Author Archive

Mokyr on Rosenberg

| Peter Klein |

Further to Dick’s post on Nathan Rosenberg, here is an obituary from Joel Mokyr, who with Rosenberg’s passing is probably the most eminent living historian of innovation and technology. The review appeared on EH.Net.

The economic history profession has lost one of its most original, creative, and wide-ranging minds in the passing of Nathan Rosenberg on Aug. 24, 2015. Rosenberg was one of the founding fathers of Cliometrics, a member of the first group of Cliometricians that with coining the term “congregated at Purdue University in the late 1960s, and which included other luminaries among them Lance Davis, Jonathan Hughes, and Stanley Reiter (who is widely credited Cliometrics”). By 1970, this group had moved away from West Lafayette and dispersed to institutions such as Northwestern and CalTech. Rosenberg was hired by the University of Wisconsin, and was a member of a different group of influential and distinguished economic historians in Madison, including at one time or another Jeffrey Williamson, Peter Lindert, Morton Rothstein, Rondo Cameron, and Claudia Goldin. While at Wisconsin, Rosenberg was the editor of the Journal of Economic History and instrumental in its growing focus on the new economic history that was theoretically informed by economics and quantitatively more sophisticated — the very essence of the Cliometric Revolution.

In 1974, Rosenberg moved to Stanford, where he taught for more than a quarter century until his retirement in 2002. As department chair at Stanford between 1983and 1986 he helped build the department and maintain its position as one of the top economics departments in the country. Moreover, his leadership guaranteed that economic history remained an integral part of the undergraduate and Ph.D. programs and includes some of its most distinguished practitioners such as Gavin Wright and Avner Greif, as well as younger and promising scholars. Today, thanks to Rosenberg’s initiative and entrepreneurship, the Stanford department is housed in a gorgeous building named after Ralph Landau, whose support for research and teaching in economics was first stimulated by a fortuitous meeting with Rosenberg. The partnership with Landau, a chemical engineer and entrepreneur fascinated by economics, led to a fruitful scholarly collaboration between him and Rosenberg, especially in two well-regarded collections they edited together. Thanks in large part to Rosenberg’s resourcefulness, the graduate program at Stanford has thrived and produced many distinguished members of the economic history profession and applied economists working on innovation. While not all of them worked with him directly, his influence on the flourishing of economic history at Stanford was undeniable. Many of the former graduate students he trained and inspired co-authored and co-edited papers and books with him, such as David Mowery with whom he wrote Technology and the Pursuit of Economic Growth (Cambridge University Press, 1989). Without exception these young economists admired and adored him; two of them, Scott Stern and Shane Greenstein, were my former colleagues, and the three of us were instrumental in Northwestern awarding him an honorary doctorate in 2006, in the same class of honorary degrees as the then little-known junior senator from Illinois. If ever there was an academic conspiracy that can be called a true labor of love, this was it. (more…)

7 September 2015 at 9:25 pm Leave a comment

Woodward on Alchian

| Peter Klein |

Alchian and me, circa 2000.

Alchian and me, circa 2000.

Armen Alchian’s friend and colleague Susan Woodward has a nice piece in a forthcoming Journal of Corporate Finance special issue on Alchian. Here are a few passages that may be of special interest to O&Mers:

Orley Ashenfelter asked Armen to write a book review of Oliver Williamson’s The Economic Institutions of Capitalism (such a brilliant title!). I got enlisted for that project too (Alchian and Woodward (1988)). Armen began writing, but I went back to reread Institutions of Capitalism. Armen gave me what he had written, and I was baffled. “Armen, this stuff isn’t in Williamson.” He asked, “Well, did he get it wrong?” I said, “No, it’s not that he got it wrong. These issues just aren’t there at all. You attribute these ideas to him, but they really come from our other paper.” And he said “Oh, well, don’t worry about that. Some historian will sort it out later. It’s a good place to promote these ideas, and they’ll get the right story eventually.” So, dear reader, now you know.

This from someone who spent his life discussing the efficiencies of private property and property rights—to basically give ideas away in order to promote them? It was a good lesson.

Of course, the book review also had a brilliant title: “The Firm is Dead: Long Live the Firm!” It also introduced the term “plasticity” as a not-quite-substitute for asset specificity. (I still prefer the more precise term relationship-specific investment.) And this:

Armen had no use for formal models that did not teach us to look somewhere new in the known world, nor had he any patience for findings that relied on fancy econometrics. What was Armen’s idea of econometrics? Merton Miller told me. We were chatting about limited liability. Merton asked about evidence. Well, all public firms with transferable shares now have limited liability. But in private, closely-held firms, loans nearly always explicitly specify which of the owner’s personal assets are pledged against bank loans. “How do you know?” “From conversations with bankers.” Merton said said, “Ah, this sounds like UCLA econometrics! You go to Armen Alchian and you ask, ‘Armen, is this number about right?’ And Armen says, ‘Yeah, that sounds right.’ So you use that number.”

24 August 2015 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

Foss Wins Best Article Award

| Peter Klein |

Nicolai is far too modest to mention it (and no, he did not make me do this), but he has won Sloan Management Review’s best article prize:

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development published between fall 2013 and summer 2014.

This year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize goes to the spring 2014 MIT SMR article by Julian Birkinshaw, Nicolai J. Foss, and Siegwart Lindenberg, entitled “Combining Purpose With Profits.”

In this article, the authors examine a familiar and important question for managers: How can the tension between purpose and profits be best managed? The authors explore the kinds of structures companies need to put in place to provide clarity and direction for employees while also serving to both motivate individuals and draw people together in a common pursuit.

As the judges for the prize pointed out, the tension between purpose and profit is well-known, and many companies claiming to have “pro-social goals” have difficulty backing up their claims. However, the judges were impressed with the examples the authors presented of companies that have actually been able to balance purpose and profit. Some were familiar (such as Whole Foods Market and Tata Group), but others were less so (such as the Swedish bank Svenska Handelsbanken and HCL Technologies, an India-based IT-services company).

The pro-social goals the companies emphasize — for example, putting employees first or investing in local communities — are hardly elaborate or surprising. What is important is that companies put systems in place to meet these goals. For instance, at Tata, where the pro-social goal is “to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve,” the supporting systems include charitable trusts that own the majority of the equity capital of the Tata Sons holding company. Pro-social goals require what the authors call a “counterweight,” such as an employee council or a measuring system, to ensure that the pro-social goals continue to have influence.

The judges thought the article was well aligned with the beliefs of Richard Beckhard, who insisted that what truly motivates employees is the sense that what they do matters and serves a purpose that goes beyond organizational profitability or personal gain. As the judges observed, “What engages people is the broader, value-centered question of why we do what we do — precisely what the three authors of this year’s winning article make evident.”

This year’s panel of judges consisted of distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School faculty: Schussel Family Professor and chairman of the MIT Sloan Management Review managing board Erik Brynjolfsson, retired senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson, and Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen.

Nicolai, you can do great things, when you pick the right coauthors….

20 August 2015 at 3:42 pm 2 comments


| Peter Klein |

rs_300x300-150728134433-600.Cecil-The-Lion.jl.072815No doubt you’ve heard about Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot the lion, “Cecil,” in Zimbabwe, pushing aside Sir Tim Hunt as the Internet’s Most Hated Person. (Aside from calling Palmer cruel and depraved — even wishing his death by bow and arrow — some are labeling him a sociopath, which makes me wonder, are lions now considered members of society? Orgheads?)

I don’t hunt and have no particular emotional attachment to lions, so I find the outrage level bewildering. However, I think this can be a teachable moment. Specifically, there are lessons here about trophy hunting and endangered species. Not surprisingly to anyone who has studied property-rights economics, there is evidence that allowing trophy hunting is a good means of protecting endangered species. This is a version of the general argument that defining and enforcing property rights in scarce resources, including wildlife, provides incentives for individuals to protect and maintain those resources. (You’ve probably heard the quip that the world isn’t running out of chickens and dairy cattle.) Groups like PERC have produce dozens of studies on endangered species and private conservation more generally and there are plenty of nerdier papers too. If Cecil’s unfortunate end helps stimulate thoughtful discussion on how to avoid the tragedy of the commons, then he will not have died in vain.

29 July 2015 at 6:01 pm 9 comments

Piece Rates and Multitasking

| Peter Klein |

pieceA canonical result of multitask agency theory is that, when agents are assigned to multiple activities and some are more easily measured than others, piece-rate incentive schemes encourage agents to focus on the measurable activities while shirking the others. Professors at research universities, for example tend to focus on research at the expense of teaching — not because they don’t care about teaching, but because research output is easy to measure, while teaching quality isn’t, so administrators wishing to reward good performance tend to base their evaluations on research productivity. Or so I’ve heard (ahem). The implication is that, to encourage balanced effort and performance across activities, supervisors should rely at least partly on subjective, holistic evaluation criteria, and not just objective, quantitative measures of employee performance, or even do away with incentive compensation altogether.

An interesting paper in the January 2015 Southern Economic Journal offers a different theory, and some experimental evidence to back it up, suggesting that piece rates may actually be better than other schemes under multitasking. The idea is that agents may be uncertain about the principal’s monitoring ability, and the choice of a piece-rate scheme signals that the principal is a good monitor. This signaling effect can, under certain conditions, overcome the standard distortionary effect described above. Put differently, relying on subjective, holistic evaluation criteria, or abandoning performance measurement altogether (Alfie Kohn cheers!), may signal a sophisticated, experienced principal, but may also signal a principal who is too lazy to pay attention to employee behavior at all.

The paper is by Omar Al-Ubaydli, Steffen Andersen, Uri Gneezy, and John List and is cleverly titled “Carrots That Look Like Sticks: Toward an Understanding of Multitasking Incentive Schemes.” (Yes, it is part of the List Project on which we have mixed opinions.) Here is more on multitasking.

20 July 2015 at 8:32 am 1 comment

Entrepreneurial Opportunity: The Oxygen or Phlogiston of Entrepreneurship Research?

| Peter Klein |

PhlogistoncollectorDon’t miss this PDW at the upcoming Academy of Management conference in Vancouver. From organizer Per Davidssson:

I just wanted to bring your attention to a PDW I am organizing for the upcoming AoM meeting, where we will engage in frank and in-depth discussions about the problems and merits of the popular notion of “entrepreneurial opportunity”. We have been fortunate to gather a collection of very strong scholars and independent thinkers as presenters and discussants in this PDW: Richard J. Arend, Dimo Dimov, Denis Grégoire, Peter G. Klein, Moren Lévesque, Saras Sarasvathy, and Matthew Wood. . This illustrious group of colleagues will make sure the deliberations do not focus on a “beauty contest” between “discovery” and “creation” views but instead reach beyond limitations of both.  

I encourage you to join us for this session, and to make absolutely sure I won’t send you to the wrong place at the right time I have copied the details straight from the online program:

Title: Entrepreneurial Opportunity: The Oxygen or Phlogiston of Entrepreneurship Research? (session #365)

Date & Time: Saturday, August 08, 2015, 12:30:00 PM – 3:00:00 PM

Hotel & Room: Vancouver Convention Centre, Room 012

Further elaboration follows below. Heartily welcome!


7 July 2015 at 10:51 am 3 comments


| Peter Klein |

logoI’ve long been involved with the International Society for New Institutional Economics (ISNIE). (In fact, I first met the esteemed Professor Foss at the inaugural ISNIE conference in St. Louis in 1997.) ISNIE was established as an global academic society promoting the study of institutions within the broad tradition established by the organization’s co-founders Ronald Coase, Oliver Williamson, and Douglass North. ISNIE has been a great success, holding annual conferences in the US and Europe, sponsoring an important working-paper series, and boasting thousands of members from all over the world.

Times change, and over the last two decades the study of institutions has moved from the periphery towards the center of economic, social, political, and legal analysis. The statement, “institutions matter,” which might have been controversial in social science in the 1990s, seems trite today. As such, some of ISNIE’s leaders and members saw a need to reposition and rebrand the society to reflect the current academic and policy climate. Last year ISNIE’s members voted, and this year the board approved, a name change. The organization is now SIOE, the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics. Along with the change is a new website, featuring news, information, a blog, and many other features. The site is a work in progress and editors Bruno Chaves and Jens Prüfer would be happy to receive comments and suggestions.

I’m looking forward to the next twenty years with SIOE!

6 July 2015 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

Henry Manne Quote of the Day

| Peter Klein |

This is actually Richard Epstein writing about Henry Manne, but Richard nicely captures the essence of Henry’s thinking:

The combination of law and economics is a major discipline in … modern law schools, but I do not think that it was always presented to Henry’s liking. In his view, the student’s purpose was to show the power of markets to overcome key problems of information and coordination, not to run a set of exhaustive empirical studies to show that corporate boards would function better if they increased their number of independent directors by 5 percent.

Other Manne items on O&M are here. As I noted in another post, Manne was expert in specific technical areas of law (most obviously, insider trading and corporate takeovers) but very much a generalist in his overall outlook. As Manne once recalled about a 1962 seminar led by Armen Alchian, “All of a sudden, everything that I had done intellectually for thirteen years came together, with this one idea of Alchian’s about the real nature of property rights and the Misesian notion of people making choices, with every choice being a tradeoff,” In other words, a simple and powerful theoretical framework goes a long way in analyzing a broad range of issues — much different from today’s emphasis on behavioral quirks, clever experiments, and similar minutiae.

17 June 2015 at 2:49 pm 1 comment

Casson on Methodological Individualism

| Peter Klein |

Thanks to Andrew for the pointer to this weekend’s Reading-UNCTAD International Business Conference featuring Mark Casson, Tim Devinney, Marcus Larsen, and many others. Mark’s talk (not yet online) focused on the need for methodological individualism in international business research. “Firms don’t take decisions, individuals do. When you say that a firm pursued an international strategy, you really mean that that the CEO persuaded the individuals on the board to go along with his or her strategy.” As Andrew summarizes:

Casson spoke at great length about the need for research that focuses on named individuals, is based on the extensive study of primary sources in archives, takes social and political context into account, and which looks at case studies of entrepreneurs in different time periods. In effect, he was calling for the re-integration of Business History into International Business research.

And a renewed emphasis on entrepreneurship, not as a standalone subject dealing with startups or self-employment, but as central to the study of organizations — a theme heartily endorsed on this blog.

14 June 2015 at 1:53 pm Leave a comment

Essays in Honor of Joel Mokyr

| Peter Klein |

O&M friends Avner Greif, Lynne Kiesling, and John Nye have edited an important collection of essays by students, colleagues, and friends of the distinguished economic historian Joel Mokyr: Institutions, Innovation, and Industrialization: Essays in Economic History and Development (Princeton University Press, 2015). Dust-jacket blurb:

This book brings together a group of leading economic historians to examine how institutions, innovation, and industrialization have determined the development of nations. Presented in honor of Joel Mokyr — arguably the preeminent economic historian of his generation–these wide-ranging essays address a host of core economic questions. What are the origins of markets? How do governments shape our economic fortunes? What role has entrepreneurship played in the rise and success of capitalism? Tackling these and other issues, the book looks at coercion and exchange in the markets of twelfth-century China, sovereign debt in the age of Philip II of Spain, the regulation of child labor in nineteenth-century Europe, meat provisioning in pre-Civil War New York, aircraft manufacturing before World War I, and more. The book also features an essay that surveys Mokyr’s important contributions to the field of economic history, and an essay by Mokyr himself on the origins of the Industrial Revolution.

Here are some useful book reviews by Doug Allen and Robert Margo, and here is some interesting dialogue between Mokyr, Nye, and Deirdre McCloskey as comments on an article by Don Boudreaux.

12 June 2015 at 9:39 am Leave a comment

Sleeping Beauties

| Peter Klein |

Quick, what do the following articles have in common?

  • Maslow, Abraham. 1943. “A theory of human motivation.” Psychological Review 50(4): 370-376.
  • Forrester, Jay W. 1958. “Industrial dynamics: a major breakthrough for decision makers.” Harvard Business Review 36(4): 37-66.
  • Fisher, Irving. 1933. “The debt-deflation theory of great depressions.” 
    Econometrica 1(4): 337-357.
  • Fornell, Claes, and David F. Larker. 1981. “Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error.” Journal of Marketing Research 18(1): 39-50.
  • Wechsler, Herbert. 1959. “Toward neutral principles of constitutional law.” Harvard Law Review 73(1): 1-35.
  • Ellsberg, Daniel. 1961. “Risk, ambiguity, and the savage axioms.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 75(4): 643-669.

350px-Henry_Meynell_Rheam_-_Sleeping_BeautyAll are designated as “sleeping beauties,” papers that lie dormant for years after publication, then suddenly become highly influential. The term was coined by Anthony van Raan, but sleeping beauties were thought to be rare. A new paper in PNAS by Qing Ke, Emilio Ferrara, Filippo Radicchi, and Alessandro Flammini finds, by contrast, that sleeping beauties are fairly common. Formally, “The beauty coefficient value B for a given paper is based on the comparison between its citation history and a reference line that is determined only by its publication year, the maximum number of citations
received in a year (within a multiyear observation period), and the year when such maximum is achieved.” The authors take a large sample of papers from the American Physical Society and Web of Science and identify, describe, and analyze some prominent sleeping beauties. They focus mostly on the physical science, but include a few social science datasets in an online appendix, finding several papers including those above. (Most of the sleeping beauties in their social science sample are either experimental psychology papers or statistical or methodological papers that are not really about core social science theory or application.) I assume the social science papers also come from Web of Science, which may not include journals like Economica (hence no Coase 1937), and hence the list above is not totally intuitive.

Anyway, this should provoke some interesting discussion about the diffusion of knowledge. The presence of sleeping beauties could simply mean that some discoveries are difficult to understand and take a while to be appreciated, but could also reflect bandwagon effects, faddish citation practices, and other phenomena that cast doubt on the whig theory of science.

1 June 2015 at 3:18 pm 10 comments

The Judgment-Based View of Entrepreneurship: Accomplishments, Challenges, New Directions

| Peter Klein |

JOIWe have been using the term “judgment-based view” to describe our approach to entrepreneurship. The term “judgment” of course comes from Knight, and was used also by Mises, Casson, and many others. Contemporary entrepreneurship research is still dominated by the opportunity-discovery view, but increasing criticism from the judgement-based view, the effectuation and bricolage approaches, the opportunity-creation view, and other perspectives is challenging the notion that profit opportunities exist, waiting to be discovered, and even that “opportunity” is a meaningful construct at all.

Nicolai and I organized a themed section in the Journal of Institutional Economics on the judgment-based view with papers from Niklas Halberg, Jeff McMullen, and Andrew Godley and Mark Casson. Our introduction reviews the increasing importance of entrepreneurship in economics and management research, explains the relationship between entrepreneurship and economic organization, discusses some microfoundations of judgment, and distinguishes judgment from luck and judgment per se from good or skilled judgments.

The papers are available electronically at the links above, and in hardcopy in the Fall 2015 issue of JOIE.

29 May 2015 at 1:11 pm 10 comments

Artistic and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

| Peter Klein |

We’ve featured several posts on the relationship between artistic and entrepreneurial creativity, arguing that great art, like great entrepreneurship, is rarely the product of isolated individuals, toiling away privately and swimming against the tide, misunderstood or ignored by the establishment. Rather, both art and entrepreneurship are usually highly social and commercial activities, with subtle and nuanced relationships among creators, patrons, rivals, and customers.

orange-and-yellowI’ve been reading two interesting books on modern art that emphasize the idea of an artistic “ecosystem,” a complex set of interactions among artists, curators, critics, buyers, and others with commercial interests, Daniel Seidell’s Who’s Afraid of Modern Art and Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World. I see many parallels with the contemporary entrepreneurship literature and its focus on ecosystems of entrepreneurs, funders, suppliers, customers, makers of complementary products, regulators, and so on. Phone and tablet makers depend on app programmers and vice versa; engineers need venture capitalists and vice versa; founders and funders are embedded within clubs, networks, and associations; etc. As Seidell notes:

Serious art in the Western tradition — that is, art that is not content to “imagine” what we think we already know about the world of appearances and experiences, but probes more deeply into the nature of such reality through aesthetic form — has always been inextricably bound up with business. It is inseparable from patrons and collectors, with markets and dealers, with personalities and egos. . . .

Great art emerges out of the warp and woof — some would say the muck and mire — of commerce, of production and distribution that is at the very heart of [the art world].

Seidell is trying to help us understand the modern and contemporary art that frustrates and confuses most of us — abstract expressionism, pop art, Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark — by explaining that the value of these works comes not solely from the work itself, or even from the relationship between the work and the viewer, but from the way the work is perceived by critics, curators, collectors, and other artists. Much “high art” is actually produced for them, not for us. Of course, with entrepreneurship, the commercial value of any venture is ultimately determined by us, the consumers who willingly part with our hard-earned money for the services of the company or product. But, like art, entrepreneurship is a social activity, and great entrepreneurs know how to situate themselves within, or create from scratch, the ecosystem that makes their work great.

23 May 2015 at 2:02 pm 9 comments

The Mark of a Good Library

| Peter Klein |

I took this photo in the conference room of the Beijing Information Science and Technology University, School of Economics and Management. A display case holds a large collection of Chinese works and just two books in English. Most of you will recognize the silver one with the blue letters. Now, where is Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment?


17 May 2015 at 7:09 am 7 comments

Schumpeterian Recombination and Scientific Progress

| Peter Klein |

Scientific progress, like economic progress, largely consists of combining and recombining existing resources and knowledge. At least that’s the way I interpret a new paper from Santa Fe Institute researchers Hyejin Youn, Luis Bettencourt, Jose Lobo, and Deborah Strumsky, “Invention as a Combinatorial Process: Evidence from US Patents” (via Steve Fiore):

Invention has been commonly conceptualized as a search over a space of combinatorial possibilities. Despite the existence of a rich literature, spanning a variety of disciplines, elaborating on the recombinant nature of invention, we lack a formal and quantitative characterization of the combinatorial process underpinning inventive activity. Here, we use US patent records dating from 1790 to 2010 to formally characterize invention as a combinatorial process. To do this, we treat patented inventions as carriers of technologies and avail ourselves of the elaborate system of technology codes used by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to classify the technologies responsible for an invention’s novelty. We find that the combinatorial inventive process exhibits an invariant rate of ‘exploitation’ (refinements of existing combinations of technologies) and ‘exploration’ (the development of new technological combinations). This combinatorial dynamic contrasts sharply with the creation of new technological capabilities—the building blocks to be combined—that has significantly slowed down. We also find that, notwithstanding the very reduced rate at which new technologies are introduced, the generation of novel technological combinations engenders a practically infinite space of technological configurations.

Or, as the Santa Fe press release puts it, “Most new patents are combinations of existing ideas and pretty much always have been, even as the stream of fundamentally new core technologies has slowed.” See also the authors’ earlier paper, “Atypical Combinations and Scientific Impact.”

2 May 2015 at 5:47 pm 1 comment

Peer Review in One Picture

| Peter Klein |

Great illustration from the Mad Scientist Confectioner’s Club (via Fan Xia).


29 April 2015 at 10:20 am 3 comments

Congratulations to Henry Butler

| Peter Klein |

butler_henry_11_smCongratulations to Henry Butler for being named Dean of the George Mason University School of Law. Henry has been director of GMU’s Law and Economics Center, and previously directed the Searle Center at Northwestern. In these roles he has been a prolific economic educator, following in the footsteps of his mentor Henry Manne (aka “Big Henry,” Henry Butler being “Little Henry”).

Younger readers may not know that Henry Butler is also a significant contributor to the early theoretical and empirical literature in transaction cost economics, particularly through two papers with Barry Baysinger, “Corporate Governance and the Board of Directors: Performance Effects of Changes in Board Composition” (JLEO, 1985) and “The Role of Corporate Law in the Theory of the Firm” (JLE, 1985). These papers argued that, contrary to a naive reading of the nexus-of-contracts literature on the firm, institutional constraints such as contract law do have an effect on firm organization and governance. One strand of the research literature on the firm, taking its cue from Alchian and Demsetz (1972) and Jensen and Meckling (1976), maintained that the legal structure of the firm is relatively unimportant for organization and performance, as market participants can simply price out, and contract around, any constraints imposed by the legal system. Baysinger and Butler, following Coase and Williamson, showed that legal rules, particularly those related to incorporation, do matter in the presence of transaction costs. Their work on boards showed that board structure and composition affect firm performance, while emphasizing that boards and other governance mechanisms including corporate law are interdependent.

22 April 2015 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Cocktail Construction Chart

| Peter Klein |

This may be the most useful document ever produced by a government agency:


It’s real, it was created at the US National Forest Service in 1972 or 1974, and a copy exists in the National Archives. See here and here for the backstory. (HT: Randy Westgren.)

21 April 2015 at 11:01 pm 3 comments

Is Economic History Dead?

| Peter Klein |

An interesting piece in The Economist: “Economic history is dead; long live economic history?”

Last weekend, Britain’s Economic History Society hosted its annual three-day conference in Telford, attempting to show the subject was still alive and kicking. The economic historians present at the gathering were bullish about the future. Although the subject’s woes at MIT have been echoed across research universities in both America and Europe, since the financial crisis there has been something of a minor revival. One reason for this may be that, as we pointed out in 2013, it is widely believed amongst scholars, policy makers and the public that a better understanding of economic history would have helped to avoid the worst of the recent crisis.

However, renewed vigour can be most clearly seen in the debates economists are now having with each other.

These debates are those about the long-run relationship between debt and growth initiated by Reinhart and Rogoff, about the historic effectiveness of Keynesian monetary and fiscal policy, and about the role of global organizations like the IMF and World Bank in promoting international coordination.

I guess my view is closer to Andrew Smith’s, that while history should play a stronger role in economics (and management) research and teaching, it probably won’t, for a variety of professional and institutional reasons. Of course, there is a difference between, say, research in economic or business history and “papers published in journals specializing in economic or business history.” In the first half of the twentieth century, quantitative economics was treated as a specialized subfield; now virtually all mainstream economics is quantitative. (The same may happen to empirical sociology, to theorizing in strategic management, and in other areas.)

14 April 2015 at 9:13 am 1 comment

Are “Private” Universities Really Private?

| Peter Klein |

Jeffrey Selingo raises an important point about the distinction between “public” and “private” universities, but I disagree with his analysis and recommendation. Selingo points out that the elite private universities have huge endowments and land holdings, the income from which, because of the universities’ nonprofit status, is untaxed. He calls this an implicit subsidy, worth billions of dollars according to this study. “Such benefits account for $41,000 in hidden taxpayer subsidies per student annually, on average, at the top 10 wealthiest private universities. That’s more than three times the direct appropriations public universities in the same states as those schools get.”

I agree that the distinction between public and private universities is blurry, but not for the reasons Selingo gives. First, a tax break is not a “subsidy.” Second, there are many ways to measure the “private-ness” of an organization — not only budget, but also ownership and governance. In terms of governance, most US public universities look like crony capitalists. The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators consists of a handful of powerful local operatives, all political appointees (and all but one lawyers) and friends of the current and previous governors. At some levels, there is faculty governance, as there is at nominally private universities. In terms of budget, we don’t need to invent hidden subsidies, we need only look at the explicit ones. If we include federal research funding, the top private universities get a much larger share of their total operating budgets from government sources than do the mid-tier public research universities. (I recently read that Johns Hopkins gets 90% of its research budget from federal agencies, mostly NIH and NSF.) And of course federal student aid is relevant too.

So, what does it mean to be a “private” university?

10 April 2015 at 9:01 am 6 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).