Archive for July, 2011

A Capital Approach

| Peter Lewin |

My thanks to Peter Klein (we have to be careful now to indicate which Peter is being addressed :-) ) and to O&M for this wonderful opportunity to participate in this forum. Though I have commented infrequently I have followed its musings with interest and profit. I am delighted to be here.

Perhaps, for my opening post, I might just mention a few areas of my past and current research that might be of interest.

  • As part of the Routledge series on the Foundations of the Market Economy I wrote a book entitled Capital in Disequilibrium which was published in 1999. It is still available, but it is very expensive ($200) — certainly not worth that price! Routledge recently released their copyright to me exclusively and I have just got through revising the book for a second edition to be published very soon by the Mises Institute. I had hoped to have some copies available at the upcoming AOM meetings in San Antonio, but this seems very unlikely now. Still, it will be easily available on their website and an open source version will also be there. The price of the book will be $15 I believe. Based on inquiries I have received, this will be welcome news for a few interested scholars.
  • I have made very few changes to the book — mainly stylistic improvements and corrections — but I have added a few references to relevant work that appeared after the first edition. For those who don’t know the work, it is basically an evaluative survey of capital theory Austrian-style. Capital theory has often been feared or avoided by economics students, never mind other interested scholars. I hoped and still hope that this book will provide them a comprehensive, sophisticated, yet accessible course in the subject. Of course, the amazing thing is the timing. The relevance of capital theory has, all of a sudden, burst upon the field of management and organization studies. Having discovered and digested Schumpeter and Kirzner, management scholars have now, in turn, discovered Lachmann. How delightful it is for me to see Lachmann’s insights being applied in this kaleidic, digital world. I know this would have pleased him beyond words. (A real paradox of sorts, because I cannot imagine he would ever have mastered the technology for his own personal use :-) ).
  • Regarding the book, of course the material is at least twelve years old. Yet, those wishing to understand the recent work using concepts like radical subjectivism, capital heterogeneity, capital complementarity and subsititutability, etc. would probably find it useful — and need not pay attention to the every page. Chapters 2 and 3 seem to me particularly important for an understanding of the concept of equilibrium and disequilibrium about which so much confusion is evident in the literature. Chapter 9, and less so Chapter 10, address specifically the question of capital combinations in business organizations. The final part of the book is about human capital and creates a bridge between the work of Lachmann and Gary Becker. (more…)

7 July 2011 at 2:06 pm 1 comment

Introducing Guest Blogger Peter Lewin

| Peter Klein |

We’re grateful to Scott for his excellent contributions. As we bid him fond farewell, we’re also excited to welcome Peter Lewin as our newest guest blogger.

Peter studied with Ludwig Lachmann at University of the Witwatersrand and earned a PhD in economics at Chicago under Gary Becker. He is currently clinical professor of economics at the University of Texas at Dallas, School of Management, where he has taught since 1979. Peter has published in monetary economics, human capital, the economics of discrimination, and a variety of other subjects but is best known for his work on capital theory, where his teacher Lachmann made seminal contributions. Peter’s work on capital, and its relation to the theory of the firm, has inspired much of my and Nicolai’s thinking on these issues.

Besides his academic work Peter is also an entrepreneur, helping co-found Soft Warehouse in 1984, the firm that became CompUSA.

We’re delighted to have Peter on the team and look forward to his insights.

7 July 2011 at 10:46 am 2 comments

Thanks to the O&M Proprietors . . .

| Scott Masten |

. . . for the opportunity to post a few thoughts on O&M over the last few months. (Errors and, especially, omissions are the sole responsibility of the author.) As I told Peter, it was nice to have a location from which to broadcast items from time to time that wouldn’t otherwise make it beyond lunch partners and the unlucky panhandler. As I discovered, even occasional musings take time, and participating, even sporadically, has given me a greater appreciation for the benefits that Peter, Nicolai, Dick, and Lasse provide us O&M consumers. It’s worth every penny!

And so, with gratitude, I take my leave.

6 July 2011 at 2:23 pm 5 comments

Asset Sales and Financial Distress

| Peter Klein |

“What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom,” Adam Smith famously observed. I noted in an earlier post on raising the debt ceiling that restructuring US government securities is hardly the “nuclear” option it’s portrayed in the pundit world; bankrupt firms, like bankrupt families and firms, restructure their debt obligations all the time. The notion of T-Bills as a sort of sacred relic, to be once and forever “risk-free,” seems more like religion than economics to me.

But, more important, there is another option for entities struggling to make their interest payments: asset sales. Just in the last couple days Bob Murphy, David Friedman, and Steve Horwitz have made this point. Public discussion on the US debt crisis assumes that the only options for meeting US debt obligations are increasing taxes, cutting spending, or both. But asset sales are another viable option. There’s a huge literature on this in corporate finance (e.g., Shleifer and Vishny, 1992; Brown, James, and Mooradian, 1994; John and Ofek, 1995), exploring the benefits and costs of asset sales as a source of liquidity for financially distressed firms. Of course, selling assets under dire circumstances, at fire-sale prices, is far from a first-best option but, as this literature points out, often better than bankruptcy or liquidation. (One of the best-known results, from John and Ofek, is that asset sales tend to increase firm value when they result in an increase in focus. Would it really be so bad if the US government sold off some foreign treasuries and currency, the strategic petroleum reserve, its vast holdings of commercial land, and other elements of a highly diversified, and unaccountably bloated, portfolio?)

5 July 2011 at 10:47 pm 5 comments

Productivity: The Mother of (Nearly) All Good Things

| Lasse Lien |

The mother of all good (material) things is productivity growth. Competitive advantage, firm level growth and survival, profits, economy-wide economic growth, job creation, and destruction, etc. are all outcomes that depend critically on relative productivity and productivity changes. So if you understood productivity really well, you would understand a lot about (material) outcomes across firms, industries and countries, too.

Also, if one wants to advance “the human condition” it is presumably better to advance the understanding of productivity than profits, since profits are contaminated by market power. Profit maximization  is good because – or to the degree – it tends to raise productivity. So while profit maximization and competition are means, productivity growth is the goal.

Though few would argue against the fundamental importance of productivity, productivity is nevertheless quite rarely used as a dependent (or independent) variable in strategy, organizational economics, organization theory, leadership, innovation, etc. The reason is probably that the considerable problems associated with  measuring productivity has scared us into focusing on more easily observable variables, such as accounting profits, Tobin’s Q, EVA, sales growth, survival, etc.

However, there is a large literature in economics that attacks productivity head on, and tries to elucidate its determinants. Though there is an unfortunate bias towards manufacturing in this literature (due to measurement issues), the findings from this research stream still makes extremely interesting reading (IMHO). Here is a recent review of the key findings from the past decade:

Economists have shown that large and persistent differences in productivity levels across businesses are ubiquitous. This finding has shaped research agendas in a number of fields, including (but not limited to) macroeconomics, industrial organization, labor, and trade. This paper surveys and evaluates recent empirical work addressing the question of why businesses differ in their measured productivity levels. The causes are manifold, and differ depending on the particular setting. They include elements sourced in production practices — and therefore over which producers have some direct control, at least in theory — as well as from producers’ external operating environments. After evaluating the current state of knowledge, I lay out what I see are the major questions that research in the area should address going forward. (JEL D24, G31, L11, M10, O30, O47)

Syverson, Chad. 2011. “What Determines Productivity?” Journal of Economic Literature 49(2): 326–65.

4 July 2011 at 8:57 am 7 comments

Institutions and Political Economy Group

| Peter Klein |

The Institutions and Political Economy Group (IPEG) is a new research group at the University of the Witwatersrand that “promotes the study of the relationship among institutions, organizations and markets through the simple principles of economic reasoning.” Sounds good to me! IPEG is directed by O&M friend Giampaolo Garzarelli.

2 July 2011 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

AoM PDW on Austrian Economics

| Peter Klein |

Four years ago I helped organize an Academy of Management pre-conference workshop on Austrian economics featuring Nicolai, me, Joe Mahoney, Yasemin Kor, Dick Langlois, and Elaine Mosakowski. It was well attended and very well received and we are doing something similar this year. Henrik Berglund, Todd Chiles, Steffen Korsgaard, and I have put together a Professional Development Workshop (PDW) on “Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurship Research.” Full details below. The conference home page is here. Hope to see many O&Mers at the workshop!

Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurship Research

Please join us Saturday, August 13, from 12:30 to 2:30pm in the San Antonio Convention Center, Room 212A, for a PDW on the Austrian school of economics and its implications for entrepreneurship studies (Program Session #281).

The Austrian school is increasingly well-known in the entrepreneurship field and is typically associated with Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of “creative destruction” and Israel Kirzner’s concept of “entrepreneurial alertness.” But Austrian economics features a number of additional themes, constructs, and emphases — resource heterogeneity, subjectivity of beliefs and expectations, processes of organizational emergence under complexity, and more — that are particularly relevant to research in entrepreneurship, organization, and strategy. Austrian economics is also receiving increasing attention in the broader economics and policy communities, as witnessed by the revival of interest in Austrian business cycle theory as an explanation for the financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn.

This PDW features a panel discussion and interactive table discussions designed to explore Austrian themes in greater detail and examine their applications to research in entrepreneurship and related areas of management studies. The organizers also hope to encourage and help develop the growing community of management scholars interested in the Austrian school.

The program begins with an introduction and overview by session organizers Henrik Berglund (Chalmers University of Technology), Todd Chiles (University of Missouri), Peter Klein (University of Missouri), and Steffen Korsgaard (Aarhus University), followed by breakout sessions organized around particular themes such as alertness and opportunity discovery, heterogeneity of the entrepreneurial imagination, resource heterogeneity and Austrian capital theory, entrepreneurship and equilibration, entrepreneurship and punctuated disequilibrium. Other distinctively Austrian (e.g., opportunities and action, the role of individuals, the individual-opportunity nexus, the market process, methodological individualism) and related (e.g., effectuation and bricolage) ideas will also figure prominently in the discussions.

The groups will then reassemble to share findings and results with the larger group. Ample time will be allowed for informal discussion and networking.

Please contact Henrik Berglund ( with any questions.

1 July 2011 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

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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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