Posts filed under ‘Theory of the Firm’
| Peter Klein |
Congratulations to Henry Butler for being named Dean of the George Mason University School of Law. Henry has been director of GMU’s Law and Economics Center, and previously directed the Searle Center at Northwestern. In these roles he has been a prolific economic educator, following in the footsteps of his mentor Henry Manne (aka “Big Henry,” Henry Butler being “Little Henry”).
Younger readers may not know that Henry Butler is also a significant contributor to the early theoretical and empirical literature in transaction cost economics, particularly through two papers with Barry Baysinger, “Corporate Governance and the Board of Directors: Performance Effects of Changes in Board Composition” (JLEO, 1985) and “The Role of Corporate Law in the Theory of the Firm” (JLE, 1985). These papers argued that, contrary to a naive reading of the nexus-of-contracts literature on the firm, institutional constraints such as contract law do have an effect on firm organization and governance. One strand of the research literature on the firm, taking its cue from Alchian and Demsetz (1972) and Jensen and Meckling (1976), maintained that the legal structure of the firm is relatively unimportant for organization and performance, as market participants can simply price out, and contract around, any constraints imposed by the legal system. Baysinger and Butler, following Coase and Williamson, showed that legal rules, particularly those related to incorporation, do matter in the presence of transaction costs. Their work on boards showed that board structure and composition affect firm performance, while emphasizing that boards and other governance mechanisms including corporate law are interdependent.
| Peter Klein |
David Howden’s generous review of Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment appears in the March 2015 issue of the International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal. Excerpt:
This ambitious book has a three-fold purpose. First, it seeks to clarify “entrepreneurship” in a manner amenable to both modern management and economics literature. Second, it redefines the theory of the firm in order to integrate the role of the entrepreneur more fully and give a comprehensive view on why firms exist. Finally, and most successfully, it sheds light on the internal organization of the firm, and how entrepreneurship theory can augment our understanding of why firms adopt the hierarchies they do. . . .
Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment is a massive undertaking, and one that ambitiously spans the unnecessary divide between management studies and economics literature. For the scholar seriously contemplating exploiting this gap further, the book is highly recommended. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading this rendition of their entrepreneurial theory of the firm, it is this reviewer’s hope that Foss and Klein continue to carve out this growing niche straddling the two disciplines. Following up with a more direct and focused primer on their firm would be a welcome contribution to further the growing field.
Also, at last November’s SDAE conference, the book received the 2014 FEE Prize for best book in Austrian economics.
We have several new papers coming out that develop, extend, and defend the judgment-based perspective. Details to follow.
| Peter Klein |
Thanks to Danny Sokol for passing on this paper by Alan Meese.
Alan J. Meese
Antitrust Law Journal 79, no. 3 (2014)
This essay, prepared for a conference examining Robert Bork’s antitrust contributions, examines Bork’s hitherto unknown role in the transaction cost economics (“TCE”) revolution. The essay recounts how, in 1966, Bork helped rediscover Coase’s 1937 article, The Nature of the Firm and employed Coase’s reasoning to explain how various forms of partial integration could reduce transaction costs. As the essay shows, Bork described how exclusive territories, customer restrictions and horizontal minimum price fixing that accompanied otherwise valid integration were voluntary efforts to overcome the costs of relying upon unfettered markets to conduct economic activity. To be sure, Bork did not develop a complete account of TCE capable of informing a full-fledged research program. Nonetheless, Bork did articulate and apply various tools of TCE, tools that reflected departures from the applied price theory tradition of industrial organization.
The essay also offers some brief speculation regarding why scholars have not recognized Bork’s early contributions to TCE. For one thing, Bork did not purport to offer a new economic paradigm. Instead, Bork repeatedly characterized his work as an application of basic price theory, the very economic paradigm that TCE overthrew with respect to the interpretation of non-standard contracts. Moreover, Bork did not persist in his critique of price theory’s once-dominant account of non-standard contracts. After reiterating his views in 1968, for instance, he did not revisit the economics of non-standard agreements for nearly a decade. Finally, when Bork did return to the topic, he deemphasized TCE-based arguments and focused more on the claim that such agreements could not add to the market power already possessed by manufacturers and thus could not produce economic harm. In short, Bork’s failure to reiterate his TCE-based interpretation of non-standard agreements seems partly responsible for the lack of recognition his early contributions have received.
On Bork see also Jack High’s useful 1984 paper, “Bork’s Paradox: Static vs. Dynamic Efficiency in Antitrust Analysis.”
| Peter Klein |
Some upcoming events of interest to O&M readers:
- “Research and Policy Change Inspired by Ronald Coase,” 27-28 March 2015, Washington DC
- Berkeley-Paris Organizational Economics Workshop, 10-11 April 2015, Paris
- BHC/EBHA Workshop Historical Approaches to Entrepreneurship Theory & Research, 24 June 2015, Miami FL
- TILEC Economic Governance Workshop, “Economic Governance and Social Preferences,” 3-4 September 2015, Tilburg
| Peter Klein |
Bryan Hong, Lorenz Kueng, and Mu-Jeung Yang have two new NBER papers on strategy and organization using a seven-year panel of about 5,500 Canadian firms. The papers exploit the Workplace and Employee Survey administered annually by Statistics Canada. The data, the authors’ approach, and the results should be very interesting to O&M readers. Here are the links to the NBER versions; there may be ungated versions as well.
Business Strategy and the Management of Firms
NBER Working Paper No. 20846, January 2015
Business strategy can be defined as a firm’s plan to generate economic profits based on lower cost, better quality, or new products. The analysis of business strategy is thus at the intersection of market competition and a firm’s efforts to secure persistently superior performance via investments in better management and organization. We empirically analyze the interaction of firms’ business strategies and their managerial practices using a unique, detailed dataset on business strategy, internal firm organization, performance and innovation, which is representative of the entire Canadian economy. Our empirical results show that measures of business strategy are strongly correlated with firm performance, both in the cross-section and over time, and even after controlling for unobserved profit shocks exploiting intermediates utilization. Results are particularly striking for innovation, as firms with some priority in business strategies are significantly more likely to innovate than firms without any strategic priority. Furthermore, our analysis highlights that the relationship between strategy and management is driven by two key organizational trade-offs: employee initiative vs. coordination as well as exploration of novel business opportunities vs. exploitation of existing profit sources.
Estimating Management Practice Complementarity between Decentralization and Performance Pay
NBER Working Paper No. 20845, January 2015
The existence of complementarity across management practices has been proposed as one potential explanation for the persistence of firm-level productivity differences. However, thus far no conclusive population-level tests of the complementary joint adoption of management practices have been conducted. Using unique detailed data on internal organization, occupational composition, and firm performance for a nationally representative sample of firms in the Canadian economy, we exploit regional variation in income tax progression as an instrument for the adoption of performance pay. We find systematic evidence for the complementarity of performance pay and decentralization of decision-making from principals to employees. Furthermore, in response to the adoption of performance pay, we find a concentration of decision-making at the level of managerial employees, as opposed to a general movement towards more decentralization throughout the organization. Finally, we find that adoption of performance pay is related to other types of organizational restructuring, such as greater use of outsourcing, Total Quality Management, re-engineering, and a reduction in the number of layers in the hierarchy.
| Peter Klein |
This review provides a critical survey of psychology-and-economics (“behavioral-economics”) research in contract theory. First, I introduce the theories of individual decision making most frequently used in behavioral contract theory, and formally illustrate some of their implications in contracting settings. Second, I provide a more comprehensive (but informal) survey of the psychology-and-economics work on classical contract-theoretic topics: moral hazard, screening, mechanism design, and incomplete contracts. I also summarize research on a new topic spawned by psychology and economics, exploitative contracting, that studies contracts designed primarily to take advantage of agent mistakes.
| 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?