Archive for November, 2011

A Turkey of a Thanksgiving Post

| Peter Klein |

Many US bloggers try to post something clever on Thanksgiving about religious freedom, agricultural productivity, colonialism, property rights, immigration, etc. We’ve done it ourselves. But this year I thought I’d share something different: nerdy academic stuff about — what else? — the economic organization of the turkey industry. Tomislav Vukina’s 2001 paper on vertical integration in poultry is instructive. For example:

The pattern of vertical integration is less uniform in the turkey industry than in the broiler industry. A turkey company is less likely to own its own hatchery but is more likely to have company owned production farms (Martin et al. 1993). There is also more variation among production contracts in terms of division of risks and profits from growing turkeys than in the broiler industry. The processing plant is the center for control of placement.

A processor may contract directly with farmers or contract with a feed supplier who in turn contracts with farmers. In the turkey industry, there are still some independent producers with formal marketing contracts with processors. Such marketing contracts do not always provide any price or margin guarantees to producers. (more…)

23 November 2011 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

Intellectual History Making a Comeback

| Peter Klein |

At this blog we love intellectual history, particularly the history of economic and management thought. Of course, intellectual history has largely disappeared from the curricula of top economics and management programs. In these fields, the trend was driven by positivism — the belief that social science, like natural science, should favor experimental methods, hypothesis testing, and the rest of the usual trappings of Science. For positivists, there is no need to study the history of the discipline, because any truths emerging from prior work have already been incorporated in to the current textbooks and journal articles. (Murray Rothbard called this the “Whig theory” of intellectual history.)

In the field of intellectual history more generally, the challenges came from the late-twentieth-century emphasis on race, gender, and ethnicity, which privileged social, cultural, and material factors over intellectual ones. But apparently intellectual history is making a comeback. The New York Times reports on the newly formed Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which is sparking new interest in the field. The Times article describes

a resurgence in the fortunes of intellectual history — a discipline long dismissed, if not as boring, then as musty, elitist and out of touch. While intellectual historians like Richard Hofstadter and Perry Miller once dominated the profession, they were swept aside in the 1960s by the rise of social and then cultural history, which regarded talk of “the American mind” as code for “the mind of white, male Americans who happened to write books.”

Today, however, a new breed of young intellectual historian is aiming to integrate the spirit of “history from below” with an approach that doesn’t chop American history off at the neck. Young intellectual historians, scholars at the conference were quick to emphasize, have fully absorbed the lessons of the profession’s increased attention to questions of race, class and gender, without losing hold of the premise that ideas matter, even in a culture that still considers “intellectual” a term of abuse.

“We still want to talk about ideas, but we see ideas everywhere,” said Andrew Hartman, a professor at Illinois State University and president of the newly formed Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which sponsored the conference. “Big ideas affect everybody. It’s not elitist to talk about them.”

22 November 2011 at 11:18 am 1 comment

A Formal Model of Experimentation in Firms

| Peter Klein |

Following Knight, Mises, and Lachmann, we have often characterized entrepreneurship on this blog (and the McQuinn blog, which should be on your reading list) as experimentation with combinations of heterogeneous capital resources. Experimentation itself is relatively understudied in the entrepreneurship and strategy literature — we have general theories about the nature and effects of experimentation, indirect empirical evidence on competition as experimentation (e.g., my relatedness stuff with Lasse), case-study evidence about experimentation and innovation within firms, but don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms.

Here’s a new paper that will not be to everyone’s taste, but tries to get at these issues in a formal model of interaction between experimenting firms:

The Role of Information in Competitive Experimentation
Ufuk Akcigit, Qingmin Liu
NBER Working Paper No. 17602, November 2011

Technological progress is typically a result of trial-and-error research by competing firms. While some research paths lead to the innovation sought, others result in dead ends. Because firms benefit from their competitors working in the wrong direction, they do not reveal their dead-end findings. Time and resources are wasted on projects that other firms have already found to be dead ends. Consequently, technological progress is slowed down, and the society benefits from innovations with delay, if ever. To study this prevalent problem, we build a tractable two-arm bandit model with two competing firms. The risky arm could potentially lead to a dead end and the safe arm introduces further competition to make firms keep their dead-end findings private. We characterize the equilibrium in this decentralized environment and show that the equilibrium necessarily entails significant efficiency losses due to wasteful dead-end replication and a flight to safety — an early abandonment of the risky project. Finally, we design a dynamic mechanism where firms are incentivized to disclose their actions and share their private information in a timely manner. This mechanism restores efficiency and suggests a direction for welfare improvement.

21 November 2011 at 10:56 am Leave a comment

Shakespeare and Epistemology

| Peter Klein |

We university types love The Bard — we’ve got bookstores hither and yon, pizza joints, you name it. Not surprisingly, Shakespearean scholars are up in arms at Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, which they view as silly entertainment at best, disreputable Oliver Stone style revisionism at worst. I haven’t seen the movie and don’t have a particular dog in the authorship fight (though I once heard a very funny lecture by Joe Sobran based on his 1997 book Alias Shakespeare). But I’m puzzled by the core epistemological issue: what do we really know about Shakespearean authorship?

An English professor friend told me that belief in a different author for any of Shakespeare’s works is like “belief in the phlogiston theory of fire.” Stephen Marche writes in the NY Times Magazine: “It is impossible that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare. Notice that I am not saying improbable; it is impossible.” Again, I don’t know anything about the issue other than what I’ve read in recent commentaries, but Marche’s case,  in the piece linked above, is surprisingly weak (some Shakespeare products are dated after de Vere died, which only proves that de Vere couldn’t have written those; the doubters are snobs who don’t believe a poor country boy could have written such beautiful verse, which could be true, but hardly establishes that the country boy did in fact write them; and other circumstantial bits and ex cathedra pronouncements.)

My question, though, is the epistemological one: How can we possibly know with 100% certainty who authored every one of the literary works attributed to Shakespeare? Heck, we don’t know who really writes the stuff published under names like “Doris Kearns Goodwin” and “Stephen Ambrose,” and those appeared in the last few years, not the 17th century. There’s even a lively controversy about what Adam Smith wrote and what he copied. Intellectual historians are frequently reinterpreting and revising, and few cows are sacred. Regarding Shakespearean authorship, then, shouldn’t we expect a little Popperian or Hayekian humility?

16 November 2011 at 6:13 pm 8 comments

Complete Contracts: Roomate Agreement Edition

| Peter Klein |

Contractual completeness is a core issue in organizational economics. A colleague helpfully suggested this illustration of a nearly complete contract. Note the deliberate omission of language dealing with an extreme low-probability event (time for Nicolai and Scott to resume their debate over bounded rationality?).

15 November 2011 at 12:12 pm 4 comments


| Peter Klein |

The Call for Papers for the 2012 ISNIE conference, 14-16 June 2012 at the University of Southern California, is now posted. Proposals are due 30 January 2012, so start working on those abstracts!

I have been involved with ISNIE for many years and currently serve as the organization’s treasurer. The conferences are terrific, with a variety of papers, panels, and keynotes spanning the broad range of institutional and organizational social science research.

Trivia: I first met the good Professor Foss at the inaugural ISNIE conference in 1997 in St. Louis So if it weren’t for ISNIE, this blog might not exist. . . .

15 November 2011 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

SDAE Conference

| Peter Lewin |

This coming weekend in Washington DC, the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics will hold its annual meeting and membership dinner. This year it is honoring Leonard Liggio for his contributions to the teaching and dissemination of Austrian Economics (through his dedication to the cause of classical liberalism) over many decades. A scholarship fund in Leornard’s honor will be established from the donations —  the Leonard Liggio Fellowship Fund to enable graduate students to attend the full SEA/SDAE meetings each year at reduced cost. The Earhart Foundation and Liberty Fund are major sponsors. Table sponsors include the Cato Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Review of Austrian Economics, the Mercatus Institute, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the Koch Foundation. See here for information on the panels organized by the SDAE. I will report on the event upon my return. (I promise for next year to ensure at least one panel dedicated to management themes.)

13 November 2011 at 2:16 pm 2 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).