Archive for August, 2008

Tullock on the Corporation

| Peter Klein |

Gordon Tullock is retiring this year from George Mason Law School. In the coming weeks you’ll probably be reading a lot of Tullock tributes and Tullock anecdotes (for example, about his famous put-downs). I don’t have much to add on the personal side, but I thought I’d share a remark or two about one of my favorite, and little-known, Tullock articles, “The New Theory of Corporations,” in Erich Streissler, ed., Roads to Freedom: Essays in Honor of Friedrich A. von Hayek (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969).

Tullock offers a number of insights into the corporate form and, in particular, the Berle-Means problem, that are well ahead of their time. As Tullock notes in the essay, he draws heavily here on Henry Manne’s work (and, he tells us, many conversations with Manne about these issues). In 1969 the consensus view was that corporations were almost exclusively controlled by salaried managers, running firms in their own interests and largely ignoring the wishes of shareholders. However, Tullock notes:

The theory of management control of corporations, of course, is subject to one very obvious difficulty. It offers no explanation of how managements are changed, and changes of management are an everyday occurrence as any reader of the Wall Street Journal can appreciate. It is true that presidents of large corporations frequently stay in office rather longer than the president of the United States, but they don’t stay in office as long as congressmen and senators, and we would hardly argue that the long tenure of congressmen and senators indicates that we do not have democracy in the United States. Thus, the current orthodoxy that the management actually runs the corporation cannot explain how the management got there or how the everyday occurrence of a change in management occurs. For some reason, this does not seem to disturb the partisans of the . . . Berle and Means theory. (more…)

27 August 2008 at 12:39 am 4 comments

Save Grandma, Don’t Give Makeup Exams

| Peter Klein |

I quit giving makeup exams years ago because they were Granger-causing the deaths of too many grandmothers. I believe the relationship between makeup exams and grandma mortality is well known among college professors, but I only recently discovered Lee Jussim’s analysis (via Teppo). (He suggests giving only really difficult makeup exams, which has a similar effect.)

26 August 2008 at 8:55 am 4 comments

Hayek, Read, Mises in the Classroom

| Peter Klein |

Today the University of Missouri welcomes its largest freshman class in history, with 5,680 student expected at their desks for the first day of the semester. (Could the increased enrollment be the result of Mizzou football’s surprising 10-2 record, and Big Twelve North Championship, last season? Not as crazy as you might think.) I am teaching an undergraduate class, “Economics of Managerial Decision Making,” that focuses on organizational and managerial issues. Finding good readings is often a challenge, though the textbook options are much better than a generation ago (Brickley, Besanko, FroebHendrikse, and more.) Here are a couple of classroom resources I discovered today:

Mises is not usually considered “classroom friendly” but I have found that “Profit and Loss” (1958) works well with undergraduates. And of course Mises emphasizes the entrepreneur as the driving force behind price adjustment, an aspect missing from Hayek’s treatment (in which agents are modeled as responders, not initiators). Section I of Bureaucracy, on “Profit Management,” is also quite good, and only 20 pages.

25 August 2008 at 11:46 am 4 comments

Best Three Sentences I Read Today

| Peter Klein |

Chris Dillow, wondering why doctors have such a good reputation, and economists such a poor one:

A man who’s been cured by a doctor lives to tell everyone. A man who’s been killed by one stays quiet. Economists’ “victims” — those stupid enough to believe forecasts — don’t keep schtum.

The rest of his reasons are interesting too. I think he focuses too much on economic forecasting, which is not in my view the same as economic analysis. The economy is not, after all, a “patient” to be taken care of and “cured” by the economist.

25 August 2008 at 10:35 am 1 comment

Don’t Ask Me What This Means

| Peter Klein |

In 1999, a group of researchers including [endocrinologist Erma] Drobnis were working on a study comparing semen quality across major metropolitan areas, suspecting that sperm counts were dropping worldwide. They selected New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles for their study. But reviewers of the grant application recommended adding add another, more rural town. They selected Columbia [Missouri].

Researchers believed that including Columbia would serve as a baseline by which to judge the other cities. More rural settings, so the theory goes, tend to have fewer toxic pollutants such as smog in the air that impact reproductive health.

So researchers were caught off-guard when the Columbia sperm samples turned out to be significantly lower than samples from three other cities.

Here’s the story from the local paper. I’m eagerly awaiting the witty comments.

23 August 2008 at 11:27 am 8 comments

Reflections on Cyert and March

| Peter Klein |

The April 2008 issue of JEBO features a symposium on Cyert and March’s 1963 classic, A Behavioral Theory of the Firm (an O&M favorite). The book has been highly influential in organization theory, somewhat influential in behavioral economics, but mostly ignored in the contemporary economics literature on the firm (see here). As Mie Augier and March note in their introduction to the special issue:

As long as the primary focus of the theory of the firm was on the aggregate outcomes of interaction among rational actors, the book’s role in economics was limited. As Cyert and March noted, “Ultimately, a new theory of firm decision making behavior might be used as a basis for a theory of markets, but at least in the short run we should distinguish between a theory of microbehavior, on the one hand, and the micro-assumptions appropriate to a theory of aggregate economic behavior on the other. In the present volume we will argue that we have developed the rudiments of a reasonable theory of firm decision making” (1963, 16).

As interest in economics moved slowly toward greater concern with behavioral micro-assumptions, ideas consistent with Cyert and March (1963) became more prominent ([Kay, 1979], [Day and Sunder, 1996] and [Day, 2002]), although with hesitations and qualifications ([Baumol and Stewart, 1971] and [Williamson and Winter, 1991]). Elements of a behavioral view of the firm can now be found in many modern developments in economics, but especially in transaction cost economics ([Williamson, 1996] and [Williamson, 2002]), evolutionary theory ([Nelson and Winter, 1982], [Nelson and Winter, 2002], [Winter, 1986] and [Dosi, 2004]), and organizational economics (Gibbons, 2003). Behavioral ideas have been elaborated not only in theories of the firm but also in collateral areas of economics, such as strategic management (Rumelt et al., 1991), organization theory (Argote and Greve, 2007), and the psychological foundations of economic choice ([Tversky and Kahneman, 1974], [Kahneman and Tversky, 1979] and [Camerer et al., 2004]). Ideas of bounded rationality, conflict, learning, and routines are now commonplace, as is the general idea that economic behavior is guided by principles of human behavior. Although those ideas have many ancestors, A Behavioral Theory of the Firm probably contributed some modest amount of DNA.

Of particular interest to the O&M crowd are “Outlines of a Behavioral Theory of the Entrepreneurial Firm” by Dew, Read, Sarasvathy, and Wiltbank; “Realism and Comprehension in Economics: A Footnote to an Exchange Between Oliver E. Williamson and Herbert A. Simon” by Augier and March; and “Unpacking Strategic Alliances: The Structure and Purpose of Alliance versus Supplier Relationships” by Mayer and Teece.

22 August 2008 at 8:34 am 1 comment

Best Sentence I Read Today

| Peter Klein |

Justin Wolfers, on methodological conformity among mainstream economists:

Feel free to insert joke here about two-handed economists; although recognize that even an octopus couldn’t summarize the consensus within, say, sociology.

He’s mainly criticizing economists, however, adding: “Is it really the case that economics has advanced so little that 30 years later we are still having the same old debates?”

21 August 2008 at 12:51 pm 1 comment

Older Posts Newer Posts


Nicolai J. Foss | home | posts
Peter G. Klein | home | posts
Richard Langlois | home | posts
Lasse B. Lien | home | posts


Former Guests | posts


Recent Posts



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).