Archive for September, 2013

Happy Mises Day

| Peter Klein |

ludwig-von-misesI never miss Hayek’s birthday but sometimes forget to celebrate September 29 as the birthday of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), Hayek’s senior colleague and mentor, whose writings are very influential here at O&M. To learn about Mises you should read Guido Hülsmann’s biography but, if you prefer shorter treatments, you can find biographical essays by Mises’s students Murray Rothbard and Israel Kirzner. Organization theorists should pay particular attention to Mises’s 1922 book Socialism as well as his (unfortunately neglected) 1944 book on Bureaucracy.

29 September 2013 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

The Return of Max Planck

| Dick Langlois |

How failure to proofread can improve the quality of your coauthors. Note the use of “we” in the abstract. I suppose that Penrose’s idea that resources come in discrete bundles is a kind of quantum mechanics of the firm.

26 September 2013 at 10:50 am 2 comments

How Much Has Changed, Really?

| Peter Klein |

Henry of Germany lecturing at the University of Bologna, 14th century.

University of Bologna, 14th century

Come to the CSIG Teaching Workshop this Saturday in Atlanta and find out!

25 September 2013 at 1:46 pm 6 comments

NBER Papers of Interest

| Peter Klein |

Three recent NBER papers on compensation, performance, and productivity:

Ann Bartel, Brianna Cardiff-Hicks, Kathryn Shaw
NBER Working Paper No. 19412, September 2013

Due to the limited availability of firm-level compensation data, there is little empirical evidence on the impact of compensation plans on personal productivity. We study an international law firm that moves from high-powered individual incentives towards incentives for “leadership” activities that contribute to the firm’s long run profitability. The effect of this change on the task allocation of the firm’s team leaders is large and robust; team leaders increase their non-billable hours and shift billable hours to team members. Although the motivation for the change in the compensation plan was the multitasking problem, this change also impacted the way tasks were allocated within each team, resulting in greater teamwork.

William Mullins, Antoinette Schoar
NBER Working Paper No. 19395, September 2013

Using a survey of 800 CEOs in 22 emerging economies we show that CEOs’ management styles and philosophy vary with the control rights and involvement of the owning family and founder: CEOs of firms with greater family involvement have more hierarchical management, and feel more accountable to stakeholders such as employees and banks than they do to shareholders. They also see their role as maintaining the status quo rather than bringing about change. In contrast, professional CEOs of non-family firms display a more textbook approach of shareholder-value-maximization. Finally, we find a continuum of leadership arrangements in how intensively family members are involved in management.

George J. Borjas, Kirk B. Doran
NBER Working Paper No. 19445, September 2013

Knowledge generation is key to economic growth, and scientific prizes are designed to encourage it. But how does winning a prestigious prize affect future output? We compare the productivity of Fields medalists (winners of the top mathematics prize) to that of similarly brilliant contenders. The two groups have similar publication rates until the award year, after which the winners’ productivity declines. The medalists begin to “play the field,” studying unfamiliar topics at the expense of writing papers. It appears that tournaments can have large post-prize effects on the effort allocation of knowledge producers.

Thank goodness I haven’t won the Clark Medal, Nobel Prize, or a MacArthur Award. I want to keep my productivity high!

23 September 2013 at 9:34 am Leave a comment

New Member of the Academy of … Family

| Nicolai Foss |

So, we have the Academy of Management Review and the Academy of Management Journal, commonly acknowledged as the top theory and empirical management journal, respectively. We are also blessed with the Academy of Management Perspective (formerly, the Academy of Management Executive), which seeks (successfully) to style itself as the management research equivalent to the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Then there is also the Academy of Management Learning and Education and there is the rather recently established Academy of Management Annals.

The sixth member of the family is now being launched, and has assumed the name of the Academy of Management Discoveries.  The founding editor is Andrew H. Van de Ven  who is the Vernon H. Heath Professor of Organizational Innovation and Change in the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota, a major figure in organization theory over the last 4 decades, and a former President of the Academy of Management. According to the journal’s website, AMD will”promote the creation and dissemination of new empirical evidence that strengthens our understanding of substantively important yet poorly understood phenomena concerning management and organizations.” The journal is “phenomenon-driven” rather than aimed at theory testing per se.

In the end, I am not entirely convinced that this is that different from the mission and practice of the Academy of Management Journal, and I can see a scenario where we get an AMJ #2.  However, the journal is open to replication research and “evidence-based assessments”, and certainly the first characteristic would seem to set it apart from the AMJ (even if replication research and evidence-based assessments would seem to pull away from phenomenon-driven discovery and towards theory testing).

Here is a brief YouTube clip with Van de Ven talking about the kind of research that the AMD will publish.

Manuscripts can be submitted here.

21 September 2013 at 11:46 am 3 comments

Reflections on the Explanation of Heterogeneous Firm Capability

| Nicolai Foss |

Fritz Machlup famously argued that economists should not care about the specificities (e.g., internal organization) of individual firms, as this was unlikely to bring substantial additional insight in the market outcomes that were the real objects of interests for economists (here). Thus, for the purposes of price theory, firms within an industry could essentially be taken to be homogenous. Machlup’s view has been reflected in much of the micro-economics of the firm, not just in the standard Marshallian approach, but also in later contract theoretic and transaction cost approaches. While contract theory and transaction cost insights are surely capable of contributing to the understanding of firm heterogeneity, explaining such heterogeneity per se has never been a central explanatory task of these approaches. However, while the Machlup view was still holding sway among economists (well into the 1990s), dissenting economists and management scholars highlighted that heterogeneity among firms could be understood in terms of differential capability—an idea that helped them to explain firm boundaries (see much of the work of O&M blogger Richard Langlois), competitive heterogeneity in a population of firms (evolutionary economics), and competitive advantage (the resource-based view in strategy.

However, while management research has done much to advance the notion of intra-industry heterogeneity, it may have been less forthcoming with respect to theorizing the antecedents of such heterogeneity. Most work on such antecedents has highlighted cognitive a variables, such as managerial cognition and absorptive capacity, and variables related to skill levels and the efficiency of routines. Surprisingly, virtually no work in management research has linked differential capability to organizational design (e.g., the structures of communication, delegation, and incentives) or even to the human capital characteristics of firms’ workforces. (more…)

17 September 2013 at 9:17 am 1 comment

Varia on Impact Factors, Journals, Publishing …

| Nicolai Foss |

  • Here is an interesting popular piece from The Atlantic about, among other things, a Brazilian citation cartel.
  • Yes, replication papers are publishable in social science journals; check out this post.
  • We have Management Science, Marketing Science, Organization Science … Now we will also have Sociological Science.
  • Very interesting piece on harmful, unintended consequences of journal rankings, such as more misconduct, more retractions, less reliable research, and so on.

17 September 2013 at 8:46 am 1 comment

Twenty Years of IJEB

| Nicolai Foss |

“IJEB” is the International Journal of the Economics of Business. The inaugural issue contained a veritable who-is-who in the management/economics intersection, and the journal has published much good stuff over the years (including papers by Peter Klein and yours truly, as well as lesser known people like Reinhart Selten, Richard Nelson, and Frederick Scherer). To mark the journal’s first twenty years, twenty of the more influential papers have been made available for free online (here), and the first issue of 2014 will be like the inaugural issue in that it will be composed of many short papers on the directions that the economics of business is going to take in the future.

16 September 2013 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

Do Markets “React” to Economic News?

| Peter Klein |

imagesOne doesn’t have to be a strict methodological individualist to appreciate that collectives don’t think, act, and choose. Yet one of the standard tropes of financial journalism is the idea that the stock market, like your broker or your Aunt Sally, “reacts” to this or that bit of economic news. “Stocks Soar on Summers Withdrawal,” screams this morning’s Reuters headline. This reporter has some serious powers of discernment: trading Friday “was subdued ahead of the Federal Reserve’s expected reduction of stimulus measures next week.” “In reaction to the withdrawal of Mr. Summers, the dollar slipped to a near four-week low against a basket of currencies.” And: “Further whetting risk appetite were signs of progress in Syria following a Russian-brokered deal aimed at averting United States military action.”

Of course, this is all pure invention on the part of the reporter. Nobody knows for certain why a stock-price average goes up or down. Think about it. The prices of individual stocks reflect expectations of future dividends and future price movements, and they go up and down as new information is revealed about the firm and its competitors. We can never know for certain what makes people buy and sell particular shares but, in the case of an individual firm, we can reasonably infer that shareholders as a group are reacting to new information about the firm. The firm announces quarterly earnings below analysts’ expectations, the share price tends to fall. A competitor announces bankruptcy, the share price tends to rise. Event studies are a popular technique for quantifying investor reactions to news and events related to particular firms.

But the stock market as a whole doesn’t work this way. Stock prices go up and down, and indexes like the S&P 500 and DJIA go up and down according to the performance of their member stocks. Sometimes the average rises, sometimes it falls. Duh. The idea that movements in the index necessarily embody the reaction of the market as a whole to some piece of aggregate economic news reflects a failure to grasp the concept of an average. Of course, it’s always possible that investors’ beliefs about the prospects for particular stocks reflect shared concerns about the economy as a whole. If the government announces an increase in the corporate income tax rate, the prices of many stocks will likely fall. But this applies only to the most obvious cases. Did lots of investors care about Larry Summers’s withdrawal from the Fed race, enough to make them start buying stocks? Who knows? Clearly financial journalists — who are paid to write about such things — care a lot about the next Fed chair. But we have absolutely no idea how much investors care, and no way at all to attribute this morning’s rise in US equity prices to the Summers announcement or any other piece of economic news.

So please, can we stop taking such pronouncements seriously? The stock market is a social institution, an aggregate of individual trades and traders. Let’s stop anthropomorphizing it.

16 September 2013 at 11:50 am 11 comments

SMS Teaching Workshop on Technology and the Future of Higher Education

| Peter Klein |

Tunji Adebesan and I are organizing the second annual teaching workshop for the Strategic Management Society’s Competitive Strategy Interest Group. The workshop is Saturday, September 28, 2:00-5:00pm, part of the upcoming SMS Conference in Atlanta. It’s open to emerging and established scholars in strategic management, organization, and entrepreneurship, or a related field.

This year’s theme is technological innovation and its impact on teaching strategy. The higher-education industry is abuzz with talk about MOOCs, distance learning, computer-based instruction, and other pedagogical innovations. Many of you are already using online exercises and assessments, simulations, and other activities in the classroom. How are these innovations best incorporated into the strategy curriculum? What can strategy scholars say about the impact of these technologies on higher education more generally? Are they sustaining or disruptive innovations, and what do they imply for the structure of the business school, and the university itself?

The interactive, participatory workshop begins with a panel session featuring experts on distance learning, online assessments, simulations, electronic textbooks, social media, and more. Panelists include Michael Leiblein (Ohio State), Jackson Nickerson (Washington University, St. Louis), Frank Rothaermel (Georgia Tech), and Bob Wiseman (Michigan State), along with Tunji and myself. Sample questions: Are MOOCs the future of higher education? Do they work? Can What are best practices for distance learning, and for incorporating online activities into the traditional classroom? Do improved distance-learning and collaboration tools facilitate new models for executive education and corporate training programs? How should strategy teachers make best use of social media, TED talks and other media, iPads, and other tools and apps, especially for younger students? Following the panel session, participants will break into small groups for in-depth discussion and practice using new tools. After regrouping, participants will discuss about what these innovations mean for the higher-education industry, and business schools in particular.

Pre-registration is encouraged but not required. If you’re planning to attend, please let us know by sending an email to csig.teaching2013@gmail.com so we can plan accordingly. Feel free to email me with questions or comments.

8 September 2013 at 3:54 pm 4 comments

David Landes

| Dick Langlois |

As some readers may already have heard, David Landes passed away on August 17. The New York Times has not seen fit to publish an obituary, but here is one by Landes’s son Richard.

I only met Landes once, at the International Economic History Association meeting in Milan in 1994. I attended a session he chaired on the Industrial Revolution. Rondo Cameron, a real character, sat himself down in the front row near the podium. Cameron was one of the most vocal proponents of the idea that there was actually no such thing as the Industrial Revolution, based largely on the argument that income per capita did not rise dramatically during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century (even though both the numerator and denominator were rising dramatically). Landes opened the session, and some hapless economic historian began presenting a paper on something or other during the Industrial Revolution. Cameron immediately put up his hand and announced that the presenter’s premise was mistaken – because there had been no Industrial Revolution! Landes then sprang back to the podium and delivered a wonderful extemporaneous speech on why it was indeed appropriate to talk about an Industrial Revolution, including an analysis of the word “revolution” and its first use in French. This session also sticks in memory because half-way through an audience member suffered and epileptic fit and had to be carted out to an ambulance.

I must say that, in the great debates in which Landes engaged, I most often found myself coming down on his side.

Addendum September 8, 2103: The New York Times now has an obituary here.

8 September 2013 at 7:23 am 1 comment

A Haiku for Coase

| Peter Klein |

From Jill Bradbury:

The herd strays; crops die.
Who pays? Gain and harm are weighed.
Not Pigou’s frayed nerves.

Feel free to try your hand in the comments.

5 September 2013 at 2:08 pm 5 comments

Ronald Coase (1910-2013)

| Peter Klein |

Ronald Coase passed away today at the age of 102. One of the most influential economists of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. His “Problem of Social Cost” (1960) has 21,692 Google Scholar cites, and “The Nature of the Firm” has 24,501. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, summed across editions, has about 30,000. Coase changed the way economists think about the business firm and the way they think about property rights and liability. He largely introduced the concepts of transaction costs, comparative institutional analysis, and government failure. Not all economist have agreed with his arguments and conceptual frameworks, but they radically changed the terms of debate in the economics of law, welfare, industry, and more. He is the key figure in the “new institutional economics” (and co-founder, and first president, of the International Society for New Institutional Economics).

Coase did all these things despite — or because of? — not holding a PhD in economics, not doing any math or statistics, and not, for much of his career, working in an economics department.

We’ve written so much on Coase already, on these pages and in our published work, that it’s hard to know what else to say in a blog post. Perhaps we should just invite you to browse old O&M posts mentioning Coase (including this one, posted last week).

The blogosphere will be filled in the coming days with analyses, reminiscences, and tributes. You can find your favorites easily enough (try searching Twitter, for example). I’ll just share two of my favorite memories. The first comes from the inaugural meeting of the International Society for New Institutional Economics in 1997. After a discussion about the best empirical strategy for that emerging discipline. Harold Demsetz stood up and said “Please, no more papers about Fisher Body and GM!” Coase, who was then at the podium, surprised the crowd by replying, “I’m sorry, Harold, that is exactly the subject of my next paper!” (That turned out to be his 2005 JEMS paper, described here.) A few years later, I helped entertain Coase during his visit to the University of Missouri for the CORI Distinguished Lecture. At lunch we talked about his disagreement with Ben Klein on asset specificity. After the lunch he got up, shook my hand, and announced, with evident satisfaction: “I see all Kleins are not alike.”

2 September 2013 at 9:40 pm 4 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).
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).