Author Archive

Riding Off into the Sunset

| Peter Klein |

Indiana-Jones-rides-off-into-the-sunset-640x277Organizations and Markets went live 25 April 2006, ten years ago today. Blogs were the newest and coolest thing. There was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. People communicated by email and (occasionally) by text message. BlackBerry and Nokia dominated the phone market. Nicolai Foss had no gray hair. (OK, he still has none.)

In the first month we had almost 11,000 pageviews; in the first five years we averaged about 500 posts per year and around 300,000 views, 1,000 comments, and too many impassioned, enlightening, and fun exchanges and arguments to count. (Below are some of our all-time most popular posts.) Besides Nicolai, Lasse, Dick, and myself we joined by terrific guest bloggers such as Benito Arruñada, Cliff Grammich, Craig Pirrong, David Gordon, David Gerard, David Hoopes, Glenn McDonald, Chimao Hsieh, Mike Sykuta, Peter Lewin, Randy Westgren, Ross Coff, Joe Mahoney, Scott Masten, Steve Postrel, and Steve Phelan.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. In the last couple of years we noticed our page views, unique visitors, comments, and similar stats trending downward. Partly this reflects the rise of social media, for two reasons: First, posts from O&M and similar blogs are syndicated on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms, meaning that readers can view and engage blog content without actually visiting the site itself. Second, and more important, social media sites provide an alternative source of blog content. In 2007, we posted all kinds of stuff on O&M — not only longer, more thoughtful pieces but also conference announcements, pointers to papers, news, gossip, and other items of a more ephemeral nature. Nowadays, people (ourselves included) are more likely to post these items to Facebook or Twitter, which is where people go to read and comment. In any case, for a variety of reasons, our posting frequency has dropped sharply since 2011.

In short, we think the group-blog format is a bit dated. And so, it’s been a great ride, but we’ve decided to hang up our keyboards and move on to other things. The ten-year anniversary is a perfect time to make a change. Seriously, a decade is an eternity in internet time! Many of the group and individual blogs in our original blogroll from 2007 have been mothballed or merged into other sites. (Who even remembers what a “blogroll” is anyway?) (more…)

25 April 2016 at 1:35 am 14 comments

Historical Approaches to Entrepreneurship Theory and Research

| Peter Klein |

Future-347-x-320The 2016 Business History Conference, later this month in Portland, Oregon, features an interesting pre-conference paper development workshop on “Historical Approaches to Entrepreneurship Theory and Research.”

In recent years, both business historians and entrepreneurship scholars have grown increasingly interested in the promise of using historical sources, methods and reasoning in entrepreneurship research. History, it has been argued, can be valuable in addressing a number of limitations in traditional approaches to studying entrepreneurship, including in accounting for contexts and institutions, in understanding the relationship between entrepreneurship and economic change, in providing multi-level perspectives on the entrepreneurial process and in situating entrepreneurial behavior and cognition within the flow of time.

The papers are targeted for a special issue of Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. Here is the lineup, with many items likely to interest O&M readers.

15 March 2016 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

Measuring Tacit Knowledge

subject-knowledge-brain| Peter Klein |

The concept of tacit knowledge — knowledge that is difficult or impossible to parameterize, or to express in words or numbers — is central to organization theory, as well as philosophy (Polanyi) and social theory more generally (Hayek). Most of the research literature on tacit knowledge is conceptual and theoretical, such as Hayek’s famous “Use of Knowledge in Society” (1945) or more recent pieces like Jensen and Meckling’s “Specific and General Knowledge, and Organizational Structure” (1992). Empirical studies of tacit knowledge are rare, which is not surprising given the idiosyncratic, personal, subjective, and often ephemeral nature of such knowledge.

An interesting new NBER paper by David Chan estimates the effects of tacit knowledge using matched pairs of physician trainees with similar levels of explicit knowledge but different levels of experience and hence accumulated know-how. The hospital setting allows for some clever tricks, e.g., exogenous sorting into occupational roles by experience, rather than ability. Measuring outcomes via spending is problematic to me, though standard in the medical economics and management literatures. Check it out:

Uncertainty, Tacit Knowledge, and Practice Variation: Evidence from Physicians in Training
David C. Chan, Jr
NBER Working Paper No. 21855, January 2016

Studying physicians in training, I investigate how uncertainty and tacit knowledge may give rise to significant practice variation. Consistent with tacit knowledge accruing only with experience, and empirically exploiting a discontinuity in the formation of teams, experience relative to a peer substantially increases the size of variation attributable to the physician trainees. Among the same physician trainees, convergence occurs for patients on services driven by specialists, where there is arguably more explicit knowledge, but not on the general medicine service. This difference is unexplained by formally coded patient information. In contrast, rich physician characteristics correlated with preferences and ability, and quasi-random assignments to high- or low-spending supervising physicians explain little if any variation.

2 February 2016 at 5:21 pm 2 comments

Popular Economics Readings

| Peter Klein |

CDYFOCnUsAEllehThe Open Syllabus Project is a useful repository of course reading lists from almost every academic discipline. (Hey, we had the idea first!) A fun feature is the ability to browse by popularity, i.e., to see the most frequently assigned readings in a particular field. Of course, the sample consists of syllabi posted on public websites, so it may be biased toward particular kinds of courses or universities. Still, the findings are interesting. This article complains that The Communist Manifesto is near the top across all disciplines, but confusingly bounces back and forth between economics and other fields and doesn’t distinguish among textbooks, research monographs, and research articles.

I made my own list of most popular items under Economics, excluding textbooks and other non-research materials. The results are interesting:

  1. Coase, “The Problem of Social Cost”
  2. Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  3. Keyness, The General Theory
  4. Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”
  5. Marx, Capital
  6. Pritchett, “Divergence, Big Time”
  7. Coase, “The Nature of the Firm”
  8. Tiebout, “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures”
  9. Akerlof, “The Market for Lemons”
  10. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society”
  11. North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance
  12. Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
  13. Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents
  14. Friedman, “Monetary Policy”
  15. Solow, “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth”
  16. David, “Clio and the Economics of QWERTY”
  17. Spence, “Job Market Signaling”
  18. Marx, Communist Manifesto
  19. Dornbusch, “Expectations and Exchange Rate Dynamics”
  20. Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth
  21. Friedman, “The Role of Monetary Policy”
  22. Grossman and Helpman, “Protection for Sale”
  23. Diamond, “Social Security”
  24. Kremer, “Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990”
  25. Stigler, “The Theory of Economic Regulation”
  26. Freeman, “Are Your Wages Set in China?”
  27. Duflo, “Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of School Construction in Indonesia”
  28. Arrow, “Uncertainty and the Welfare Effects of Medical Care”
  29. Rogoff, “The Purchasing Power Parity Puzzle”
  30. Barro, “Are Government Bonds Net Worth?”

Pretty much all classics, and not surprising to see any on a reading list. But some surprising omissions. No Samuelson, Becker, Lucas, Krugman, Sargent, Kahneman, or Fama, just to mention a few Nobelists. No Shleifer, Tirole, Mankiw, Holmstrom, Simon, Jensen, Kreps, Alchian, Demsetz, and others with highly cited SSCI or RePEC papers. Of course, these are undergraduate as well as graduate syllabi, so highly technical articles assigned to PhD students are less likely to make the cut. Still, this might be a good “Books and Articles Every Economist Should Know” kind of list.

29 January 2016 at 3:41 pm 1 comment

Is Terrorism a Disease?

| Peter Klein |

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US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is making the rounds with a speech about ISIL being a “cancer” that must be cured with aggressive treatment. “[L]ike all cancers, you can’t cure the disease just by cutting out the tumor. You have to eliminate it wherever it has spread, and stop it from coming back. . . . . [We have] three military objectives: One, destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Iraq and Syria by collapsing its two power centers in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqah, Syria. . . . Two, combat the emerging metastases of the ISIL tumor worldwide wherever it appears. . . .” Terrorism, in other words, is a cancer metastasizing from the underlying tumor of Islamic fundamentalism.

This language may rally the troops, but it is particularly unhelpful in understanding the nature, antecedents, consequences, and remedy for terrorism. As Robert Pape, David Card, and other social scientists have shown, terrorism is a tactic, a form of purposeful human action, and should be understood as such, not as a mindless, undirected biological phenomenon.

Edith Penrose warned more than sixty years ago about the limits of biological analogies in understanding social issues. “The chief danger of carrying sweeping analogies very far is that the problems they are designed to illuminate become framed in such a special way that significant matters are frequently inadvertently obscured. Biological analogies contribute little either to the theory of price or to the theory of growth and development of firms and in general tend to confuse the nature of the important issues.” I have written before about the problem of treating gun violence as a disease, rather than a legal, social, and criminological issue. To understand why people shoot guns, on purpose or accidentally, we need to focus on their preferences, beliefs, and actions. (This does not imply some kind of straw-man “rationality,” by the way.) Likewise, if we want to reduce terrorist acts, we should treat terrorism as a military tactic, designed to achieve specific ends, rather than a disease or epidemic whose “growth” we have to stop.

Update (27 Jan): From David Levine I learn of another example of a medical researcher trying to address a social science problem without apparently understanding the concept of selection bias (he samples on the dependent variable).

26 January 2016 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

Baylor University PhD Program in Entrepreneurship

| Peter Klein |

bbusiness_green_w-1iyteaaMuch as I hate to use this blog for self-promotion, … Hahahahaha. OK, seriously. As many of you know I joined Baylor University this fall and will be heavily involved with Baylor’s new PhD program in Entrepreneurship. Prospective students interested in entrepreneurship, strategy, organizational economics, innovation, creativity, institutions, business history, governance, the theory of science, Austrian economics — i.e., the regular topics of this blog — should consider applying. Detailed information about the program, including application materials and instructions, are on the program website. The formal deadline for Fall 2016 admission is next Friday, January 15, so time is short! I’m happy to answer any questions.

6 January 2016 at 1:41 pm 8 comments

SMACK-down of Evidence-Based Medicine

| Peter Klein |

Mother-Child-300x199As a skeptic of the evidence-based management movement (championed by Pfeffer, Sutton, et al.) I was amused by a recent spoof article in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, “Maternal Kisses Are Not Effective in Alleviating Minor Childhood Injuries (Boo-Boos): A Randomized, Controlled, and Blinded Study,” authored by the Study of Maternal and Child Kissing (SMACK) Working Group. Maternal kisses were associated with a positive and statistically significant increase in the Toddler Discomfort Index (TDI):

Maternal kissing of boo-boos confers no benefit on children with minor traumatic injuries compared to both no intervention and sham kissing. In fact, children in the maternal kissing group were significantly more distressed at 5 minutes than were children in the no intervention group. The practice of maternal kissing of boo-boos is not supported by the evidence and we recommend a moratorium on the practice.

The actual author, Mark Tonelli, is a prominent critic of evidence-based medicine, described by the journal’s editor as a “collapsing” movement and in a recent British Journal of Medicine editorial as a “movement in crisis.” Most of the criticisms of evidence-based medicine will sound familiar to Austrian economists: overreliance on statistically significant, but clinically irrelevant, findings in large samples; failure to appreciate context and interpretation; lack of attention to underlying mechanisms rather than unexplained correlations; and a general disdain for tacit knowledge and understanding.

My guess is that evidence-based management, which is modeled after evidence-based medicine, is in for a similarly rocky ride. Teppo had some interesting orgtheory posts on this a few years ago (e.g., here and here). Evidence-based management has been criticized, as you might expect, by critical theorists and other postmodernists who don’t like the concept of “evidence” per se but the real problems are more mundane: what counts as evidence, and what conclusions can legitimately be drawn from this evidence, are far from obvious in most cases. Particularly in entrepreneurial settings, as we’ve written often on these pages, intuition, Verstehen, or judgment may be more reliable guides than quantitative, analytical reasoning.

Update: Thanks to Ivan Zupic for pointing me to a review and critique of EBM in the current issue of AMLE. 

2 January 2016 at 5:06 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).