The Organization of Firms Across Countries
| Peter Klein |
We argue that social capital as proxied by regional trust and the Rule of Law can improve aggregate productivity through facilitating greater firm decentralization. We collect original data on the decentralization of investment, hiring, production and sales decisions from Corporate Head Quarters to local plant managers in almost 4,000 firms in the US, Europe and Asia. We find Anglo-Saxon and Northern European firms are much more decentralized than those from Southern Europe and Asia. Trust and the Rule of Law appear to facilitate delegation by improving co-operation, even when we examine “bilateral trust” between the country of origin and location for affiliates of multinational firms. We show that areas with higher trust and stronger rule of law specialize in industries that rely on decentralization and allow more efficient firms to grow in scale. Furthermore, even for firms of a given size and industry, trust and rule of law are associated with more decentralization which fosters higher returns from information technology (we find IT is complementary with decentralization). Finally, we find that non-hierarchical religions and product market competition are also associated with more decentralization. Together these cultural, legal and economic factors account for four fifths of the cross-country variation in the decentralization of power within firms.
The emphasis on institutional determinants of organizational form makes this a welcome addition to the (slim) set of papers relating institutional arrangements to the institutional environment.
I’m particularly interested in the measurement of decentralization. As noted before, organizational form is not easy to capture in large samples of firms (especially across countries). Bloom, Sadun, and Van Reenen use an original survey, distributed to several thousand plant managers in twelve countries, that asks (a) how much capital investment the plant manager can make without authorization from corporate HQ and (b) where decisions about hiring, new product introductions, and sales and marketing strategies are made. An innovative approach that deserves a closer look.