Author Archive

Thanks to the O&M Proprietors . . .

| Scott Masten |

. . . for the opportunity to post a few thoughts on O&M over the last few months. (Errors and, especially, omissions are the sole responsibility of the author.) As I told Peter, it was nice to have a location from which to broadcast items from time to time that wouldn’t otherwise make it beyond lunch partners and the unlucky panhandler. As I discovered, even occasional musings take time, and participating, even sporadically, has given me a greater appreciation for the benefits that Peter, Nicolai, Dick, and Lasse provide us O&M consumers. It’s worth every penny!

And so, with gratitude, I take my leave.

6 July 2011 at 2:23 pm 5 comments

An Early Example of a Hold-up. . .

| Scott Masten |

. . . in which two Irishman sweep fifteen or thirty Italians into an open ditch.

The context is a dispute over a contract for the supply of water to Bayonne, NJ., circa 1896, as reported in The First History of Bayonne, NJ (1904: 92):

At the mayoralty election in the spring of 1895, Egbert Seymour, on the Democratic ticket, was elected Mayor. Several of the Councilmen who were elected at this election, and two or three city officials, were opposed to the new water contract, and attempted a “hold-up.” The trouble reached its height one day during the first year of Seymour’s administration. While employees of the water company were tapping the old mains to make the necessary water connection, some city officials arrived on the scene. Immediately there was trouble.

The New York Times article (Nov. 24, 1896) on the right (click to enlarge) elaborates, amusingly, on the manner in which the holdup was executed.

I have not yet been able to verify it but, according the previous source, “The matter was taken before the Supreme Court of the United States by the water company, and an injunction was obtained against the city. United States marshals were stationed at the scene until the work was completed, to arrest any city official who interfered.” The city eventually bought out the company in 1918.

(Wish that I had found that quotation before completing this.)

25 March 2011 at 8:56 pm Leave a comment

ISNIE Annual Conference, Stanford University, June 16–18

| Scott Masten |

The 15th Annual Conference of the International Society for New Institutional Economics will be held this year at Stanford University on June 16-18. The conference is being organized by President-Elect Barry Weingast, and my inside, not-yet-public information is that the conference will have two very interesting keynotes. The ISNIE website has the just-released Call for Papers.


21 January 2011 at 10:46 am Leave a comment

Famous Figure Omission

| Scott Masten |

My inbox today contained an advertisement for a new Elgar publication: Famous Figures and Diagrams in Economics:

I’m sure that everyone in the O&M-isphere will agree that such a volume is incomplete without (more…)

19 January 2011 at 2:57 pm 3 comments

Remediableness Quote* of the Day

| Scott Masten |

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

— G.K. Chesterton, The Thing (1929)

*Shouldn’t it be quotation of the day?

14 January 2011 at 8:31 am 2 comments

Entrepreneurship Lives!

| Scott Masten |

At the ASSA meetings in Denver this weekend, O&M impresario Peter Klein gave a typically (for him) enlightening and entertaining presentation on “Institutions and Entrepreneurial Opportunities: A New Approach.” (An audience member gushed afterward that it was one of the best presentations she had ever seen. Perhaps Peter can provide a link to the paper.) To illustrate one of his points, Peter used images of ruins from once-glorious buildings in Detroit such as this one:

Peter’s point was that, though on its face, such abandoned structures would appear to present unrealized entrepreneurial opportunities, such opportunities were probably illusory in light of Detroit’s decline.

In fact, Peter, in a rare lapse, simply failed to look deeply enough into the question. Entrepreneurship is alive and well even in Detroit! (more…)

9 January 2011 at 7:59 pm 6 comments

Palgrave Entry on Oliver Williamson

| Scott Masten |

If you have access to The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Online Edition, my entry on Oliver Williamson is now available: Oliver E. Williamson.

3 December 2010 at 7:57 am Leave a comment

My Brush with Obamacare

| Scott Masten |

I had my first personal encounter with America’s new health care legislation last week. The University of Michigan’s current (i.e, pre-Obamacare) faculty-and-staff health care benefits provide health care coverage for faculty children up to age 25. As a result, my daughter, who turns 24 this next month, was eligible for an additional year of coverage under my benefits. Last week, the UM Benefits Office sent employees an email announcing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s much-touted requirement that health care policies hereafter provide coverage of dependents up to age 26. The announcement added, “The health care reform law removes all previous and current eligibility requirements for coverage.” But then a little further down was the following: “In order to be eligible for coverage under your benefits, a dependent child must … not [be] eligible for health benefits through his or her own employer.” So my daughter, who was eligible to remain on my UM plan for another year before Obamacare, becomes ineligible January 1 because she works for a small company that offers a health plan. It’s not the end of the world, of course. My daughter (who lives at home) will be a bit poorer because she will have to pay for her own health care a year sooner than expected, and the coverage probably won’t be as comprehensive as the UM plan is. If that were the only issue, I wouldn’t have bothered with this post. (more…)

26 November 2010 at 9:19 pm 29 comments

Does Research Productivity Decline with Age?

| Scott Masten |

I haven’t had a chance to read the article that Nicolai linked to below yet, but it reminded me of a not-unrelated article in last month’s American Psychologist, “The Graying of Academia: Will It Reduce Scientific Productivity?” Here’s the abstract:

The belief that science is a young person’s game and that only young scientists can be productive and publish high-quality research is still widely shared by university administrators and members of the scientific community. Since the average age of university faculties is increasing not only in the United States but also in Europe, the question arises as to whether this belief is correct. If it were valid, the abolition of compulsory retirement in the United States and some parts of Canada would lower the productivity of these university systems. To address this question, this article reviews research on the association of age and scientific productivity conducted during the last four decades in North America and Europe. Whereas early research typically showed a decline in productivity after the ages of 40 to 45 years, this decline has been absent in more recent studies. Explanations for this change are discussed.


26 November 2010 at 8:03 pm 1 comment

Man Bites Dog …

| Scott Masten |

. . . and government swears it acts politically and is incompetent.

This might just be worth the cost to the U.S. taxpayer of bailing out GM. From GM’s prospectus for its upcoming IPO (via NPR):

…to the extent the UST [United States Treasury] elects to exert such control in the future, its interests (as a government entity) may differ from those of our other stockholders. In particular, the UST may have a greater interest in promoting U.S. economic growth and jobs than our other stockholders. For example, while we have repaid in full our indebtedness under our credit agreement with the UST that we entered into on the closing of the 363 Sale, a continuing covenant requires that we use our commercially reasonable best efforts to ensure, subject to exceptions, that our manufacturing volume in the United States is consistent with specified benchmarks.  (p. 6)

We have determined that our disclosure controls and procedures and our internal control over financial reporting are currently not effective. The lack of effective internal controls could materially adversely affect our financial condition and ability to carry out our business plan.  (p.29)

Now, the next time anyone says otherwise, you have can point to this.

5 November 2010 at 6:55 am Leave a comment


| Scott Masten |

Oliver Williamson has obviously had an enormous influence on my research and career, but I encountered Olly only fairly late in my education; in fact, I didn’t take Olly’s Industrial Organization course until my last semester of course work, in the fall of my third year in graduate school. Prior to that, my primary field had been comparative economic systems or, as it was called at Penn, comparative economic planning. My interest in the latter field and, indeed, my decision to go to graduate school in the first place I owe to Edwin Dolan. I had entered college intending to go to law school and enrolled in Dolan’s Economic Analysis of Law seminar in the winter of my sophomore year. That course was eye-opening for me in two respects. First, after spending long days in the library stacks reading law cases (when the next best alternative activity was skiing), I decided that that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Second, I learned that I could engage the “fun” (that is, the analytical) part of law by continuing in economics, which I already found appealing. (more…)

26 October 2010 at 8:55 pm 3 comments

Cui Bono Blues

| Scott Masten |

No, not some long lost Robert Johnson classic. I’m referring to the Justice Department’s suit filed earlier this week against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, with “hints” from the Justice Department that more health industry suits are in the pipeline. The allegation is that BCBCM used most-favored nation agreements with hospitals to reduce “competition in the sale of health insurance in markets throughout Michigan by inhibiting hospitals from negotiating competitive contracts with Blue Cross’ competitors.”

I don’t know enough about the case to say anything about its merits at this point. But I do find curious the DOJ’s choice of a nonprofit for its demonstration project on controlling healthcare costs through the antitrust laws. It reminds me of [uh-oh, here it comes — Ed.] (more…)

23 October 2010 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

Earning My Keep. . . .

| Scott Masten |

I would post something on this morning’s Wall Street Journal article, “Putting a Price on Professors,” but (i) I risk becoming the obsessed, repetitous guest who spoils the party for everyone else (it’s not my fault this stuff is showing up a lot in the news right now!), and (ii) I have 163 midterms to grade and, having read the article, I need to make sure that I earn my compensation. [That shouldn’t require much work — Ed.]

Update: Go read Craig Pirrong’s post on the WSJ article at Streetwise Professor. That’s an order.

23 October 2010 at 11:44 am Leave a comment

“The Meanest and Most Contemptible Persons in Society”*

| Scott Masten |

*That would be Peter, Dick, Lasse (I think), and me, but not Nicolai. (See below.)

I haven’t posted anything on higher education governance in a couple of weeks, so I guess it is about time. My excuse will be an Instapundit link to an opinion column titled “End Our ‘Multiuniversities’.”

The author, David Warren, complains that the “great majority of the universities — founded since the Second World War to bureaucratically process and credentialize a large part of the general population, as a matter of ‘right’ and regardless of their intellectual capacities — are in effect ‘community colleges’ or trade schools,” a condition that he attributes in the main to public funding. (Warren is writing from Canada but a related piece makes clear his reprobation is catholic.) I am broadly sympathetic with his lament, though I am less confident that public funding is the ultimate culprit. What I want to comment on, however, is his (possibly facetious) solution: (more…)

17 October 2010 at 1:00 pm 6 comments

Fire Footnote

| Scott Masten |

Apropos our earlier discussion, today is the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

8 October 2010 at 3:17 pm 1 comment

Hail to the Hackers

| Scott Masten |

You may have read recently that District of Columbia election officials put out an invitation to computer scientists to hack an experimental Internet voting system. Apparently a team from the University of Michigan successfully took over the system within 36 hours. The part I found amusing, however, is that they programmed the system to play “Hail to the Victors” (official name “The Victors”) after each vote was cast.

8 October 2010 at 7:15 am 5 comments

Burning Down the House

| Scott Masten |

Peter posted a Facebook link to a Jeff Tucker post on the Mises Economics Blog commenting on the news report about the Tennessee man who didn’t pay his annual $75 fire protection services fee, and the fire department from the neighboring town let his house burn down. Peter, Jeff, and Clifford Grammich (who commented on Peter’s post) cover the issues pretty well. My guess is that the reason governments rather than private companies generally provide fire services has a lot to do with the difficulty of pricing fire services. (The Tennessee case involved a quasi-market transaction in that residents outside of South Fulton paid the city of South Fulton for fire protection.) It is certainly conceivable that private fire companies could offer homeowners and businesses a choice between (i) prepaid fire service for an annual fee and (ii) on-demand fire service. But how would you determine the price of the latter? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to negotiate the price while your house is burning down. (Talk about temporal specificity!) And you wouldn’t want to negotiate the price after the fact either: Gee, guys, thanks for saving my house; can I buy you all a beer? (more…)

6 October 2010 at 8:10 pm 16 comments

Tilburg Conference on Private Ordering

| Scott Masten |

O&M readers might be interested in a conference held this week (Sept. 30 – Oct. 1) at the Tilburg Law and Economics Center on the topic “Economic Governance and Competition: The Pros and Cons of Private Ordering in the Shadow of the Law.” The conference was organized by Jens Prüfer and featured keynote presentations by Lisa Bernstein, Avinash Dixit, Robert Gibbons, and Bentley MacLeod. Many interesting papers, several of the authors of which will be familiar to the O&M/ISNIE crowd. The full program, including downloadable papers, can be found here. (Would have liked to attended but classes interfered.)

2 October 2010 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Oliver Williamson to Win Physics Nobel

| Scott Masten |

At least that’s what the writers of The Simpsons are predicting. (See upper left-hand corner.) Their Economics Prize predictions: Jagdish Bhagwati, Avinash Dixit, Bengt Holmstrom, and Elhanan Helpman. (via Marginal Revolution)

30 September 2010 at 6:46 am 6 comments

Secure Abjure Tenure

| Scott Masten |

Thanks to Peter, Nicolai, Dick, and Lasse for the invitation to guest blog and for the opportunity to sound off on current issues to a broader audience than just my LCD screen. [Thank you! — LCD Screen.]

A fairly recent example of such an issue was the discussion — anew — of proposals — anew — to abolish professorial tenure. Earlier this month, the New York Times Sunday Book Review ran an essay titled “The End of Tenure?” This was preceded by a July NYT “Room for Debate” forum on the question “What if College Tenure Dies?”  and a proposal a week or so later by the American Bar Association to eliminate the term “tenure” from the ABA standards covering job security and academic freedom. A flurry of blog posts on the merits of tenure — many by law professors — ensued.

Leaving aside the details of the debate, an interesting pattern emerged in the “sides,” with more market-oriented (libertarian- or conservative-leaning) writers tending to be more critical, or at least skeptical of the merits, of tenure (see, for example, here and here; here; and here, compared, for instance, with this. The rule-proving exception is here). (more…)

25 September 2010 at 8:54 am 24 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).

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