Posts filed under ‘Theory of the Firm’

Opportunity Discovery or Judgment? Fargo Edition

| Peter Klein |

In the opportunity-discovery perspective, profits result from the discovery and exploitation of disequilibrium “gaps” in the market. To earn profits an entrepreneur needs superior foresight or perception, but not risk capital or other productive assets. Capital is freely available from capitalists, who supply funds as requested by entrepreneurs but otherwise play a relatively minor, passive role. Residual decision and control rights are second-order phenomena, because the essence of entrepreneurship is alertness, not investing resources under uncertainty.

By contrast, the judgment-based view places capital, ownership, and uncertainty front and center. The essence of entrepreneurship is not ideation or imagination or creativity, but the constant combining and recombining of productive assets under uncertainty, in pursuit of profits. The entrepreneur is thus also a capitalist, and the capitalist is an entrepreneur. We can even imagine the alert individual — the entrepreneur of discovery theory — as a sort of consultant, bringing ideas to the entrepreneur-capitalist, who decides whether or not to act.

A scene from Fargo nicely illustrates the distinction. Protagonist Jerry Lundegaard thinks he’s found (“discovered”) a sure-fire profit opportunity; he just needs capital, which he hopes to get from his wealthy father-in-law Wade. Jerry sees himself as running the show and earning the profits. Wade, however, has other ideas — he thinks he’s making the investment and, if it pays off, pocketing the profits, paying Jerry a finder’s fee for bringing him the idea.

So, I ask you, who is the entrepreneur, Jerry or Wade?

11 November 2014 at 4:53 pm 15 comments

Two Interesting NBER Papers

| Peter Klein |

A couple of recent NBER papers of interest to O&Mers, one from Doug Irwin, another from Luis Garicano and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg:

Adam Smith’s “Tolerable Administration of Justice” and the Wealth of Nations
Douglas A. Irwin
NBER Working Paper No. 20636, October 2014

In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues that a country’s national income depends on its labor productivity, which in turn hinges on the division of labor. But why are some countries able to take advantage of the division of labor and become rich, while others fail to do so and remain poor? Smith’s answer, in an important but neglected theme of his work, is the security of property rights that enable individuals to “secure the fruits of their own labor” and allow the division of labor to occur. Countries that can establish a “tolerable administration of justice” to secure property rights and allow investment and exchange to take place will see economic progress take place. Smith’s emphasis on a country’s “institutions” in determining its relative income has been supported by recent empirical work on economic development.

Knowledge-based Hierarchies: Using Organizations to Understand the Economy
Luis Garicano, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg
NBER Working Paper No. 20607, October 2014

We argue that incorporating the decision of how to organize the acquisition, use, and communication of knowledge into economic models is essential to understand a wide variety of economic phenomena. We survey the literature that has used knowledge-based hierarchies to study issues like the evolution of wage inequality, the growth and productivity of firms, economic development, the gains from international trade, as well as offshoring and the formation of international production teams, among many others. We also review the nascent empirical literature that has, so far, confirmed the importance of organizational decisions and many of its more salient implications.

Update: See also Irwin’s article in Monday’s WSJ: “The Ultimate Global Antipoverty Program.”

3 November 2014 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

HOPE Launch Event

| Nicolai Foss |

This Wednesday, 22 October 2014, is the Launch event for the CBS research program I co-direct with Anders Sørensen, “Human Capital, Organization Design, and Corporate Performance” (HOPE). The program includes Ed Lazear, Kathryn Shaw, Ben Campbell, and David Ross. HOPE is about organizational structure and productivity:

Many of the European economies suffer from sluggish productivity growth. Firms matter strongly to economic growth. However, the understanding of firm performance has many gaps — particularly concerning the role for performance of human resources, organizational design, and their interaction.

The scientific ambition of HOPE is to address these gaps based on an interdisciplinary approach, intensively cooperating with some of the world’s leading researchers in the fields that inform this proposal, and by making use of the state-of-the-art econometric methods, and high-quality register and survey data. HOPE will enter a still sparsely populated but highly important field, and will place CBS centrally in the international discussion of the causes of firm performance, such as firm-level productivity.

HOPE is a joint venture between Department of Strategic Management and Globalization, and Department of Economics at Copenhagen Business School

Hope you can join us!

20 October 2014 at 5:42 am Leave a comment

“Why Managers Still Matter”

| Nicolai Foss |

BxrnIo-CQAA8lk7Here is a recent MIT Sloan Management Review piece by Peter and me, “Why Managers Still Matter.” We pick up on a number of themes of our 2012 book Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment. A brief excerpt:

“Wikifying” the modern business has become a call to arms for some management scholars and pundits. As Tim Kastelle, a leading scholar on innovation management at the University of Queensland Business School in Australia, wrote: “It’s time to start reimagining management. Making everyone a chief is a good place to start.”

Companies, some of which operate in very traditional market sectors, have been crowing for years about their systems for “managing without managers” and how market forces and well-designed incentives can help decentralize management and motivate employees to take the initiative. . . .

From our perspective, the view that executive authority is increasingly passé is wrong. Indeed, we have found that it is essential in situations where (1) decisions are time-sensitive; (2) key knowledge is concentrated within the management team; and (3) there is need for internal coordination. . . . Such conditions are hallmarks of our networked, knowledge-intensive and hypercompetitive economy.

29 September 2014 at 10:02 am 7 comments

Theories of the Firm

| Peter Klein |

At the recent Academy of Management conference in Philadelphia I was pleased to participate in a pre-conference workshop organized by Paul Drnevich, Larry Tribble, and David Croson, “Theories and Their Words: A Cross-Academy Discussion of Perspectives on Value Creation and Capture.” From the blurb:

In this workshop a panel of senior and emerging scholars provides a forum to examine and discuss the roles and implications of several prominent management theories and their differing terminology for creating and capturing value. Our distinguished panelists will provide an overview of the value implications of several well-known foundational theories of the existence and purpose of business organizations: Transaction Cost Economics (TCE), Property Rights Theory (PRT), the Capabilities and Resource-based View (RBV), and Industrial Organization (IO), discuss challenges often encountered in efforts to integrate these theories and their terminology, and explore commonalities and intersections across these perspectives that may yield opportunities for future research. We provide perspectives from the distinguished scholars as a means of clarifying how each theory explains the core concepts of value creation and value capture, without which a sustainable business cannot exist. We then offer a discussion of points of commonality and integration of the theories around value creation and value capture with an open forum Q&A session with the presenters regarding directions for future research. We conclude with round-table breakout discussions, each led by a senior scholar and focused on a specific aspect of the theory they presented for more detailed discussion of future research in that theoretical stream.

The presentations from the workshop are online here. You may find them interesting for for research and for teaching. My own presentation on strategy and transaction cost economics covered the basics of TCE and asked if TCE is really a theory of strategy (short answer: no and yes).

Update: Mike Ryall’s presentation is viewable here.

25 August 2014 at 8:24 am 1 comment

Evaluating New Ideas: Looking Across and Looking Beyond

| Nicolai Foss |

Those of us who have experience with research councils and other funding bodies with expert evaluations of the submitted research are familiar wilth folklore, such as “When evaluating economists routinely smash non-economics projects,” “sociologists are a total incrowd and will not tolerate any application of rational choice method, serious econometrics or common sense,” etc. Of course, this is part of the various conspiracy theories about how, notably, economists seek to establish intellectual hegemony.

However, the folklore may be wrong. In a new paper, “Looking Across and Looking Beyond the Knowledge Frontier: Intellectual Distance and Resource Allocation in Science,” Kevin Boudreau, Eva Guinan, Karim Lakhani and Christoph Riedl look at the grant proposal process at a major research university and show that evaluators tend to treat proposals more harshly the closer they were to their own areas of expertise. However, evaluators also treat highly novel proposals negatively. Taking issues of ecological and external validity into account, there are obvious implications for the understanding of the nature of the exploitation/exploration tradeoff: There may indeed be a bias against exploring in the domains of highly novel ideas (as predicted by the literature), but the harsh evaluation of new, but well understood ideas may mean that there is a domain of relatively novel and less well understood ideas within which firms will explore. 

17 August 2014 at 2:16 am 3 comments

Microeconomics of Central Banking

| Peter Klein |

I have a chapter in a new book edited by David Howden and Joseph Salerno, The Fed at One Hundred: A Critical View on the Federal Reserve System (New York: Springer, 2014). My chapter is called “Information, Incentives, and Organization: The Microeconomics of Central Banking,” and builds upon themes discussed many times on this blog, such as Fed independence. Here is a SSRN version of the chapter. The book comes out next month but you can pre-order at the Amazon link above.

2 August 2014 at 8:42 am 2 comments

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Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).


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