Archive for September, 2011

And Your Chicks for Free

| Peter Klein |

Fred McChesney, call your office.

Hoping to fend off any antitrust action, Google has hired at least 13 lobbying and communications firms since May, when the Federal Trade Commission ramped up its probe of the Internet giant. Firms led by figures from both parties — including former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt and the son of Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar — are going to bat for the company.

Gentlemen, don’t forget to close that revolving door on your way out. . . .

BTW for an interesting, if somewhat confused, take on the antitrust industry, see a young Robert Reich.

19 September 2011 at 4:49 am Leave a comment

Upcoming Events

| Peter Klein |

Readers new to O&M may not have noticed the “Events” tab above. Here we maintain an ad hoc list of conferences, seminars, and other activities of likely interest to students and scholars of organizations, strategy, entrepreneurship, institutions, and the like. (Readers are encouraged to forward their suggestions.) Sample:

(NB: The “Papers” and “Projects” tabs need some updating, but we’ll get right on it.)

16 September 2011 at 10:03 am Leave a comment

New Book on American Institutionalism

| Peter Klein |

It’s by Malcolm Rutherford, titled The Institutionalist Movement in American Economics, 1918-1947: Science and Social Control (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Rutherford reinterpretes the American (or “Old”) Institutional Economics as a much broader and deeper movement than simply the ideas of Veblen, Commons, and Mitchell. Reviewers Robert Van Horn and Richard McIntyre say that “institutional economics should be understood as a ‘movement’ that shared core ideas and beliefs and as a network of people with a self-conscious unity, and Rutherford marvelously shows how the self-conscious unity of this network shaped institutionalist economics and American economics more generally in the first half of the twentieth century.” The reviewers also praise Rutherford for debunking three important “myths” about the Old Institutionalists:

First, he challenges the notion that institutional economics was only a critique of neoclassical economics and that institutional economics disappeared because it did not make any substantial contributions to economics.  Second, Rutherford successfully assails the idea that institutional economics was just a set of facts and bereft of theory.  Third, Rutherford dispels the notion that institutional economics was Veblenian; he shows that Veblen was an intellectual inspiration to the movement but not central to the networking process.

My previous forays into the writings of the Old Institutionalists have not yielded much fruit, but I will look at Rutherford’s book and try to keep an open mind.

16 September 2011 at 9:51 am Leave a comment

Da Vinci in the Kitchen

| Peter Klein |

More on engineering versus economic perspectives on innovation:

For Leonardo, every food was only as good as the machine that created it, the technique was as important as the taste. Leonardo’s work in the Sforza kitchen strove for efficiency, but often the result of all this time — saving was sheer insanity, reported the humanist courtier Sabba da Castiglione:

“Master Leonardo da Vinci’s kitchen is a bedlam. . . . At one end of the premise, a great waterwheel, driven by a raging waterfall over it, spewed and spattered forth its waters over all who passed beneath and made the floor a lake. Giant bellows, each twelve feet long, were suspended from the ceilings, hissing and roaring with intent to clear the fire smoke, but all they did accomplish was to fan the flames to the detriment of all who needed to negotiate by the fires — so fierce the wandering flames that a constant stream of men with buckets was employed in trying to quell them, even though other waters spouted forth on all from every corner of the ceilings.”

Every kitchen task could be mechanized — crushing garlic, pulling spaghetti, plucking ducks, cutting a pig into cubes — but the machines Leonardo imagined were sometimes far more elaborate than the task required. His invention for a giant whisk twice the size of a man involved an operator from within who was constantly in danger of being wisked into the sauce. . . . Another model involved a team of three horses engaged in the task of crushing a nut.

Michelle Legro has all the details (via Robin Varghese).

14 September 2011 at 4:13 pm 1 comment

Pirrong on Regime Uncertainty

| Peter Klein |

A nice post from former guest blogger Craig Pirrong on regime uncertainty and its role in hampering economic recovery. As Craig points out, it’s not the level of government intervention per se that delays investment, but uncertainty about anticipated changes in government intervention. Options theory provides a useful way to see this.

Bob Higgs approves. And here are Craig’s old O&M posts.

12 September 2011 at 10:18 am 1 comment

In the Journals

| Peter Klein |

Three newly published papers of likely interest to O&Mers:

While cumulative knowledge production is central to growth, little empirical research investigates how institutions shape whether existing knowledge can be exploited to create new knowledge. This paper assesses the impact of a specific institution, a biological resource center, whose objective is to certify and disseminate knowledge. We disentangle the marginal impact of this institution on cumulative research from the impact of selection, in which the most important discoveries are endogenously linked to research-enhancing institutions. Exploiting exogenous shifts of biomaterials across institutional settings and employing a difference-in-differences approach, we find that effective institutions amplify the cumulative impact of individual scientific discoveries.

This paper studies a retail chain that introduced a sales incentive plan that rewarded for exceeding a sales target and subsequently cut the incentive intensity in addition to increasing the target. Utilizing monthly panel data for 54 months for all 53 units of the chain the paper shows that the introduction of the sales incentive plan increased sales and profitability, whereas the changes in the plan lead to a marked drop in sales and profitability. Thus, modifying the incentive plan proved costly for the firm. The results are consistent with the gift-exchange model of labor contracts.

We discuss how the use of field experiments sheds light on long-standing research questions relating to firm behavior. We present insights from two classes of experiments—within and across firms—and draw common lessons from both sets. Field experiments within firms generally aim to shed light on the nature of agency problems. Along these lines, we discuss how field experiments have provided new insights on shirking behavior and the provision of monetary and nonmonetary incentives. Field experiments across firms generally aim to uncover firms’ binding constraints by exogenously varying the availability of key inputs such as labor, physical capital, and managerial capital. We conclude by discussing some of the practical issues researchers face when designing experiments and by highlighting areas for further research.

9 September 2011 at 5:48 pm 2 comments

“Micro Chauvinists” Pushing Back …

| Nicolai Foss |

A reviewer of a recent book proposal by Teppo Felin and me (which was accepted, BTW; details later) had the effrontery to note that “Felin and Foss get considerable pushback when they take a strong stand on methodology.” Of course, this reviewer got it all wrong. To wit:

  • Teppo and I recently published “The endogenous origins of experience, routines and organizational capabilities: The poverty of stimulus” in the Journal of Institutional Economics, accompanied by critical comments by Sidney Winter, Brian Pentland, Geoff Hodgson and Thorbjørn Knudsen. Here is our response to the comments of our critics. The response has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Institutional Economics.
  • In a recent paper in Sociological Theory, influential sociologists  Ronald Jepperson and John W Meyer took issue with the rampant “micro-chauvinism” that, in their opionion, increasingly dominates social science, and called for multi-level explanation that admits a role for causation that (in some unexplained fashion) takes place at levels above that of individuals. In this brief note, Teppo and I (and Peter Abell of LSE) take issue with their arguments, and argue that they fundamentally misunderstand methodological individualism and its crucial role in understanding those phenomena that are “multi-level”, “complex” and “emergent.”

Thus, the macro chauvinists are the ones who are getting the pushback ;-)

7 September 2011 at 7:01 am 8 comments

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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).