial Highness, I have to apologize to you in the profoundest terms for the fact that the bells are not ringing in the steeple. There are three reasons. First, there are no bells in the steeple — ” And Franz Joesph interrupts him and says, “Please don’t’ tell me the other two reasons.” Now, that’s a good answer for every assistant director, everyone in the world that you’ve had working for you in any capacity.
HJ: Where you just want to get a straight answer. . . .
OW: I tell that story when I make a movie, always. When somebody starts with the excuses, I say, “Bells in the steeple.” It stops them every time.
Student: “I didn’t finish the assignment because, well, um. . . .” Professor: “Bells in the steeple!” I’m putting that one on my syllabus.
| Peter Klein |
Welles was perhaps the greatest auteur of cinema and modern theater, so it’s no surprise that he comes out in favor of flatter hierarchies:
OW: [Irving] Thalberg was the biggest single villain in the history of Hollywood. Before him, an producer made the least contribution, by necessity. The producer didn’t direct, he didn’t act, he didn’t write — so, therefore, all he could do was either (A) mess it up, which he didn’t do very often, or (B) tenderly caress it. Support it. Producers would only go to the set to see that you were on budget, and that you didn’t burn down the scenery. But [Louis B.] Mayer made way for the producer system. He created the fellow who decides, who makes the directors’ decisions, which had never existed before.
HJ: Didn’t the other studio heads interfere with their directors?
OW: None of the old hustlers did that much harm. If they saw somebody good, they hired him. They tried to screw it up afterwards, but there was still a kind of dialogue between talent and the fellow up there in the front office. They had that old Russian-Jewish respect for the artist. All they did was say what they liked, and what they didn’t like, and argue with you. That’s easy to deal with. And sometimes the talent won. But once you got the educated producers, he has a desk, he’s gotta have a function, he’s gotta do something. He’s not running the studio and counting the money — he’s gotta be creative. That was Thalberg. The director became the fellow whose only job was to day, “Action” and “Cut.” Suddenly, you were “just a director” on a “Thalberg production.” Don’t you see? A role had been created in the world. Just as there used to be no conductor of symphonies.
HJ: There was no conductor?
OW: No. The konzertmeister, first violinist, gave the beat. The conductor’s job was invented. Like the theater director, a role that is only 150, 200 years old. Nobody directed plays before then. The stage manager said, “Walk left on that line.” The German, what’s his name, Saxe-Meiningen, invented directing in the theater. And Thalberg invented producing in movies. He persuaded all the writers that they couldn’t write without him, because he as he great man.
Clearly Orson would not agree with my take on entrepreneurship and ultimate responsibility, as applied to the arts. Or do well in a restaurant kitchen. I have to admit, though, that Welles has a certain credibility on the subject of creativity.
| Peter Klein |
I am wary of adding yet another conceptual margin for entrepreneurial action but I highly recommend a new (and for the moment, ungated) paper in the Scandinavian Economic History Review by the distinguished economic historian Joel Mokyr on “cultural entrepreneurship.” Starting from a broadly Schumpeterian perspective, Mokyr focuses on individuals who introduce and disseminate novel ideas:
[E]ach individual makes cultural choices taking as given what others believe. It is not a priori obvious how that affects one’s choices. It may affect them positively because conformism implies that there is some social cost associated with deviancy, or because people may reason that if the majority believes a certain thing, there may be wisdom in it (thus saving on information costs). But there can be a reverse reaction as well, with non-conformists perversely rebelling against existing beliefs. What matters for my purposes is that for a small number of individuals, the beliefs of others are not given but can be changed. I shall refer to those people as cultural entrepreneurs. Their function is much like entrepreneurs in the realm of production: individuals who refuse to take the existing technology or market structure as given and try to change it and, of course, benefit personally in the process. Much like other entrepreneurs, the vast bulk of them make fairly marginal changes in our cultural menus, but a few stand out as having affected them in substantial and palpable ways.
Succinctly expressed: “cultural entrepreneurs are the creators of epistemic focal points that people can coordinate their beliefs on.”
Mokyr’s focus, like Schumpeter’s, is not entrepreneurship per se, but its effects, particularly on long-run economic growth, and his entrepreneurship construct is somewhat undertheorized. But he provides fascinating examples, ranging from Mohammed and Luther to Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Adam Smith. He focuses in particular on Bacon and Newton, describing Bacon’s work as “the coordination device which served as the point of departure for thinkers and experimentalists for two centuries to come. The economic effects of these changes remained latent and subterranean for many decades, but eventually they erupted in the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent processes of technological change.” Newton and the Royal Society “raise[d] the social standing of scientists and researchers as people who should be respected and supported and [provided] them with a comfortable material existence.” (Mostly good.)
I’m not an expert on cultural theory or history and am not sure how much the “cultural entrepreneur” construct ads to our understanding of cultural change (other than relabeling, a frequent worry in entrepreneurship studies). But the paper is a great read, highly provocative and informative, and addresses big questions. Check it out.
| Dick Langlois |
I just learned (via Rajshree Agarwal) of the passing, at a young age, of Steven Klepper. Steven was an acquaintance of many years, a stand-up guy as well as a great researcher. His work on the lifecycle of firms and the role of spinoffs is a model for how to do good empirical work in organization and technology. By coincidence, this new paper (with Russell Golman) crossed my screen only a few minutes after I learned the news.
Geographic clustering of industries is typically attributed to localized, pecuniary or non-pecuniary externalities. Recent studies across innovative industries suggest that explosive cluster growth is associated with the entry and success of spinoff firms. We develop a model to explain the patterns regarding cluster growth and spinoff formation and performance, without relying on agglomeration externalities. Clustering naturally follows from spinoffs locating near their parents. In our model, firms grow and spinoffs form through the discovery of new submarkets based on innovation. Rapid and successful innovation creates more opportunities for spinoff entry and drives a region’s growth.
| Peter Klein |
As the Niall Ferguson kerfuffle begins fading from memory it’s worth revisiting the underlying issue: What kind of person was John Maynard Keynes, and (how) did his social, cultural, moral, and aesthetic views affect his scientific work?
Here are a few recommended readings:
- Ralph Raico, “Was Keynes a Liberal?” (Independent Review, 2008)
- Schumpeter’s obituary of Keynes (AER, 1946)
- Murray Rothbard, “Keynes the Man” (in Dissent on Keynes, 1992)
These works are not kind to ole’ John Maynard (I’m posting them, what did you expect?). Rothbard, for example, emphasizes Keynes’s “overweening egotism, which assured him that he could handle all intellectual problems quickly and accurately and led him to scorn any general principles that might curb his unbridled ego,” also referring to Keynes’s “deep hatred and contempt for the values and virtues of the bourgeoisie,” including savings and thrift. It’s hard to imagine that Keynes’s personal views on thrift could be unrelated to the now-ubiquitous, über-Keynesian idea that spending, not savings and capital accumulation, is the driver of economic growth.
On time preference, and its social and cultural causes and consequences, I recommend Time and Public Policy by T. Alexander Smith (University of Tennessee Press, 1988), which unfortunately appears to be out of print. Here is a brief review by Israel Kirzner.
| Peter Klein |
My old classmate, fellow Oliver Williamson student, and coauthor Howard Shelanski has been nominated to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the post typically described as Regulation Czar). Howard was in the joint PhD-JD program at Berkeley, went on to clerk for Antonin Scalia, joined the faculty at Berkeley’s School of Law, and served in a number of regulatory posts before moving to Georgetown. He currently heads the FTC’s Bureau of Economics.
Howard’s a super-smart guy, whom I’d describe as an antitrust moderate (unlike me, an anti-antitrust extremist). He’s sympathetic to “post Chicago” antitrust theory and policy, but more of a nuts-and-bolts, case-by-case guy. I’m not a fan Cass Sunstein, current head of the OIRA, and I expect to like Howard’s performance much better. Howard doesn’t share Sunstein’s enthusiasm for behavioral analysis, for example, as seen in an interview last December, where he said this about the role of behavioral economics in antitrust:
I think there is a role, but one needs to be very modest and cautious. There has been a lot written and a lot said about how behavioral economics fundamentally undermines the models on which we do antitrust analysis. And I think most people involved with antitrust enforcement, most people who think about competition issues, would disagree that there is some fundamental new paradigm shift in the works. But behavioral economics does supply insights into how consumers might respond to certain kinds of information, contracting practices, or pricing schemes. This can be very useful to understanding certain kinds of market performance and has led to greater modesty about imputing perfect foresight or rationality to consumers.
But one needs to understand that that is not the sign of a broader behavioral economics revolution in antitrust.
My general feelings about regulatory czars are well summarized by this passage from Fiddler on the Roof, quoted today by Danny Sokol in the same context:
Young Jewish Man: Rabbi, may I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, my son.
Young Jewish Man: Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar . . . far away from us!
| Peter Klein |
A remembrance from our friend Doug Allen:
I only met Armen once, but his influence on me was profound. In the fall of 1980 I was taking intermediate micro economics to fulfill a Business Degree requirement. The course was taught by the great Art DeVany, who had been a student of Armen’s at UCLA. Naturally he used “Exchange and Production” as his text. I remember vividly the day — it was a Thursday, late on a cloudy afternoon — when I entered a corner of a large hallway on campus. I was thinking about the concept covered in class that week: “prices are not determined by costs.” I went into that corner thinking like an accountant, and when I came out the other side I was thinking like an economist. It was an epiphany. I came out thinking “of course prices are not determined by costs!”
I quickly changed majors, decided to postpone law school for a detour in graduate economics, and have never looked back. Fortunately for me my advanced undergraduate theory class was taught by Chris Hall, an intellectual grandson of Armen’s via Steve Cheung. His text for the course was “Economic Forces at Work.” I loved Armen’s writing, his style, and his ease in making life a big puzzle to solve.
I mentioned that I have only met the great man once. It was at a PERC conference in the early 1990s. The small group sat around tables in alphabetical order, and so Alchian was first and (Doug) Allen was second. I jokingly said “ah, Alchain and Allen, together again.” I thought it was quite witty, but Armen ignored the remark. I made some other comments that he was similarly impressed with. So, remembering that “even a fool is counted wise when he keeps his mouth shut,” I just sat back and listened. It was a great treat, and Armen didn’t seem to mind having me tag along for the weekend. My favorite recollection was a long discussion we had over how Rockefeller actually made money.
As I think about his passing, the one thought that strikes me is “where is the Armen Alchain for today?” Where is the economist’s economist? I suppose there just never will be another AAA.
| Peter Klein |
Armen Alchian passed away this morning at 98. We’ll have more to write soon, but note for now that Alchian is one of the most-often discussed scholars here at O&M. A father of the “UCLA” property-rights tradition and a pioneer in the theory of the firm, Alchian wrote on a dizzying variety of topics and was consistently insightful and original.
Alchian was very intellectually curious, always pushing in new directions and looking for new understandings, without much concern for his reputation or legacy. One personal story: I once asked him, as a naive and somewhat cocky junior scholar, how he reconciled the team-production theory of the firm in Alchian and Demsetz (1972) with the holdup theory in Klein, Crawford, and Alchian (1978). Aren’t these inconsistent? He replied — politely masking the irritation he must have felt — “Well, Harold came to me with this interesting problem to solve, and we worked up an explanation, and then, a few years later, Ben was working on a different problem, and we started talking about it….” In other words, he wasn’t thinking of developing and branding an “Alchian Theory of the Firm.” He was just trying to do interesting work.
Updates: Comments, remembrances, resources, links, etc.:
- Robert Higgs
- David Henderson (1, 2)
- Jerry O’Driscoll
- Alex Tabarrok
- Doug Allen
- Dan Benjamin
- A 1996 Alchian symposium (gated)
- Alchian and Woodward’s review of Williamson (1985): “The Firm Is Dead, Long Live the Firm”
| Peter Klein |
That’s the title of a new review paper by Nicolai and me for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organizational Studies, edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed (Oxford University Press, 2013). No, we haven’t gone over to the Dark Side (I mean, the good side), we just think Hayek’s work deserves to be better known among all scholars of organization, not only economists. Unlike many treatments of Hayek, we don’t focus exclusively, or even primarily, on tacit knowledge, but on capital theory, procedural rules, and other aspects of Hayek’s “Austrian” thinking.
You can download the paper at SSRN. Here’s the abstract:
We briefly survey Hayek’s work and argue for its increasing relevance for organizational scholars. Hayek’s work inspired aspects of the transaction cost approach to the firm as well as knowledge management and knowledge-based view of the firm. But Hayek is usually seen within organizational scholarship as a narrow, technical economist. We hope to change that perception here by pointing to his work on rules, evolution, entrepreneurship and other aspects of his wide-ranging oeuvre with substantive implications for organizational theory.