Archive for April, 2013

Hart on Incomplete Contracts

| Peter Klein |

Transaction cost economics, the property-rights approach to the firm, and the judgment-based view all assume that contracting parties cannot sign complete, contingent contracts, in which case firm boundaries would be arbitrary and unimportant. TCE tends to attribute incompleteness to bounded rationality, while the judgment-based view appeals to Knightian uncertainty and subjectivism to describe markets for judgment are incomplete. The property-rights approach of Grossman, Hart, and Moore did not have an explicit theory of incompleteness, which critics such as Maskin and Tirole saw as a major weakness.

Oliver Hart has written a series of recent papers on “reference points” as a new explanation for incompleteness. The newest, released today as an NBER working paper (with Maija Halonen-Akatwijuka), is the most explicit. It argues that parties deliberately leave gaps in contracts because explicit clauses can make it more difficult for parties to parties to renegotiate after the fact. Check it out and see what you think.

More is Less: Why Parties May Deliberately Write Incomplete Contracts
Maija Halonen-Akatwijuka, Oliver D. Hart
NBER Working Paper No. 19001, April 2013

Why are contracts incomplete? Transaction costs and bounded rationality cannot be a total explanation since states of the world are often describable, foreseeable, and yet are not mentioned in a contract. Asymmetric information theories also have limitations. We offer an explanation based on “contracts as reference points”. Including a contingency of the form, “The buyer will require a good in event E”, has a benefit and a cost. The benefit is that if E occurs there is less to argue about; the cost is that the additional reference point provided by the outcome in E can hinder (re)negotiation in states outside E. We show that if parties agree about a reasonable division of surplus, an incomplete contract can be strictly superior to a contingent contract.

29 April 2013 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

Shelanski Tapped for Top Regulatory Post

| Peter Klein |

shelanski-howard2My old classmate, fellow Oliver Williamson student, and coauthor Howard Shelanski has been nominated to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the post typically described as Regulation Czar). Howard was in the joint PhD-JD program at Berkeley, went on to clerk for Antonin Scalia, joined the faculty at Berkeley’s School of Law, and served in a number of regulatory posts before moving to Georgetown. He currently heads the FTC’s Bureau of Economics.

Howard’s a super-smart guy, whom I’d describe as an antitrust moderate (unlike me, an anti-antitrust extremist). He’s sympathetic to “post Chicago” antitrust theory and policy, but more of a nuts-and-bolts, case-by-case guy. I’m not a fan Cass Sunstein, current head of the OIRA, and I expect to like Howard’s performance much better. Howard doesn’t share Sunstein’s enthusiasm for behavioral analysis, for example, as seen in an interview last December, where he said this about the role of behavioral economics in antitrust:

I think there is a role, but one needs to be very modest and cautious. There has been a lot written and a lot said about how behavioral economics fundamentally undermines the models on which we do antitrust analysis. And I think most people involved with antitrust enforcement, most people who think about competition issues, would disagree that there is some fundamental new paradigm shift in the works. But behavioral economics does supply insights into how consumers might respond to certain kinds of information, contracting practices, or pricing schemes. This can be very useful to understanding certain kinds of market performance and has led to greater modesty about imputing perfect foresight or rationality to  consumers.

But one needs to understand that that is not the sign of a broader behavioral economics revolution in antitrust.

My general feelings about regulatory czars are well summarized by this passage from Fiddler on the Roof, quoted today by Danny Sokol in the same context:

Young Jewish Man: Rabbi, may I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, my son.
Young Jewish Man: Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar . . . far away from us!

26 April 2013 at 3:40 pm 3 comments

Critical Agrifood Scholarship

| Peter Klein |

A friend tipped me off to this, um, interesting paper on farmers markets, which the authors place within the larger field of “critical agrifood scholarship.” We all know what “critical” means, and I’m familiar with much of the agrifood literature, but I didn’t know about this particular field. I learned a lot from the paper about the slow-food movement’s ability to “create political transformation,” and build a “radicalized space” even though such markets “cluster around property and privilege.” The authors seek to “unpack the racialized and class-inflected narratives at play in farmers markets [and] to extend the alternative agriculture movement’s strategic rupturing of the veil of commodity fetishism to include the systemic inequalities on which both conventional and alternative agriculture depend.” How about that thesis statement! In passing, the authors manage to chide the slow-food movement’s “complacency with capitalism and consumerism, systems that are inherently exploitative and divisive,” while adding editorial remarks to such important scientific phenomena as “the working class performances of ‘god, guns and country’ that fill the rhetoric of the GOP.”

Thank goodness for taxpayer-subsided universities. If there were a free market for higher education, this kind of valuable scholarship would probably be grossly underfunded.

20 April 2013 at 1:32 am 4 comments

AMP Symposium on Private Equity

| Peter Klein |

The new issue of the Academy of Management Perspectives features a symposium, edited by Mike Wright, on “Private Equity: Managerial and Policy Implications.” The symposium includes “Private Equity, HRM, and Employment” by Mike with Nick Bacon, Rod Ball, and Miguel Meuleman; “The Evolution and Strategic Positioning of Private Equity Firms” by Robert E. Hoskisson, Wei Shi, Xiwei Yi, and Jing Jin; and “Private Equity and Entrepreneurial Governance: Time for a Balanced View” by John L. Chapman,  Mario P. Mondelli, and me. The symposium came out very nicely, if I may say so, covering a variety of strategic, entrepreneurial, and organizational issues related to private equity firms and companies receiving private equity finance.

In his introduction Mike highlights five main contributions:

First, the papers address the need to consider the systematic evidence on the managerial and strategic aspects of PE, in relation to both portfolio firms and PE firms, which has been largely fragmented if not nonexistent. Second, the papers analyze the impact of PE during economic downturns and demonstrate the underlying resilience of PE-backed portfolio firms. Third, the symposium provides an opportunity to develop insights that compare the managerial impact of PE with different forms of ownership and governance. Fourth, the articles in this symposium highlight the heterogeneity of the private equity phenomenon. Finally, in the context of continuing public attention to PE, which has been heightened by the U.S. presidential race and the global recession, the evidence presented in this symposium paints a rather more positive view than the hyperbole of some of the industry’s critics would suggest. Taken together, these contributions indicate a need for caution in attempts to tighten the regulation of PE lest the economic, financial, and social benefits be lost.

Bonus: We are organizing a session on private equity at the upcoming Academy of Management meeting based on the ideas of the symposium. It’s scheduled for Saturday, 10 August 2013, 11:30-12:30 (location TBA). Come join us!

13 April 2013 at 4:12 pm 1 comment

Bob Wouldn’t Like It, but ….

| Nicolai Foss |

So, my school is now deep into discussing the results of the recent “employee satisfaction survey.” Thus, each department is expected to spend minimum 2,5 hours discussing the results, and to come up with an action plan to handle those problems that — per definition — exist. And in my capacity as department head I have just ended this round of annual reviews which focus on the “competence development” of faculty. The practice of management has changed, to be sure.  An approach that is decidedly not acceptable anymore, at least in my part of the world, is exemplified by this great drummer chewing out the band he led  (more here; here is the mandatory Hitler version; and, in case you really want to practice, here are the transcriptions). Bob Sutton wouldn’t like it.And yet, badass approaches to management may work — perhaps not for those autonomously motivated, self-directed types (i.e., us), but certainly for those with motivational issues (see Emily Bazelon’s Slate piece on Rutgers coach Mike Rice). Toughness has costs and benefits. It seems that much current management thinking focuses on the costs of tough management approaches and neglects the potential benefits. No?

8 April 2013 at 1:37 pm 2 comments

The Future of Publishing

| Peter Klein |

Logo155The current issue of Nature features a special section on “The Future of Publishing” (thanks to Jason for the tip). The lead editorial discusses the results of a survey of scientists which shows, perhaps surprisingly, that support for online, open-access publishing is lukewarm. It’s not just the commercial publishers who want to maintain the paywalls. The entire issue is filled with interesting stuff, so check it out.

5 April 2013 at 5:12 pm 1 comment

New Frontiers in Marketing

| Peter Klein |

“Not only do we manufacture here at home, we also economize on bounded rationality while simultaneously safeguarding transactions against the hazards of opportunism!”


4 April 2013 at 5:03 pm 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).