More on Selective Intervention
| 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.