Archive for August, 2011
| Peter Klein |
A somewhat disheartening report on US workplace safety:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has its fascinatingly morbid fatality census report out! Are you a manager of some sort? Watch your back, because the study says if you die on the job, there’s a 10% chance it’s murder.
That’s correct. Out of the 4,547 workplace deaths in 2010, 10% of the kaput management was a direct result of homicide. Gulp.
| Peter Lewin |
Many of the same theoretical tools and concepts that we use for the business firm are applicable to that other ubiquitous social institution, the family; though of course there are important differences (even though I am sure you know people who are “all business”). Steve Horwitz and I have written a paper that illustrates some of this.
The affects of the march of technology on the firm — for example, rendering obsolete certain kinds of physical and human capital, reducing production cost, increasing specialization and product variation, etc. — receive considerable attention. I have not seen much on these affects insude the family. Our article does analyze the long-term effects of the rising opportunity cost of labor in general and of women’s work in particular, which is the theme of a massive research literature. I have in mind rather the “mundane” effects on the family, and on the marriage, of unanticipated technological changes that, for example, affect the spouses differently. In effect, this is an unanticipated change in the marriage bargain that will plausibly bring with it additional un-bargained for stresses and tensions — an unanticipated rise in the cost of marriage (or of staying in the marriage).
I love my wife and I am not contemplating leaving, but I do feel the stress of having to perform all of the 21st century tasks for which I have a substantial comparative advantage, and which have become necessary and routine — like ordering things online, backing up data, downloading audio books (a necessity for exercising!) and so on. I wonder how common this is.
I might be in real trouble for this one :-).
| Peter Klein |
Thanks to Peter L. for his report on the “Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurship Studies” PDW at the Academy of Management conference. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the slides: my opening remarks on the origins and development of the Austrian school, Henrik’s discussion of Israel Kirzner and his influence on entrepreneurship scholarship, and Todd’s presentation on Ludwig Lachmann’s unique approach. Enjoy!
| Peter Lewin|
I have an all-in-one color printer, fax, scanner (Canon MX7600). It is pricey, but the real kicker is the cost of the toner. It uses 6 different cartridges. Some of them run out pretty frequently. Each costs around $20, basically for a small container of ink. When any one of the cartridges runs out the machine shuts down — though it could easily print black and white when one of the colors runs out. Also, and this is the interesting thing, when any toner cartridge runs out all of the other functions of the machine shut down — no outgoing faxes, no scanning — even though these have nothing to do with printing. This way I am inclined to replace the cartridge sooner rather than later. Annoying. I suspect this is deliberate and maybe not enough of a nuisance to be a selling point in the competition for consumers.
Very different: I am running out of my blood-pressure medicine. I have my own blood pressure machine, and as horrendously complicated as it is to use it, I have somehow managed to master the art. My blood pressure is normal while on the medication. I attempt to refill the prescription (which costs $12 without insurance — not even worth claiming). No refills left. The pharmacy calls the doctor. The doctor’s office calls me to make an appointment. For what? To get my blood pressure taken. I have my own machine. That is not good enough. We have to do it! My appointment is at 10:45. I see the nurse at 11:15, after filling out paperwork that I have filled out multiple times before. I see the doctor at 11:45. I leave the doctor’s office at 12:05 after he has sent in my refill prescription. I pay him $30 copay. The insurance pays him about $150 for an office visit. Do the math to see how much this $12 prescription cost me (include the opportunity cost of my time and the cost of the office visit — which is reflected in my insurance premium). This ability to tie-in the purchase of a prescribed medicine with the purchase of an office visit is a massive social cost that we all face. It is the result of the non-market delivery of health-care.
| Peter Klein |
Jobs and Apple have done the best job of answering with their products the question posed by wiki inventory Ward Cunningham: What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? As I’ve stressed before, most technologists / nerds / geeks don’t think this way — they think that success comes from cramming in features and functions, bells and whistles.
I’ve made this point many times in my speaking and teaching on technology and innovation, particularly with regard to so-called “QWERTY effects” and the claim that markets with network externalities tend to select suboptimal technologies. A serious problem in this literature is that “optimal” is almost always defined from the engineer’s point of view, not the consumer’s (e.g., Betamax was “really” better than VHS because the picture quality was higher and the tapes more compact, even though the recording time was shorter and the recorders much more expensive). Aside from what the market chooses, by what standard do we deem one technology more “efficient” — in an economic sense — than another?
As one disgruntled RIM employee complained recently to upper management: “The whole campaign around the [Blackberry] Playbook seems to be ‘IT DOES FLASH! LOOK!’ . . . but honestly, my mother doesn’t know or care about that. She wants to know ‘can I play Angry Birds?'”
| Nicolai Foss |
“Selective intervention” and the more narrow notion of the “impossibility of selective intervention” are among the more elusive notions in the theory of the firm. We have blogged on them a number of times (the most explicit treatment is here). Coined by Oliver Williamson, selective intervention simply means intervention to produce net gains. Thus defined, selective intervention is, of course, not “impossible.” The” impossibility” refers to the conjecture that firms cannot just be grown continuously by selective intervention; at some point various commitment and enforcement problems associated with managerial intervention kicks in, resulting in zero net gains. However, demonstrating this is a “puzzle.”
A new paper, “Solving the Selective Intervention ‘Puzzle’,” by noted French economist, Jacques Cremer, usefully places the problem in context, provides a nice overview of the extant literature, and argues that the problem has essentially been solved:
I have shown that the common thread to all the solutions is the fact that the principal stays in the game” after the contract is signed, and cannot commit himself to a policy which would make the world similar to the world in which there would be no vertical integration. On this basis, solutions that stress incompleteness of contracts, the change in the allocation of authority, the change in the amount of information available to the principal, all provide solutions that are theoretically consistent, and, furthermore, often not incompatible with each other. Determining which solution provides a better guide to applied analysis requires an examination of other features of the model.
| Peter Klein |
Adrián Ravier has put together a nice collection of Spanish-language interviews with economists of the Austrian school (volume 1, volume 2). The leading modern figures are all included: Mises, Hayek, Machlup, Lachmann, Rothbard, Kirzner, fellow travelers such as Buchanan and Shackle, and contemporary Austrians such as Garrison, Block, Hoppe, Higgs, Ebeling, Salerno, Boettke, and more.
Guest blogger Peter Lewin’s interview is coming out in a third volume, to be published later this year, and Adrián has given me permission to post the English version here. You’ll find Peter’s intellectual odyssey very interesting!
(I am also featured in the collection, via translation of an old interview from 1995. Those were the days!)