The Political Economy of Vertical Integration

14 March 2009 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

An understudied area in the organizations literature is the effect of organizational form on lobbying, rent-seeking, tax-rate arbitrage, and similar kinds of political behavior. The accounting literature on transfer pricing looks at the ability of  vertically integrated multinationals to shift income between tax jurisdictions to reduce the overall tax burden, and regulators have expressed concerns about diversified multinationals putting downward pressure on environmental and labor regulations (by threatening to withdraw production from countries with high tax or regulatory burdens). Of course we know that as industries mature, firms are more likely to open lobbying offices in state or national capitols. But, in general, we know little about how firms organize to take advantage of political processes and institutions.

Joseph Fan, Jun Huang, Randall Morck, and Bernard Yeung have a new NBER paper on vertical integreation in China showing that vertical integration in highly interventionist environments may be aimed not at reducing transaction costs, protecting relationship-specific investments, and the like, but at rent-seeking and the pursuit of other forms of political privilege. Abstract:

Where legal systems and market forces enforce contracts inadequately, vertical integration can circumvent these transaction difficulties. But, such environments often also feature highly interventionist government, and even corruption. Vertical integration might then enhance returns to political rent-seeking aimed at securing and extending market power. Thus, where political rent seeking is minimal, vertical integration should add to firm value and economy performance; but where political rent seeking is substantial, firm value might rise as economy performance decays. China offers a suitable background for empirical examination of these issues because her legal and market institutions are generally weak, but nonetheless exhibit substantial province-level variation. Vertical integration is more common where legal institutions are weaker and where regional governments are of lower quality or more interventionist. In such provinces, firms led by insiders with political connections are more likely to be vertically integrated. Vertical integration is negatively associated with firm value if the top corporate insider is politically connected, but weakly positively associated with public share valuations if the politically connected firm is independently audited. Finally, provinces whose vertical integrated firms tend to have politically unconnected CEOs exhibit elevated per capita GDP growth, while provinces whose vertically integrated firms tend to have political insiders as CEOs exhibit depressed per capita GDP growth.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, New Institutional Economics, Public Policy / Political Economy, Theory of the Firm.

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