Posts filed under ‘Food and Agriculture’

Bottom-up Approaches to Economic Development

| Peter Klein |

Via Michael Strong, a thoughtful review and critique of Western-style economic development programs and their focus on one-size-fits-all, “big idea” approaches. Writing in the New Republic, Michael Hobbs takes on not only Bono and Jeff Sachs and USAID and the usual suspects, but even the randomized-controlled-trials crowd, or “randomistas,” like Duflo and Banerjee.  Instead of searching for the big idea, thinking that “once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket,” we should support local, incremental, experimental, attempts to improve social and economic well being — a Hayekian bottom-up approach.

We all understand that every ecosystem, each forest floor or coral reef, is the result of millions of interactions between its constituent parts, a balance of all the aggregated adaptations of plants and animals to their climate and each other. Adding a non-native species, or removing one that has always been there, changes these relationships in ways that are too intertwined and complicated to predict. . . .

[I]nternational development is just such an invasive species. Why Dertu doesn’t have a vaccination clinic, why Kenyan schoolkids can’t read, it’s a combination of culture, politics, history, laws, infrastructure, individuals—all of a society’s component parts, their harmony and their discord, working as one organism. Introducing something foreign into that system—millions in donor cash, dozens of trained personnel and equipment, U.N. Land Rovers—causes it to adapt in ways you can’t predict.

19 November 2014 at 11:25 am 2 comments

Making Money from Behavioral Social Science?

| Peter Klein |

Longtime readers of this blog expect skepticism about behavioral social science. One of my issues is the assumed, but unexplored, assumption that private actors and market institutions cannot deal with behavioral anomalies, and therefore government intervention is necessary to make people act “rationally.” But if we can really improve health outcomes by putting the chocolate cake behind the carrot sticks in the display case, why wouldn’t profit-seeking entrepreneurs exploit this fact? Consumers pay substantial price premiums for organic produce, grass-fed meats, and other healthy products, even when the purported health benefits are long-term and uncertain. Wouldn’t some patronize the behavioral-economics-influenced grocer? “Our shelves are arranged to encourage healthy food choices.” Add earth tones, hipster music, an onsite juice bar, and the place will make as much money as your local Whole Foods.

To be a little less flippant: consider adverse selection theory. Many people misread Akerlof’s famous paper as a call for government regulation of used-car markets (or, worse, as a demonstration that used-car markets can’t exist). In fact, as Akerlof states plainly in the original piece, his theory explains the existence of private assurance mechanisms such as warranties, third-party certification, quality signalling, and the like.

A recent Forbes piece puts it this way: How do you make money by helping mitigate behavioral anomalies? Cognitive biases “have been accepted into the mainstream of economics and pop culture, particularly since the recent publication of popular books such as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge, Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Even so, relatively few companies have attempted to use behavioral economics to try to change people’s behavior around overeating, smoking, or other bad habits many are desperate to break.” The focus is on the diet company StickK, which takes advantage of loss aversion (pun intended) to help people achieve weight and other goals. 

StickK is a cool site, and I hope it is successful. But, if behavioral theory is so powerful and general, why aren’t more entrepreneurs taking advantage of it?

13 August 2014 at 2:42 pm 8 comments

Epistemic Mind Games

| Dick Langlois |

I had a brief mental hiccup today when I received an email advertisement from Stanford University Press for a book called Epinets: The Epistemic Structure and Dynamics of Social Networks by Mihnea C. Moldoveanu and Joel A. C. Baum. Because the ad carried prominently the SUP logo — a stylized fir tree — and because epinette is the Canadian French word for spruce tree, I thought for a nanosecond that I was being offered a treatise on conifer biology, penned by a man whose name means “tree.” But no. It’s a book of organizational sociology. “Drawing on artificial intelligence, the philosophy of language, and epistemic game theory, Moldoveanu and Baum formulate a lexicon and array of conceptual tools that enable readers to explain, predict, and shape the fabric and behavior of social networks.” Might be worth glancing at, if only to find out what epistemic game theory is. (Perhaps it is as opposed to ontological game theory.)

Of course, the Palo Alto of the Stanford seal is not a spruce. It’s a coast redwood, also called a sequoia.

6 March 2014 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment

Critical Agrifood Scholarship

| Peter Klein |

A friend tipped me off to this, um, interesting paper on farmers markets, which the authors place within the larger field of “critical agrifood scholarship.” We all know what “critical” means, and I’m familiar with much of the agrifood literature, but I didn’t know about this particular field. I learned a lot from the paper about the slow-food movement’s ability to “create political transformation,” and build a “radicalized space” even though such markets “cluster around property and privilege.” The authors seek to “unpack the racialized and class-inflected narratives at play in farmers markets [and] to extend the alternative agriculture movement’s strategic rupturing of the veil of commodity fetishism to include the systemic inequalities on which both conventional and alternative agriculture depend.” How about that thesis statement! In passing, the authors manage to chide the slow-food movement’s “complacency with capitalism and consumerism, systems that are inherently exploitative and divisive,” while adding editorial remarks to such important scientific phenomena as “the working class performances of ‘god, guns and country’ that fill the rhetoric of the GOP.”

Thank goodness for taxpayer-subsided universities. If there were a free market for higher education, this kind of valuable scholarship would probably be grossly underfunded.

20 April 2013 at 1:32 am 4 comments

Don’t Fear the Reaper

| Peter Klein |

An important contribution to the history of technology and the relationship between technology, organization, and strategy:

Gordon Winder’s The American Reaper is a solid and significant contribution to the history of American grain harvesting implements. Winder offers several revisionist challenges to standard accounts, both those that have treated Cyrus McCormick as a heroic inventor, as well as those that have touted the International Harvester Corporation (IHC, formed in 1902) as a path-breaking model of a vertically integrated and internationally dominant firm. . . . Reaper manufacturers forged licensing agreements, subcontracted with suppliers and branch factories, shared expert personnel and innovations, hired widely dispersed sales agents, and formed alliances to protect patent advantages in order to remain competitive.

Read the rest of the EH.Net review here.

15 November 2012 at 11:21 pm 2 comments

Cooking as Entrepreneurship

| Peter Klein |

To honor Julia Child on her 100th birthday, Lynne Kiesling writes a nice post combining three of my favorite things: cooking, entrepreneurship theory, and Austrian economics. Good cooking is about the combination of heterogeneous resources, it requires experimentation and creativity, and it either works or it doesn’t. Most important:

A system that will yield the most valuable and pleasing combinations of entrepreneurial economic or cooking activities will have low entry barriers (anyone can try to cook!) and a robust feedback-based system of error correction. Low entry barriers facilitate creativity in discovering new useful products from the raw elements, as well as enabling new value creation when some of those raw elements change. Error correction, whether a “yuck, that’s gross!” at home or a lack of profits due to low repeat business at a restaurant, is most effective and valuable when there are feedback loops that can inform the cook-producer about the value that the consumer did or did not get from the dish.

This emphasis on error correction highlights one of my differences with Kirzner’s approach to entrepreneurship. In Kirzner’s system, which emphasizes entrepreneurship as a coordinating agency, the entrepreneur is modeled as “piercing the fog” of uncertainty — hence the familiar metaphor of entrepreneurship as the discovery of preexisting profit opportunities. My approach focuses on action, not discovery, and gives a larger role to uncertainty. What generates coordination, in this approach, is the entrepreneurial selection process, not the “correctness” of entrepreneurial decisions.

Incidentally, Saras Sarasvathy often uses cooking to illustrate her “effectual” approach to entrepreneurial decision-making (i.e., cooks don’t always follow a recipe to produce a known dish, but use the ingredients they have in a sequential, experimental process). And for more on food, see here and here.

15 August 2012 at 10:10 pm 11 comments

The Science of Design

| Peter Klein |

Rob King’s 2011 AAEA Presidential Address, “The Science of Design,” takes its cue from Herbert Simon.

[M]uch of what we do as economists is akin to what Simon calls natural science. We develop theories about how the economy works, and we conduct empirical studies that test these theories or estimate the parameters of key economic relationships that explain how general results derived from our theories manifest themselves in a particular context.We strive for results that explain what is or that predict what will be. . . .

Economists also design economic artifacts (e.g., markets, contracts, organizational structures, public policies) that reshape economic systems in order to better meet human needs. This work, which I will call economic design, is complementary with but differs fundamentally from economic analysis. While economic analysis is motivated by a question or a puzzle and focuses on explaining what is and predicting what will be, economic design is motivated by a problem or opportunity and focuses on what can be and ought to be or on what will yield a satisfactory outcome. . . .

While we are comfortable in recognizing “good science” in economic analysis, I believe we have devoted less attention to developing a shared understanding of “good science” in economic design.

It is certainly true that economists are increasingly involved in economic design (a trend that accelerated around WWII) though I am less sure this is a good idea. A lot of economic design — specifying “optimal” contracts, for example — might be considered the domain of entrepreneurs, not social scientists. But applied policy work is certainly of this character, so the essay may be read as a call for applied economists to pay closer attention to issues like decomposability, modularity, search, creativity, etc.  (See Dick’s work for rich discussions of these issues.)

Kudos to Rob for a thoughtful and intelligent piece. A friend calls it “perhaps the most interesting President’s Address from AAEA in the last 20 years.”

11 January 2012 at 10:56 am 1 comment

Vive les French (Fries)!

| Peter Klein |

Most people don’t know that France is McDonald’s second-most popular market, despite the presumed French distaste for les choses américaines. Knowledge@Wharton has a nice piece suggesting that the firm’s willingness to cater to French tastes explains its success over local and multinational rivals:

In France, barely 10% of meals are eaten outside the home, compared to nearly 40% in the U.S. and the U.K. Unlike their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, French consumers rarely snack between breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a result, French meal times also last longer, and more food is consumed through multiple courses, creating unique opportunities and challenges for fast-food dining. McDonald’s decided to capitalize on the opportunity. Rather than run promotions that encourage snacking, the company freed up valuable labor by installing electronic ordering kiosks, which are used by one out of every three customers in more than 800 of its restaurants. McDonald’s has capitalized on the French cultural preference for longer meals by using surplus labor to provide table-side service, particularly in taking orders from lingering diners inclined to order an additional coffee or dessert item. Thanks to such initiatives, the average French consumer spends about US$15 per visit to McDonald’s — four times what their American counterparts spend.

Adding the McCafé — featuring macaroons baked by the same company that supplies Ladurée — was another savvy move.

3 January 2012 at 5:30 pm 8 comments

Another Job Opening

| Peter Klein |

Following up Nicolai’s post, here’s another job listing for O&M readers interested in vertical integration and supply-chain issues in food, fiber, and natural resources (forwarded at the  request of Karin Hakelius). Feel free to share similar listings with us and we’ll post them here. (We assume most of you already see the announcements posted at JOE, the BPS and ENT lists of AoM, etc.). (more…)

21 December 2011 at 4:01 pm 3 comments

A Turkey of a Thanksgiving Post

| Peter Klein |

Many US bloggers try to post something clever on Thanksgiving about religious freedom, agricultural productivity, colonialism, property rights, immigration, etc. We’ve done it ourselves. But this year I thought I’d share something different: nerdy academic stuff about — what else? — the economic organization of the turkey industry. Tomislav Vukina’s 2001 paper on vertical integration in poultry is instructive. For example:

The pattern of vertical integration is less uniform in the turkey industry than in the broiler industry. A turkey company is less likely to own its own hatchery but is more likely to have company owned production farms (Martin et al. 1993). There is also more variation among production contracts in terms of division of risks and profits from growing turkeys than in the broiler industry. The processing plant is the center for control of placement.

A processor may contract directly with farmers or contract with a feed supplier who in turn contracts with farmers. In the turkey industry, there are still some independent producers with formal marketing contracts with processors. Such marketing contracts do not always provide any price or margin guarantees to producers. (more…)

23 November 2011 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment


| Peter Klein |

The Call for Papers for the 2012 ISNIE conference, 14-16 June 2012 at the University of Southern California, is now posted. Proposals are due 30 January 2012, so start working on those abstracts!

I have been involved with ISNIE for many years and currently serve as the organization’s treasurer. The conferences are terrific, with a variety of papers, panels, and keynotes spanning the broad range of institutional and organizational social science research.

Trivia: I first met the good Professor Foss at the inaugural ISNIE conference in 1997 in St. Louis So if it weren’t for ISNIE, this blog might not exist. . . .

15 November 2011 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

CFP: “Managing Wicked Problems: The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Engagements”

| Peter Klein |

O&M friend Brent Ross sends along this CFP for a track session of the 2012 Wageningen International Conference on Chain and Network Management. The session, “Managing Wicked Problems: The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Engagements for Resource and Value Creation,” is linked to a special issue of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review. Info below the fold: (more…)

26 October 2011 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

The Institutional Revolution

| Peter Klein |

I’m very excited about Doug Allen’s forthcoming book The Institutional Revolution (University of Chicago Press). Trained by Yoram Barzel (and hence part of the Tree of Zvi), Doug is a leading contemporary scholar on property rights, transaction costs, contracting, and economic history. His work on agricultural contracting with Dean Lueck, including their 2002 book The Nature of the Farm, is a classic contribution to the economics literature on economic organization. He also has a very good introductory textbook. More information is at Doug’s informative (and amusing) website.

Here’s the cover blurb for the new book:

Few events in the history of humanity rival the Industrial Revolution. Following its onset in eighteenth-century Britain, sweeping changes in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and technology began to gain unstoppable momentum throughout Europe, North America, and eventually much of the world—with profound effects on socioeconomic and cultural conditions.

In The Institutional Revolution, Douglas W. Allen offers a thought-provoking account of another, quieter revolution that took place at the end of the eighteenth century and allowed for the full exploitation of the many new technological innovations. Fundamental to this shift were dramatic changes in institutions, or the rules that govern society, which reflected significant improvements in the ability to measure performance—whether of government officials, laborers, or naval officers—thereby reducing the role of nature and the hazards of variance in daily affairs. Along the way, Allen provides readers with a fascinating explanation of the critical roles played by seemingly bizarre institutions, from dueling to the purchase of one’s rank in the British Army.

Engagingly written, The Institutional Revolution traces the dramatic shift from premodern institutions based on patronage, purchase, and personal ties toward modern institutions based on standardization, merit, and wage labor—a shift which was crucial to the explosive economic growth of the Industrial Revolution.

Bonus: Here’s the syllabus from Doug’s course on the economics of property rights.

4 September 2011 at 9:43 pm 3 comments

Upcoming Conferences

| Peter Klein |

  • ISNIE, 16-18 June in Palo Alto. Registrations are closed but latecomers could try lobbying the Treasurer to accept a late payment — never mind, that’s me, don’t bother.
  • “Open Source, Innovation, and New Organizational Forms,” 1 August in Johannesburg. “This first IPEG conference intends to explore new theoretical and empirical advances in open source organization: the interest is not just on voluntary Open Source Software production and its potential innovation implications, but also on such related ‘open source’ phenomena as collective invention, online collaboration (e.g., Wikipedia), online social networking (e.g., Facebook), open innovation, open science, open source biology, and open standards.” The conference website is not live as of this posting, but organizer Giampaolo Garzarelli can provide details. O&M’s Dick Langlois is a keynote speaker. 500-word abstracts are due 24 June.
  • “Achieving Coexistence of Biotech, Conventional & Organic Foods in the Marketplace,” 26-28 October in Vancouver. Speakers include FAO Deputy Director General Ann Tutweiler and Canadian Ag Minister Gerry Ritz. Coexistence conferences have been held every other year since 2003; the first 3 conferences came out of EU Commission efforts, the next was in Australia, and this one is the first to be held in North America. A co-organizer tells me “we hope to bring a more ‘practical’ view of coexistence than is commonly held in Europe.”

10 June 2011 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership

| Peter Klein |

Earlier this academic year I assumed the Directorship of the McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership here at the University of Missouri. My colleague (and former O&M guest blogger) Randy Westgren retains the position of McQuinn Chair. The McQuinn Chair was established in 2004 through a generous gift from Al and Mary Agnes McQuinn, and the Center was created soon afterwards by Bruce Bullock, the inaugural McQuinn Chair.

Look for a slate of exciting programs and activities about entrepreneurship, organization, innovation, strategy, and more in the coming months. To keep you up to date on the Center’s activities, as well as news and information from the wider world of entrepreneurship, we’re blogging as well at entrepreneurship@McQuinn.

23 March 2011 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

University Restructuring, Agricultural Economics Edition

| Peter Klein |

The current issue of AAEA Exchange, the newsletter of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (formerly American Agricultural Economics Association), features three perspectives on the long-term viability of maintaining separate departments of economics and agricultural economics. (Much of the discussion would apply to business economics departments too.) Ron Mittelhammer of Washington State argues for consolidation, Ken Foster of Purdue for keeping separate departments, and Rob King of Minnesota for the transformation of agricultural economics departments to applied economics departments.

The issues are organizational and strategic and familiar to O&M readers. Mittelhammer emphasizes tangible resources and a shared intellectual heritage and downplays accumulated routines and capabilities, organizational culture, etc.:

Arguably above all other rationale, mergers are also warranted because, fundamentally, economics is economics. Agricultural economics is a field of economics, not some other paradigm of economics, and is no more distinct from its parent discipline than other fields such as labor economics, international economics, health economics. . . .

Too often of late, it appears that the last ditch attempt at justifying the separation of economic units degenerates to the issue of faculty personalities, the correlated issue of seemingly unbridgeable differences in “professional cultures,” and the fear of open faculty warfare that might be ignited by a merger, rather than the existence of truly distinct and defensible differences in the methodologies used to do economic analysis in agricultural and applied, versus the “other” economics disciplines. (more…)

17 January 2011 at 8:40 am 2 comments

History of Agricultural Research to 1945

| Peter Klein |

The importance of agricultural research in the intellectual history of science should be self-evident. Justus Liebig (1803-1873) was a key figure in both the development of laboratory methodology and agricultural science. Gregor Mendel’s (1822-1884) famous experiments were in plant breeding. Louis Pasteur’s (1822-1895) most celebrated work was on the cattle disease, anthrax. William Bateson (1861-1926), who coined the term genetics, was the first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in London, 1910-1926. Statistician, geneticist, and eugenics proponent R. A. Fisher (1890-1962) was employed by the Rothamsted Experimental Station, 1919 to 1933 (and temporarily relocated there from 1939 to 1943). Interwar and postwar virologists and molecular biologists did a great deal of work on the economically destructive tobacco mosaic virus.

From a very informative post at the history-of-science blog Ether Wave Propaganda (via Randy). In economics and management we’d have to add large swathes of production economics and risk-management research, the early papers in agency and contract theory dealing with sharecropping and land tenure, Grilliches’s work on hybrid corn, and much more. What else would you put on the list?

3 December 2010 at 1:49 am 4 comments

Interesting New Books

| Peter Klein |

In place of the “What I’ve Been Reading Lately” posts that show up regularly on certain blogs, I hereby offer something slightly less egocentric, the “What I’ve Been Receiving Lately” post. It contains a list of books I’ve recently received by mail, some by choice, others because publishers sent them (perhaps hoping I’d blog about them — Mission Accomplished!). Not the most scientific sample selection process, but there you go.

15 November 2010 at 4:39 pm 5 comments

PENSA 20th Anniversary

| Peter Klein |

Congratulations to Decio Zylbersztajn and the rest of the group at PENSA on their 20th anniversary. PENSA, a research center within the University of São Paulo, is the home of New Institutional Economics research and teaching in Brazil (and Latin America more generally), producing papers, training graduate students, hosting international conferences, and other activities. The group celebrated its 20th year with a party this past weekend. You can see current and former PENSA personnel in the photo below, including Decio, my Missouri colleague Fabio Chaddad (to Decio’s right), Luciana Florencio de Almeida (just in front of Decio), Paulo Furquim de Azevedo (back row), Sergio Lazzarini (front row), Sylvia Saes (middle row, right side), and other well-known New Institutional Scholars.

The current issue of the Revista de Administração da Universidade de São Paulo has an article on financial constraints and agricultural contracting in Brazil by Decio, Luciana, and me.

7 November 2010 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

Assorted Links

| Peter Klein |

25 October 2010 at 3:43 pm 3 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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