Archive for May, 2007

Craft Production Is Fun

| Peter Klein |

Thank goodness for the factory system and mass production, which makes us wealthy enough to do things by hand. Naturally I thought of Budweiser’s critics when reading this piece in The Onion, “Grueling Household Tasks Of 19th Century Enjoyed By Suburban Woman.” (They forgot to include knitting, the latest craze among wealthy suburbanites.) Craft production sure is fun — unless you have to do it to survive, of course. (HT: Ryan McMaken.)

21 May 2007 at 12:13 pm 2 comments

Economizing and Strategizing

| Nicolai Foss |

In a much-cited 1991 paper in the Strategic Management Journal, “Strategizing, Economizing, and Economic Organization,” Oliver Williamson introduced the distinction alluded to in the title of the paper between “economizing,” that is, economizing with transaction costs, and “strategizing,” that is, the exercise of market power (in the standard sense of setting p above mc and imposing a deadweight welfare loss on society). Whereas strategizing is only available to relatively few, large players, Williamson argued, any firm can engage in economizing. Thus, “… economy is the best strategy. That is not to say that strategizing efforts to deter or defeat rivals with clever ploys and positioning are unimportant. In the long run, however, the best strategy is to organize and operate efficiently.”

However, in a certain sense, economizing and strategizing are made of the same stuff, and the distinction may, for this reason, be somewhat overdrawn. (more…)

20 May 2007 at 1:56 pm 5 comments

Random Post Link

| Peter Klein |

Got a few hours to kill? Try the O&M Random Post Link, which takes you to one of our many interesting archived posts. I don’t know about you, but I could spend all day doing this!

19 May 2007 at 7:54 am 2 comments

Schumpeter the Teacher

| Peter Klein |

Robert Solow took Joseph Schumpeter’s courses on Advanced Economic Theory and the History of Economic Thought at Harvard in the late 1940s. Not surprisingly, Schumpeter dazzled, but mostly confused:

The theory lectures bordered on incoherent; they alluded to everything but analyzed nothing. He would say: “Of course you know about X or Y, so I do not have to go into detail.” But we didn’t know about X or Y, as he must have realized. The history lectures were also disappointing. I do not remember where they began, but at the end of the term they had barely reached Adam Smith. The course felt like a stage display of multilingual erudition.

This is from Solow’s review of Thomas McCraw’s new Schumpeter biography in the May 25 New Republic (gated, unfortunately). (NB: Schumpeter’s rehabilitation of economic thought before Adam Smith is perhaps disappointing only to those who believe economics was created in 1776.) Solow likes the book but thinks McCraw underappreciates Schumpeter’s Theory of Economic Development (1911), probably his most important work, and overemphasizes Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), which Solow doesn’t care for. (more…)

18 May 2007 at 10:35 am Leave a comment


| Peter Klein |

Check out e-Clips, a digital media archive provided by Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management. Lots of material for entrepreneurship and management courses. What professor can resist this pitch:

Wake up your students! Ever have a moment in class where it seems students are zoning out? Or feel like you are reading an assignment written by a zombie? Help is on the way. Welcome to e-Clips, the world’s largest collection of digital video clips on entrepreneurship, business and leadership.

17 May 2007 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

New Accounting Rules?

| Peter Klein |

Conventional accounting practices have their critics and problems, but reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated. Perhaps you caught the front-page item in last Saturday’s WSJ, “Profit as We Know It Could Be Lost With New Accouting Standards.” The lead-in features this remarkable statement:

In coming months, accounting-rule makers are planning to unveil a draft plan to rework financial statements, the bedrock data that millions of investors use every day when deciding whether to buy or sell stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. One possible result: the elimination of what today is known as net income or net profit, the bottom-line figure showing what is left after expenses have been met and taxes paid. . . .

Another possible radical change in the works: assets and liabilities may no longer be separate categories on the balance sheet, or fall to the left and right side in the classic format taught in introductory accounting classes.

This revision “could mark one of the most drastic changes to accounting and financial reporting since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.”

At first I thought this was a conspiracy by accounting professors to sell a new generation of textbooks. But I asked around and discovered, to my relief, that it is much ado about nothing. Financial professionals have long been aware that net income isn’t the only, or even the best, measure of overall corporate performance; they have offered a host of alternatives (even before Stern-Stewart began pushing EVA). My University of Georgia colleague Denny Beresford, a former Chairman of FASB, tells me that FASB has been working on this project for over a decade and that we should not expect major changes any time soon. “It must have been a very slow news day at the Journal.”

17 May 2007 at 10:23 am 2 comments

Interactive Maps

| Peter Klein |

Those of you into maps will enjoy Social Explorer, a neat tool that generates detailed maps using US census data from 1940 to 2000. (Thanks to Cliff for the pointer.)

My colleagues at the Center for Agricultural, Resource, and Environmental Systems (CARES), just down the hall from my office, also produce some amazing maps. (I keep waiting for them to take on a joint project with the World Health Organization, to be titled WHO-CARES.)

17 May 2007 at 12:15 am Leave a comment

Syllabus Exchange III

| Peter Klein |

Four syllabi for PhD courses on organization theory:

Thanks to Teppo for all four links.

16 May 2007 at 7:19 am 1 comment

Paul David on Path Dependence

| Peter Klein |

The second issue of Cliometrica features essays by heavy hitters Paul David, Eugene White, and Angus Maddison. David’s contribution is a summary and overview of his work on path dependence. Note the rather immodest title: “Path Dependence: A Foundational Concept for Historical Social Science.” Well. . . . David’s attachment to the QWERTY concept appears as strong as ever, though the facts of David’s examples have been seriously contested, including not only the typewriter keyboard but also the choice between AC and DC power, the VHS format over Beta, and so on. David’s response to his critics here seems surprisingly weak and tentative:

The contention that the process of “market competition” eventually works to rectify the mistakes of profit-motivated agents by harnessing the interests and capabilities of other profit-seekers — who will find opportunities for gain by eliminating existing sources of inefficiency — undoubtedly warrants serious consideration in this regard (see Liebowitz and Margolis 1990; Puffert 2002). But that means it ought not be accepted on faith. Rather the opposite approach, however, seems to be adopted by those who argue that it is implausible to suppose that market incentives will not operate rapidly to eliminate sources of substantial inefficiencies in the production and use of commodities, and that the burden of empirical proof therefore should lie upon those who claim that sub-optimal outcomes of decentralized market-guided choices in the past have saddled subsequent generations with quantitatively significant economic costs.

I hardly think the critics are asking that their revisionist historical analysis be taken on faith! (more…)

15 May 2007 at 3:59 pm 2 comments

Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. (1918-2007)

| Peter Klein |

Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., passed away last Wednesday at the age of 88. Chandler was an inspiration and informal mentor to my own dissertation adviser, Oliver Williamson, so I feel like I’ve lost a grandparent. Essential reading on Chandler (besides Strategy and Structure and The Visible Hand) includes Williamson’s 1981 The Modern Corporation: Origins, Evolution, Attributes, David Teece’s review essay of Chandler’s Scale and Scope, and former guest blogger Dick Langlois’s Vanishing Hand project. Chandler’s 2006 paper on the technology sector turned out to be (I think) his last published paper. Chandler’s father, by the way, may have been a closet Misesian.

15 May 2007 at 9:23 am 1 comment

Congratulations to Drs. Chambers, Chapman, and Xue

| Peter Klein |

Three PhD students whose dissertation committees I chaired or co-chaired completed their work this semester. Molly Chambers (University of Missouri) studied the emergence of “new generation” cooperatives in Renville County, Minnesota and developed a conceptual model of team or “collective” entrepreneurship. The new generation cooperative is a patron-owned firm characterized by closed membership, appreciable and partially transferable equity shares, binding delivery obligations, and an emphasis on value creation, rather than the protection of existing rents — a model designed to mitigate the problems of vaguely defined property rights that characterize traditionally organized cooperative. Molly used a survey and structured interviews to compare the effects of transaction costs, ownership costs, and spawning conditions on the development of the Renville cluster during the 1990s. (more…)

15 May 2007 at 12:25 am Leave a comment

This Bud’s For You

| Peter Klein |

Most of my academic colleagues are anti-American food snobs. Why, those poor Yanks, they think Parmesan cheese is the white, powdery stuff in plastic cylinders rather than the expensive, thick wedge with its maker’s mark on the skin. (Note the section “Other cheeses erroneously named Parmesan” in the Wikipedia entry on Parmigiano Reggiano.) Americans even think Budweiser comes from St. Louis, not České Budějovice!

Well, I myself am a bit of an anti-American food snob but I do insist on getting the facts right. In Bud’s case, as pointed out in this brilliant piece by Daniel Davies, the original, and better, Budweiser is Adolphus Busch’s American brew, not the Czech Budvar pretender. Davies explains:

  • Anheuser-Busch has been selling Budweiser since 1876, 20 years before the Budvar brewery was even built. Its brew is the original Bud.
  • Bud is all natural, failing to comply with German “purity” standards only because it contains rice (as do Kiran, Bintang, and Efes).
  • More generally, and most importantly, the beer we know and love today — even the fanciest, premium beer — is a product of capitalism, not some romanticized, pre-industrial “craft brewing” era. Beer brewed before the Industrial Revolution was probably horrible and until recently couldn’t be produced in small batches with any acceptable level of quality. Three cheers for the Factory System!

14 May 2007 at 10:38 am 6 comments

Design for the Bottom of the Pyramid

| Peter Klein |

C. K. Prahalad’s “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” approach to development gets mixed reviews. This firm takes it seriously: Paul Polak’s International Development Enterprises, which develops and markets low-cost, low-tech tools and implements for farmers in the developing world. Here is the web version of a Smithsonian exhibition, “Design for the Other 90%,” highlighting such products and services. “The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers,” says Polak. “Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

Some designs, like the Q Drum, are breathtakingly simple, while others, like the Aquastar Plus! and Portable Light Project,  are more sophisticated. The One Laptop Per Child project is also featured.

Hat tip to Fast Company, which provides additional information.

14 May 2007 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

Colin Camerer on Strategic Management

| Nicolai Foss |

Strategic management researchers are, as a rule, practically oriented folks who typically do not have much patience with lofty debates in the theory of science. Say the word “ontology” and you will have eyes rolling in the audience (yes, I have tried it!).

I am currently working on a chapter on methodological/philosophy-of-science discussions in strategic management for Giovanni Battista Dagnino’s forthcoming Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy and, given the above characterization, I have actually been surprised by the number of published papers on meta-theoretical issues in strategic management. (more…)

12 May 2007 at 10:24 am 4 comments

Private Provision of Public Goods, Mario Puzo Edition

| Peter Klein |

Nicolai tells me The Sopranos is the most popular show among Danish libertarians. I bet they like the Godfather trilogy as well. What libertarian can resist this classic exchange between Michael Corleone and Kay Adams in the first film:

Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.

Kay: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.

Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

The films are terrific, but the original novel by Mario Puzo is even better. (The newer books by Mark Winegardner aren’t bad either.) One of Puzo’s themes, which isn’t emphasized so much in the movies (aside from the opening scene in the first film), is how the Mafia functioned as a kind of private government, providing protection for people, primarily poor immigrants, who were refused protection from the inefficient and corrupt formal legal authorities. (more…)

12 May 2007 at 12:21 am 7 comments

The Legacy of Max Weber

| Peter Klein |

Ludwig Lachmann’s influential Legacy of Max Weber (1971) is now available free online, courtesy of the Mises Institute’s e-book collection.

11 May 2007 at 12:31 pm 1 comment

Weakly Informative Priors

| Peter Klein |

I clearly remember an incident from my first week of graduate school. I asked Professor X if he thought I should take Professor Y’s econometrics course. “Well, Y is a good teacher,” X replied. “Of course,” he added quietly, with a conspiratorial glance, “you know he’s a Bayesian, right?”

“A Bayesian? My goodness, I had no idea!” I exclaimed, not having the faintest idea what a Bayesian was. Professor X said it the way he might have said “wife-beater,” so I was sure I wanted nothing to do with such a character. Later, after studying Bayesian inference, Bayes’s Theorem, the Bayesian approach to games of incomplete information, and the like, I came to regard Bayesians as a bit less dangerous, something like the eccentric uncle at a family reunion that everyone tolerates but tries to avoid. (more…)

11 May 2007 at 8:51 am 5 comments

Is there a Reputational Hierarchy in Management?

| Nicolai Foss |

We don’t often praise sociologists on O&M, but one of the more illuminating and interesting sociologists is Brit Richard Whitley, Professor at the University of Manchester Business School. Reference is here not so much to his recent, mainly descriptive, work on “business systems” (e.g., this one; for an early critique, see this) as to his more-than-two-decades-old work on the sociology of the sciences. (more…)

10 May 2007 at 3:35 pm 1 comment

The Diffusion of IT in the Workplace

| Peter Klein |

Much research on information technology focuses on the IT sector itself (software, computer hardware, telecom, biotech). Less attention has been paid to the effects of IT on the rest of the economy, particularly “old economy” manufacturing and service industries. (Erik Brynjolfsson’s work constitutes perhaps the most prominent exception.) And yet we know that IT has had a significant impact on a range of industries including steel, machine tools, trucking, and banking.

One of the first book-length, single-industry, long-range studies of the effects of IT on workplace practices is JoAnne Yates’s 2005 book Structuring the Information Age, an analysis of the life-insurance industry over the last hundred years. As noted by Thomas Haigh, reviewing the book for EH.Net, life insurance is a conservative, heavily regulated industry concerned primarily with stability, not growth. But because its main activity is processing paperwork, improvements in record-keeping and information processing have always been critical to the industry’s performance. Life-insurance firms have been not only early adopters, but also creators and developers of IT. During the 1920s and 1930s they were the first to add printing capabilities to the tabulating machines that had been around since the 1890s and to develop the ability to process letters as well as numbers. From the 1940s to the 1970s they were among the earliest adopters of digital computing.

Writes Haigh: “I hope Yates succeeds in her stated aim of convincing historians that businesses can be creative users of technologies. We would all benefit if it can also serve what must have been an implicit aim: to remind business school faculty that history explains a great deal about how technology does and doesn’t work when applied within an industry.”

10 May 2007 at 12:17 am 2 comments

TV Dinners . . . and Non-TV Dinners

| Chihmao Hsieh |

Remember the times when families would get together at the dinner table for a meal and little Johnny would yell out, “Can we turn on the TV during dinner?” Ah yes, those were the good ol’ days.

How 1990s.

Nowadays, as highlighted in this AP article released today, television is not only losing its grip on families but also on individuals. (more…)

9 May 2007 at 12:52 pm 6 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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