Posts filed under ‘Theory of the Firm’
| 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?
| 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.”
| 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!
| Nicolai Foss |
Here 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.
| 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.
| 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.