Archive for May, 2006

Interview With Mark Blaug

| Peter Klein |

You readers with a passion for economic methodology (yes, both of you) will enjoy this interview with Mark Blaug. (HT to Rafe Champion, who calls Blaug "the man who did more than anyone to generate the cottage industry of 'new philosophy of science applied to economics.' ")

One excerpt: Blaug's problem with contemporary economics is

not just that economics has become technical; it is that economics prizes technicalities above everything else, and that is why I call it formalism. Formalism is the tendency to worship the form rather than the content of the argument. That is the kind of subject it has become. We care only about the form in which an economic theory or hypothesis is presented, and we care almost nothing about the actual content of the hypothesis.

I have my own problems with formalism, but I think Blaug overstates his case. His characterization may apply to general-equilibrium models in macroeconomics, growth theory, and some other fields, but in applied microeconomics (contract theory, agency theory, labor economics, parts of industrial organization) the situation is not nearly so dire. (more…)

27 May 2006 at 12:47 am Leave a comment

Should the Term “Neoclassical” Die?

| Nicolai Foss |

In a characteristically well written paper, "The Death of Neoclassical Economics," David Colander claims that the "neoclassical classification should die." Others, notably Mark Blaug, have also argued that the term is rather meaningless.

Colander's argument begins with a list of necessary criteria of what it means for a theory to be "neoclassical." He then argues that most modern economics do not conform to these criteria. The relevant criteria are: 1) focus on atemporal resource allocation, 2) acceptance of some kind of utilitarianism, 3) focus on marginal tradeoffs, 4) assumption of farsighted rationality, 5) methodological individualism, 6) general equilibrium.

For each one of these points, Colander exemplifies how various modern economics contributions make a break with them. For example, with respect to point 2), he says that "few modern economists today accept utilitarianism" (p.135) and with respect to 5) he invokes new institutitonal economists as engaged in work that is explicitly at variance with methodological individualism. This exercise results in the Solowian conclusion that the only thing that really unites modern economists is the modeling approach to social explanation.

While it is indeed hard to precisely define "neoclassical" economics, I think Colander (and Solow) goes much too far. (more…)

26 May 2006 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

Measuring Entrepreneurship

| Peter Klein |

Earlier this week the Kauffman Foundation released an Index of Entrepreneurial Activity for the US and for individual US states. A local TV station asked me to comment on the report (my state, Missouri, ranked sixth from the bottom, provoking much consternation), so I prepared a few sound bites. Here they are:

1. Entrepreneurship is difficult to define, let alone measure. The Kauffman index estimates the percentage of adults, not already owners of a business, who start a new business each month. But the common notion of "entrepreneurship" encompasses imagination, creativity, risk-taking, judgmental decision-making, and so on, activities or attributes not necessarily reflected in new firm formation.

2. The Kauffman index measures the rate at which new firms are established, not the number of firms that exist. The Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners provides one measure of the latter. I haven't examined it in detail, state by state, but spot-checking suggests that its ranking doesn't correspond closely to the Kauffman ranking. (Missouri, for example, is 30 of 50 in the number of independent establishments.) (more…)

26 May 2006 at 12:57 am 3 comments

Austrian Economics and the Theory of the Firm

| Nicolai Foss |

My co-blogger has developed a very nice online bibliography on the extremely important research that takes place in the intersection between Austrian economics and the theory of the firm.  It numbers almost 50 papers. A booming research area! The list may be incomplete, so be sure to mail Peter if your AE/ToF paper is not listed.

26 May 2006 at 12:44 am Leave a comment

Austrian Economists and the Wealth of Nations

| Peter Klein |

David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations is eliciting praise from many quarters (Tyler Cowen; Paul Krugman; The Economist; Brayden King). Peter Gordon likes it too, but notes that "the book and its story are poignant for Austrian economists, whose contributions are hardly acknowledged. The question that goes unasked is: What has the neo-classicists' journey of discovery, as sketched by Warsh, contributed that is worthy beyond the Austrians' long-held focus on entrepreneurial discovery?"

25 May 2006 at 1:54 pm Leave a comment

Non-Market Motivators

| Peter Klein |

Some scholars and consultants say that incentive plans are harmful, that managers should instead try to create within organizations a sense of duty, collective identity, and overall communitarian spirit. If so, why not dump that dreadful motivational art and decorate the office with these Soviet propaganda posters? (HT: Jeff Tucker)

24 May 2006 at 12:01 pm 3 comments

A Fruity Response

| Peter Klein |

Much of the resistance to markets and “market-like” mechanisms within firms seems to flow from a belief that market exchange is somehow crass, profane, and uninspiring, at least compared to communal or family relationships. An example is the horrified reaction of many bioethicists to economists’ proposals to allow markets for cadaveric organs, particularly kidneys.

I’ve avoided commenting on the organ-market controversy, though I’ve been using it as an example in my introductory courses for years. I have little to add to the excellent discussions by Kaserman and Barnett, Epstein, Mankiw, Becker, etc. (not to mention this observation from Robin Hanson). But I can’t resist pointing to a letter in today’s Wall Street Journal by one Charles Fruit, chairman of the National Kidney Foundation. Responding to Richard Epstein’s earlier op-ed in favor of markets, Mr. Fruit declares himself “among the millions of other ‘high-minded moralists’ who oppose treating life-saving organs as commodities.” Closing his letter with a presumed coup-de-grâce, Fruit adds: “We moralists can only pray that [Epstein’s] proposed market mechanism for the transaction of hearts, lungs, kidneys and other life-saving human organs would work a little better than it does for the nation’s consumers of gasoline.”

Cute. But how exactly should gasoline be allocated to consumers? (more…)

23 May 2006 at 2:03 pm 1 comment

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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).