Archive for July, 2013

Organizational Learning without Markets

| Peter Klein |

A really interesting NBER paper from Thomas Triebs and Justin Tumlinson confirms what you may suspect, that firms operating outside the market system — in this case, in the former East Germany — do not learn the capabilities for judging market signals. Triebs and Tumlinson compare East and West German firms after unification and find that East German firms did not anticipate, or respond to, market information as well as their West German counterparts, other things equal, suggesting that during the Communist period, firms lost (or failed to acquire) the ability to work within a market setting. The paper is based on a formal learning model but the empirical results seem to square with a variety of approaches, including resource-based and managerial capabilities theories.

Learning Capitalism the Hard Way—Evidence from Germany’s Reunification
Thomas P. Triebs, Justin Tumlinson
NBER Working Paper No. 19209, July 2013

Communism in East Germany sought to dampen the effect of market forces on firm productivity for nearly 40 years. How did East German firms respond to the free market after being thrust into it in 1990? We use a formal learning model and German business survey data to analyze the lasting impact of this far-reaching treatment on the way firms in former East Germany predicted their own productivity relative to firms in former West Germany during the two decades since Reunification. We find in confirmation of our formal model’s predictions, that Eastern firms forecast productivity less accurately, particularly in dynamic and uncertain markets, but that the gap gradually closed over 12 to 13 years. Second, by analyzing the direction of firm level errors in conjunction with contemporaneous market signals we find that, in the years immediately following Reunification, Eastern firms estimate the market’s role as generally less potent than Western firm do, an observation consistent with overweighting experiences from the communist era; however, over roughly 14 years both converge to the same (incorrect) overestimate of the market’s role on their productivity.

I’m reminded of Mises’s remark that entrepreneurs, in a socialist economy, learn to excel at “diplomacy and bribery.” I suspect a study like Triebs and Tumlinson’s on political capabilities or skill at political entrepreneurship might yield the opposite result.

15 July 2013 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

Bowling for Fascism

| Dick Langlois |

Speaking of Robert Putnam: Although I think the idea of social capital has its uses, Putnam’s claim that civic engagement in the US has been declining was long ago demolished by my late UConn colleague Everett Ladd. But I have also thought that social capital – and the Romantic “communitarian” movement in general – has been blind to the authoritarian side of community. The always-interesting Hans-Joachim Voth and his co-authors have illustrated this in a dramatic way in a new working paper. Here is the abtract.

Social capital – a dense network of associations facilitating cooperation within a community – typically leads to positive political and economic outcomes, as demonstrated by a large literature following Putnam. A growing literature emphasizes the potentially “dark side” of social capital. This paper examines the role of social capital in the downfall of democracy in interwar Germany by analyzing Nazi party entry rates in a cross-section of towns and cities. Before the Nazi Party’s triumphs at the ballot box, it built an extensive organizational structure, becoming a mass movement with nearly a million members by early 1933. We show that dense networks of civic associations such as bowling clubs, animal breeder associations, or choirs facilitated the rise of the Nazi Party. The effects are large: Towns with one standard deviation higher association density saw at least one-third faster growth in the strength of the Nazi Party. IV results based on 19th century measures of social capital reinforce our conclusions. In addition, all types of associations – veteran associations and non-military clubs, “bridging” and “bonding” associations – positively predict NS party entry. These results suggest that social capital in Weimar Germany aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy.

12 July 2013 at 1:53 am 2 comments

Sampling on the Dependent Variable, Robert Putnam Edition

| Peter Klein |

Famed sociologist Robert Putnam makes his case for government funding of social science research:

One of the harshest critics of National Science Foundation funding of political science has even praised my study [on civil society and democracy] as “one of the most influential pieces of practical research in the last half-century.”

Ironically, however, if the recent amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that restricts NSF funding for political science had been in effect when I began this research, it never would have gotten off the ground since the foundational grant that made this project possible came from the NSF Political Science Program.

Well, yes, if it hadn’t been for NASA, we wouldn’t have put a man on the moon. What this shows about the average or marginal productivity of government science funding is a little unclear to me.

Of course, Putnam’s piece is a short editorial making an emotional, rather than logical, appeal. But this kind of appeal seems to be all the political scientists have offered in response to the hated Coburn Amendment.

11 July 2013 at 10:56 am 4 comments

Culture, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation: French Edition

| Peter Klein |

Quote of the day, from Peter Gumbel’s France’s Got Talent: The Woeful Consequences of French Elitism, an interesting first-person account of the French educational system:

[T]he patterns of behavior established at [French] school appear to continue in later life, reproducing themselves most obviously in the workplace. If you learn from an early age that volunteering answers at school may prompt humiliating put-downs from your teachers, how active a participant will you be in office strategy discussions in the presence of an authoritarian boss? If working together in groups was discouraged as a child, how good a team player will you be as a grown-up? If you are made to believe as a 10-year-old that it’s worse to give a wrong answer than to give no answer at all, how will that influence your inclination to take risks?

I won’t repeat the apocryphal George W. Bush quote that “the problem with France’s economy is that the French have no word for entrepreneur,” but I will say that I have found French university students to be less aggressive than their US or Scandinavian equivalents. To be fair, when I’ve taught in France it has been in English, and I initially attributed the students’ reluctance to speak up, to answer questions, and to challenge the instructor to worries about English proficiency. But talking to French colleagues, and reading accounts like Gumbel’s (based on his experiences teaching at Sciences Po), I think the problem is largely cultural. The French system tends to favor conformity and memorization over creativity and spontaneity, which may or may not have a harmful effect on the performance of French organizations and French attitudes toward entrepreneurship and innovation.

I’m curious to know what our French readers think (but don’t hammer me with Bourdieu or Crozier references, please).

6 July 2013 at 11:36 pm 3 comments

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
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Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
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