Posts filed under ‘Financial Markets’

Sovereign States Default, Repudiate; Sun Still Rises

| Peter Klein |

Frivolous commentary on the US debt crisis (like this) attributes to opponents of raising the debt ceiling the view that “defaults don’t matter.” Sensible people recognize, of course, that default (and even repudiation) are policy options that have benefits and costs, just as continuing to borrow and increasing the debt have benefits and costs. Reasonable people can disagree about the relevant magnitudes, but comparative institutional analysis is obviously the way to go here. (Unfortunately, most of the academic discussion has focused entirely on the possible short-term costs of default, with almost no attention paid to the almost certain long-term costs of continued borrowing.)

I’m a bit surprised no one has brought up William English’s 1996 AER paper, “Understanding the Costs of Sovereign Default: American State Debts in the 1840’s,” which provides very interesting evidence on US state defaults. It’s not a natural experiment, exactly, but does a nice job exploring the variety of default and repudiation practices among states that were otherwise pretty similar. Here’s the meat:

Between 1841 and 1843 eight states and one territory defaulted on their obligations, and by the end of the decade four states and one territory had repudiated all or part of their debts. These debts are properly seen as sovereign debts both because the United States Constitution precludes suits against states to enforce the payment of debts, and because most of the state debts were held by residents of other states and other countries (primarily Britain). . . .

In spite of the inability of the foreign creditors to impose direct sanctions, most U.S. states repaid their debts. It appears that states repaid in order to maintain their access to international capital markets, much like in reputational models. The states that repaid were able to borrow more in the years leading up to the Civil War. while those that did not repav were, for the most part, unable to do so. States that defaulted temporarily were able to regain access to the credit market by settling their old debts. More surprisingly, two states that repudiated a part of their debt were able to regain access to capital markets after servicing the remainder of their debt for a time.

Amazingly, the earth did not crash into the sun, nor did the citizens of the delinquent states experience locusts, boils, or Nancy Grace. Bond yields of course rose in the repudiating, defaulting, and partially defaulting states, but not to “catastrophic” levels. There were complex restructuring deals and other transactions to try to mitigate harms.

A recent CNBC story on Europe cited “the realization that sovereign risk, and particularly developed market sovereign risk exists, because most developed world sovereign was basically treated as entirely risk free,” quoting a principal at BlackRock Investment Institute. “With hindsight, we can say . . . that they have never been risk free, it’s just that we have been living in a quiet time over the last 20 years.” Doesn’t sound like Apocalypse to me.

(See earlier posts here and here.)

13 July 2011 at 10:30 pm 2 comments

Asset Sales and Financial Distress

| Peter Klein |

“What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom,” Adam Smith famously observed. I noted in an earlier post on raising the debt ceiling that restructuring US government securities is hardly the “nuclear” option it’s portrayed in the pundit world; bankrupt firms, like bankrupt families and firms, restructure their debt obligations all the time. The notion of T-Bills as a sort of sacred relic, to be once and forever “risk-free,” seems more like religion than economics to me.

But, more important, there is another option for entities struggling to make their interest payments: asset sales. Just in the last couple days Bob Murphy, David Friedman, and Steve Horwitz have made this point. Public discussion on the US debt crisis assumes that the only options for meeting US debt obligations are increasing taxes, cutting spending, or both. But asset sales are another viable option. There’s a huge literature on this in corporate finance (e.g., Shleifer and Vishny, 1992; Brown, James, and Mooradian, 1994; John and Ofek, 1995), exploring the benefits and costs of asset sales as a source of liquidity for financially distressed firms. Of course, selling assets under dire circumstances, at fire-sale prices, is far from a first-best option but, as this literature points out, often better than bankruptcy or liquidation. (One of the best-known results, from John and Ofek, is that asset sales tend to increase firm value when they result in an increase in focus. Would it really be so bad if the US government sold off some foreign treasuries and currency, the strategic petroleum reserve, its vast holdings of commercial land, and other elements of a highly diversified, and unaccountably bloated, portfolio?)

5 July 2011 at 10:47 pm 5 comments

Who Benefits from Coups?

| Peter Klein |

Not surprisingly — private interests:

Coups, Corporations, and Classified Information
Arindrajit Dube, Ethan Kaplan, Suresh Naidu
NBER Working Paper No. 16952, April 2011

We estimate the impact of coups and top-secret coup authorizations on asset prices of partially nationalized multinational companies that stood to benefit from US-backed coups. Stock returns of highly exposed firms reacted to coup authorizations classified as top-secret. The average cumulative abnormal return to a coup authorization was 9% over 4 days for a fully nationalized company, rising to more than 13% over sixteen days. Pre-coup authorizations accounted for a larger share of stock price increases than the actual coup events themselves.There is no effect in the case of the widely publicized, poorly executed Cuban operations, consistent with abnormal returns to coup authorizations reflecting credible private information. We also introduce two new intuitive and easy to implement nonparametric tests that do not rely on asymptotic justifications.

In what can only be a pure coincidence, the following item appeared just below the NBER paper in my RSS reader: “Halliburton Profit More Than Doubles.”

18 April 2011 at 9:06 am 1 comment

Interesting New NBER Papers

| Peter Klein |

Matching Firms, Managers, and Incentives
Oriana Bandiera, Andrea Prat, Luigi Guiso, Raffaella Sadun
January 2011

We exploit a unique combination of administrative sources and survey data to study the match between firms and managers. The data includes manager characteristics, such as risk aversion and talent; firm characteristics, such as ownership; detailed measures of managerial practices relative to incentives, dismissals and promotions; and measurable outcomes, for the firm and for the manager. A parsimonious model of matching and incentive provision generates an array of implications that can be tested with our data. Our contribution is twofold. We disentangle the role of risk-aversion and talent in determining how firms select and motivate managers. In particular, risk-averse managers are matched with firms that offer low-powered contracts. We also show that empirical findings linking governance, incentives, and performance that are typically observed in isolation, can instead be interpreted within a simple unified matching framework.

Business Failures by Industry in the United States, 1895 to 1939: A Statistical History
Gary Richardson, Michael Gou
March 2011

Dun’s Review began publishing monthly data on bankruptcies by branch of business during the 1890s. This essay reconstructs that series, links it to its successors, and discusses how it can be used for economic analysis.

The Consequences of Financial Innovation: A Counterfactual Research Agenda
Josh Lerner, Peter Tufano
February 2011

Financial innovation has been both praised as the engine of growth of society and castigated for being the source of the weakness of the economy. In this paper, we review the literature on financial innovation and highlight the similarities and differences between financial innovation and other forms of innovation. We also propose a research agenda to systematically address the social welfare implications of financial innovation. To complement existing empirical and theoretical methods, we propose that scholars examine case studies of systemic (widely adopted) innovations, explicitly considering counterfactual histories had the innovations never been invented or adopted.

14 March 2011 at 8:54 am Leave a comment

WSJ on Conglomerates

| Peter Klein |

Industrial conglomerate ITT announced in January a split into three more focused companies, one concentrated in hotels and gaming, one in education (technical training centers), and a slimmed-down ITT Corporation containing the remaining manufacturing businesses. This is the second major restructuring for ITT, once the poster child of the conglomerate movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.

The Wall Street Journal’s article of 13 January contains a nice graphic on the firm’s history, including a picture of Harold Geneen, the quintessential “management by the numbers” CEO (click to enlarge). It also includes ruminations on the conglomerate form more generally, about which I have a continuing research interest. Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says conglomerates represented “an unholy mix of opportunistic investment bankers, misguided consultants and the vanities of CEOs.” A companion article puts it this way: “Conglomerates blossomed five decades ago, when favorable interest rates made it relatively easy to boost revenue and stock prices with serial acquisitions. But they fell out of favor when the stock increases slowed and investors began to question whether promised efficiencies would materialize.”

But this is not quite right. In fact, the research literature finds little evidence that conglomerate growth was fueled mainly by cheap credit and rising stock prices. (more…)

4 February 2011 at 1:56 pm 1 comment

Blinder: Keynesianism is Right, Because Keynesians Are Really Smart

| Peter Klein |

Alan Blinder’s defense of QE2 is as feeble as Mankiw’s defense of “emergency measures” more generally. Blinder’s argument is simply that QE2 isn’t all that different from standard Keynesian fine-tuning (true) and that Ben Bernanke is smarter than critics like Sarah Palin (duh).”To create the fearsome inflation rates envisioned by the more extreme critics, the Fed would have to be incredibly incompetent, which it is not.” This reminds me of Janet Yellen’s unfortunate 2009 statement that “the Fed’s analytical prowess is top-notch and our forecasting record is second to none. . . . With respect to our tool kit, we certainly have the means to unwind the stimulus when the time is right.”

Blinder apparently thinks that the anti-Keynesian backlash is just some quibbles about this little jot or tittle. He cannot grasp that the growing sentiment against monetary central planning, against fine-tuning, against the whole statist monetary establishment, is a rejection of Keynesianism at the most fundamental level. People are tired of the philosopher kings and their pretense of knowledge.

But this is folly to kings. Consider Blinder’s criticism of Bernanke:

What the Fed proposes to do is neither foolproof nor perfect. Frankly, it’s not the policy I would choose. As I’ve written on this page, I’d like the Fed to purchase private securities and to reduce the interest rate it pays on reserves, even turning it negative. The latter would blast reserves out of banks into some productive uses.

Ah, to think like a king! But the days of the monetary monarchy may be numbered.

16 November 2010 at 2:15 pm 11 comments

Cities and the Fetters of Nations

| Dick Langlois |

In Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jane Jacobs argued that currencies should be promulgated by cities not nation states. If, for example, the currency of Detroit (the cadillac, let us say) could have floated against the currency of San Francisco (the silicon) during the late 20th century, there would have been another margin (other than the movement of capital and people) on which adjustments to technological change and shifting relative prices could have taken place, perhaps making Detroit less of a disaster area. I always found this idea appealing; but, not being a monetary economist and not having heard the idea discussed within professional economics, I wondered whether I might be missing some obvious counter-argument. Recently, however, I saw an NBER Working paper by Barry Eichengreen and Peter Temin that seems to make a similar point. Called “Fetters of Gold and Paper,” it argues that the euro and the dollar-renminbi peg are fixed-exchange-rate regimes like the gold standard. Such fixed-rate regimes may lower transaction costs in good times, but they prevent necessary adjustments in bad times, potentially leading to crises. Adjustment takes place via deflation that would otherwise have taken place through exchange-rate movement.

This is essentially the Eichengreen-Temin story about the Great Depression, which (to oversimplify) isn’t really very different from the Monetarist version. The Monetarists essentially say that gold wasn’t a fetter because there was never a real gold standard; it was a badly manipulated facsimile, which the Fed mismanaged. Eichengreen and Temin acknowledge this, but apply spin so that it was the mentalité of the gold standard that caused monetary authorities to behave as they did. In any case, as Eichengreen and Temin point out, the euro is actually a much stronger version of the fetters problem, since there is no adjustment mechanism akin to gold flows, however imperfect that mechanism might have been. Moreover, countries could (and eventually did) go off the gold standard; but there is no mechanism for countries to pull out of the euro without causing a major crisis. Interestingly, they see Bretton Woods as less of a problem, since there were international adjustment mechanisms in place. Also interestingly (for two economists of a Keynesian bent), they worry at length about the federal budget deficit and the level of government spending in the face of the renminbi peg and the current-account deficit. Usually, free-market economists worry about the budget deficit but not the current-account deficit, whereas left-of-center economists worry about the current account but not the budget. The renminbi peg makes them linked problems.

Which brings us back to Jacobs. The American dollar — one currency for all 50 states — was a prime model for the euro. And a Google search brings up dozens of comparisons between California and Greece. Why should the nation-state — whether the US or Europe — be the appropriate geographical domain of a currency?

10 September 2010 at 3:17 pm 3 comments

The (Very) Early History of Financial Economics

| Peter Klein |

The latest issue of the History of Economics Review contains Geoffrey Poitras and Jovanovic’s interesting paper, “Pioneers of Financial Economics: Das Adam Smith Irrelevanzproblem?” (published version not available online; working-paper version here, presentation slides here). Despite the subtitle the paper isn’t about Adam Smith, but the (very) early history of financial economics. Here’s an excerpt:

In the case of financial economics, the roots of this field stretch back to antiquity, involving the valuation of financial transactions, such as determining payment on a loan or distributing profits from a partnership. Poitras (2000) uses the late fifteenth century as a starting point for the early or pre-classical history of financial economics, more than three centuries prior to the publication of the [Wealth of Nations]. As early as Fibonacci (1170?-1250?), elements of financial economics were being disseminated among the merchant classes in the commercial arithmetics that, by the fifteenth century, formed the core of the reckoning school curriculum, e.g., Swetz (1987). A fundamental historical demarcation point appears with Christian Huygens’s (1629-1695) seminal introduction of the modern theory of expectations.

From this point, until the appearance of the WN, the founding work of classical political economy, financial economics underwent a dramatic transformation. By the time the Theory of Moral Sentiments appeared, sophisticated methods for pricing contingent claims, such as the life annuities sold by various individuals, municipalities and national governments in western Europe, had been developed and were being applied to the establishment of actuarially sound life insurance plans and pension funds. Hald (1990), Poitras (2006), Lewin (2003) and Rubinstein (2003) among others identify the earliest pioneers of modern financial economics, the beginning of classical financial economics, from the contributors that developed these pricing methods. As such, there is a close connection between the classical histories of financial economics, statistics, and actuarial science.

In other words, this is a field in which theory and practice appear to have co-evolved quite closely, which raises interesting questions for the performativity crowd. Modern financial economics is in many ways similar: theories of market efficiency were both shaped by, and helped to shape (e.g., through options-pricing formulas) actual market behavior.

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12 August 2010 at 11:45 am 1 comment

Regulatory Capture

| Dick Langlois |

I seem to be on the “communitarianism” mailing list of Amitai Etzioni, missives from which are usually good for a cold frisson of annoyance. The most recent one seemed promising, however, as it touted a paper revisiting the capture theory of regulation. Many people have rightly criticized the Dodd-Frank Act for piling on unnecessary administrative regulation despite the fact that (A) regulation was already extensive and provided all the powers that would have been needed to avert the crisis and (B) much of the new regulation is aimed at activities that have nothing to do with the financial crisis. Etzioni points out that the potential for regulatory capture is an additional reason for concern. Quite so. Dependably, however, Etzioni comes to the wrong conclusion about the nature of the problem and how to fix it. To Etzioni, the problem is not the inherent liabilities of administrative regulation but the specter of private money corrupting the system. (Notably, his examples do not include the money of labor unions, which have captured, at the very least, vast swaths of the Labor and Education Departments.) As political speech is a topic on which I have already fulminated at some length, I will just add that, even in a world in which regulators were somehow insulated from financial temptation, there would still be capture: the operation of regulatory agencies depends on the possession of large amounts of specialized knowledge in whose generation the subjects of regulation have considerable, and oftentimes overwhelming, advantage.

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29 July 2010 at 10:41 am 2 comments


| Peter Klein |

Busenitz and Barney (1997) famously argued that entrepreneurs (founders) are particularly susceptible to overconfidence and representativeness biases. Compared to professional managers, entrepreneurs systematically overestimate the probability that a new venture will succeed and tend to draw unwarranted generalizations about the future from small samples. Overconfidence is now one of the major themes in the contemporary entrepreneurship literature (Bernardo and Welch, 2001Forbes, 2005Koellinger, Minniti, and Schade, 2007).

A new NBER paper by Itzhak Ben-David, John Graham, and Campbell Harvey finds evidence for a particular kind of overconfidence, “miscalibration,” among corporate executives. Miscalibration occurs when the agent’s forecast probability distribution is too narrow, meaning that the likelihood of extremely positive or negative events is unrealistically discounted. The idea is that agents with miscalibrated expectations are overconfident, not in the success of their activities (what the authors label “optimism”), but in their ability to predict the success of their activities. Survey evidence from a sample of CFOs reveals a number of interesting regularities about the relationship between miscalibration and past financial performance, corporate investment, and other observables. Here’s the abstract:

Miscalibration is a form of overconfidence examined in both psychology and economics. Although it is often analyzed in lab experiments, there is scant evidence about the effects of miscalibration in practice. We test whether top corporate executives are miscalibrated, and study the determinants of their miscalibration. We study a unique panel of over 11,600 probability distributions provided by top financial executives and spanning nearly a decade of stock market expectations. Our results show that financial executives are severely miscalibrated: realized market returns are within the executives’ 80% confidence intervals only 33% of the time. We show that miscalibration improves following poor market performance periods because forecasters extrapolate past returns when forming their lower forecast bound (“worst case scenario”), while they do not update the upper bound (“best case scenario”) as much. Finally, we link stock market miscalibration to miscalibration about own-firm project forecasts and increased corporate investment.

I’m not aware of any entrepreneurship studies that distinguish miscalibration from optimism, in the sense those terms are used here. Am I missing something?

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26 July 2010 at 12:56 pm 5 comments

Summary of Dodd-Frank Act

| Peter Klein |

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — I’ll refrain from snarks about the title — was signed into law today by President Obama. Here is a very useful summary by William Sweet of the Act’s contents and likely consequences. In a nutshell: “The Dodd-Frank Act effects a profound increase in regulation of the financial services industry. The Act gives U.S. governmental authorities more funding, more information and more power. In broad and significant areas, the Act endows regulators with wholly discretionary authority to write and interpret new rules.” Aren’t you shocked that it passed?

Update: Larry Ribstein is not happy. Weil Gotshal provides further details.

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21 July 2010 at 11:33 am 5 comments

Miscellaneous Organizational Links

| Peter Klein |

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16 July 2010 at 12:22 am 3 comments

Interview with Josh Lerner

| Peter Klein |

Paul Kedrosky interviews Josh Lerner for Kauffman’s “Infectious Talk” series. Josh is one of the top researchers and teachers working at the intersection of entrepreneurship and finance, and is always worth reading (or listening to, if you prefer the podcast version).

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15 June 2010 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

CFP: “Law, Economics, and Finance”

| Peter Klein |

Mike Jensen keynotes this September 2010 conference at York University in Toronto on the links between ethics and finance:

As the world economy struggles out of the financially induced recession, the concept of ethical or socially responsible investment, along with corresponding calls for regulation, will play an increasingly important role in the study of finance for both privately held and publicly traded companies. While there has been a growing literature on law and finance, largely through cross-country studies of publicly traded companies, with somewhat less work on the ethics and finance of publicly traded companies, there has been comparatively little work at the intersection of these topics. As well, there has been comparatively little work on the intersection between law and finance and/or between the ethics and finance of privately held companies. We believe this gap needs to be filled.

The submission deadline is 1 June, so get your manuscripts ready. Full details below the fold: (more…)

25 May 2010 at 10:49 pm 1 comment

Intro to The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur

| Peter Klein |

Here’s a nicely formatted HTML version of the introduction to The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur. I’d apologize for the self-promotion but, well, isn’t that the whole point of blogging?

(PS: Those of you who like to run your transactions through Amazon can get the book here. Not sure about a Kindle edition but I’m told an epub version will be available soon.)

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17 May 2010 at 4:52 pm 1 comment

Manne on Fama and French

| Peter Klein |

An open letter to Gene Fama and Ken French from Henry Manne (also running today at Truth on the Market):

Dear Gene and Ken:

I must say that I was totally flabbergasted when I read your recent blog posting on insider trading. I know that your usual posts on investments, which I often cite to friends, are well-informed and empirically supported; your work over the years on these topics is important and influential — and rightly so. Unfortunately, in this post, you have deviated from your usual high quality. Anyone current on the topic of insider trading will recognize that you have been careless in your selection of anti-insider-trading arguments and that you omitted from your brief note the major part of the argument about insider trading: whether and how much it contributes to market efficiency. To say this is a strange omission coming from Fama and French would be an understatement.

Your first error is to assume that the insider trading debate is about informed trading only by “top management.” I suspect that this error may flow from my original argument for using insider trading to compensate for entrepreneurial services in a publicly held company, a matter you do not mention and which I will not pursue here except to note that “entrepreneurial services” does not equate to top management. Strangely no one seems to notice that most of the celebrated cases on the subject have not involved corporate personnel at all (a printer, a financial analyst, a lawyer, and Martha Stewart). (more…)

17 May 2010 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

Scribd Version of Book

| Peter Klein |

I just learned I can embed the full document right here in a blog entry. Very cool!

View this document on Scribd

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13 May 2010 at 10:07 pm 8 comments

Goldman in the Dock

| Craig Pirrong |

I have several reactions to the SEC’s fraud complaint against Goldman.

First, some of the more sensationalist reporting emphasizes that Goldman was short the RMBS structures that it was selling to its customers. (Yeah, it’s the NYT, basing its opinion on reporting by Wretched Gretchen Morgenson, so take it for what it’s worth–meaning not much.) Well, that’s true, but Goldman was also long.  After all, it was the counterparty, the protection seller, to Paulson’s CDS.  It then entered into offsetting transactions. Goldman was essentially a conduit of risk between other financial firms and Paulson. Note paragraph 66 of the complaint, which indicates that Goldman paid most of the $840 million it received on short positions in the  Abacus deals to Paulson. Goldman claimed in its response to the government’s Wells Notice that it was actually long because it retained a slice of the risk; the protection it sold to Paulson was for a larger portion of the potential losses than covered by the protection it bought from ACA Capital.   (more…)

19 April 2010 at 9:12 pm Leave a comment

Quoted in the WSJ, Kinda Sorta

| Peter Klein |

Earlier this week AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka wrote a predictable WSJ piece blaming private equity for various economic and social ills. PE firms, you see, are “unregulated and shrouded in secrecy, and they extract big profits while the companies, their employees and many of their investors lose.” Um, OK. A few sentences later he says it again: PE firms “function with virtually no oversight. Despite managing trillions of dollars and employing millions of Americans, they operate as a shadow financial system — in secret, free to take on outsized risks, and make huge bets with no outside supervision.” Hmmmm, one might think the limited partners who provide the funds — usually sophisticated, experienced investors holding  substantial equity stakes — would exercise a wee bit of supervision, but never mind. Trumka goes on to demand that PE firms be forced to make all their information public, defeating one of the main purposes of private equity. (Hey, Rich, when will the minutes of that last AFL-CIO board meeting show up on your Twitter feed?)

Today’s paper includes several responses, some supplying actual arguments and evidence on the nature and effects of private equity. One letter notes that “[r]esearchers at the University of Missouri found that private equity-backed companies that exited between 1984 and 2006 grew employment by an average of more than 13% a year over the life of the private-equity investment.”  The writer is citing my paper with John Chapman, “Value Creation in Middle-Market Buyouts: A Transaction-Level Analysis,” which came out earlier this year in a Wiley finance handbook series. (You can download an SSRN version here.) We report financial, operating, and employment performance for a sample of 288 middle-market transactions collected, through surveys and interviews, from 13 US PE firms. The results suggest that PE firms create substantial economic value. A shout-out by name would have been nice, but it’s nice to be noticed.

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17 April 2010 at 10:53 pm Leave a comment

Why the Movie Industry Doesn’t Like “Trading Places” as a Reality Show

| Craig Pirrong |

The most recent derivatives/speculation kerfuffle involves something novel — futures contracts on movie box office receipts. Two entities, Cantor Fitzgerald and Movie Derivatives, Inc. have announced plans to introduce such contracts. The film industry is in a tizzy at the prospect, and has enlisted the help of the usual anti-speculation suspects on Capitol Hill.

The virulence of the reaction is interesting, and deserves explanation. Here’s my initial stab at the problem. (more…)

9 April 2010 at 9:10 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).
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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).
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