Incentives Matter, Little Big Horn Edition

13 July 2010 at 11:11 am 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

Thanks to Norman Van Cott for this tidbit, which I hadn’t known before:

The crux of Roger McGrath’s review of Nathaniel Philbrick’s “The Last Stand” (Bookshelf, June 18) is that George Custer’s “undoing was the wildly inaccurate information he [Custer] received about the number of Indian warriors he might face.” Left unnoted by Mr. McGrath is the role perverse public-sector economic incentives played in generating this information.

To wit, Indian reservation agents’ salaries varied directly with reservation populations. More Indians, more money. This provided agents an incentive to inflate reservation population counts, which led in turn to underestimates of the number of Indians on the warpath. For the economist, the Little Bighorn debacle is an excellent example of public choice economics in action.

Details about how these incentives affected the population counts appear in a previous decade’s classic study of Custer, Evan Connell’s 1984 “Son of the Morning Star.” For example, prior to the battle, agents reported 37,391 Indians on the reservations. A U.S. Army count after the battle turned up 11,660. That Custer’s soldiers ended up facing perhaps twice as many Indians as they had been told to expect is not surprising. Incentives matter.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Ephemera.

Tesla (the Car) Hayek Interviews

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Warren Miller  |  14 July 2010 at 8:59 am

    Fascinating stuff, Peter. Thanks for bringing this to us via Mr. Van Cott. Wow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


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).

%d bloggers like this: