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December 3, 2012

Business Cycles May Arise from "the Summation of Random Causes," Rather than from Creative Destruction



The Slutsky result summarized below would seem to imply that you can explain business cycles without fingering creative destruction as the culprit, as Schumpeter had seemed to do. The costs of creative destruction are thus reduced, and the case for creative destruction strengthened.


(p. 232) Phil Davies and Joe Mahon investigate "The Meaning of Slutsky." "A middleaged professor working at a Moscow think tank, [Eugen] Slutsky was virtually unknown to economists in Europe and the United States when he published his landmark paper on cyclical phenomena in 1927. In a bold statistical experiment, Slutsky demonstrated that random numbers subjected to statistical calculations similar to those used to reveal trends in economic time-series formed wavelike patterns indistinguishable from business cycles. The implication was that a similar stochastic process--'the summation of random causes,' as Slutsky described it--might be at work in the actual economy, causing prosperity to ebb and flow without the agency of sunspots, meteorological patterns or other cyclical forces. 'That was a hell of an idea,' said Robert Lucas, a University of Chicago economist who pioneered modern business cycle theory, in an interview. 'It was just a huge jump from what anyone had done.'


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: bracketed name in original.)


The published version of the article summarized by Taylor is:

Davies, Phil, and Joe Mahon. "The Meaning of Slutsky." The Region (Dec. 2009): 13-17, 42-46.






October 28, 2012

The Kairos of Creative Destruction in Medicine



Wikipedia tells us that "Kairos" "is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment)."


(p. x) With a medical profession that is particularly incapable of making a transition to practicing individualized medicine, despite a new array of powerful tools, isn't it time for consumers to drive this capability? The median of human beings is not the message. The revolution in technology that is based on the primacy of individuals mandates a revolution by consumers in order for new medicine to take hold.

Now you've probably thought "creative destruction" is a pretty harsh term to apply to medicine. But we desperately need medicine to he Schumpetered, to be radically transformed. We need the digital world to invade (p. xi) the medical cocoon and to exploit the newfound and exciting technological capabilities of digitizing human beings. Some will consider this to be a unique, opportune moment in medicine, a veritable once-in-a-lifetime Kairos.

This book is intended to arm consumers to move us forward.



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

(Note: italics in original.)






October 24, 2012

"Our World Has Been "Schumpetered""



"Schumpeter" is now a verb!


(p. v) In the mid-twentieth century Joseph Schumpeter, the noted Austrian economist, popularized the term "creative destruction" to denote transformation that accompanies radical innovation. In recent years, our world has been "Schumpetered." By virtue of the intensive infiltration of digital devices into our daily lives, we have radically altered how we communicate with one another and with our entire social network at once. We can rapidly turn to our prosthetic brain, the search engine, at any moment to find information or compensate for a senior moment. Everywhere we go we take pictures and videos with our cell phone, the one precious object that never leaves our side. Can we even remember the old days of getting film developed? No longer is there such a thing as a record album that we buy as a whole--instead we just pick the song or songs we want and download them anytime and anywhere. Forget about going to a video store to rent a movie and finding out it is not in stock. Just download it at home and watch it on television, a computer monitor, a tablet, or even your phone. If we're not interested in getting a newspaper delivered and accumulating enormous loads of paper to recycle, or having our hands smudged by newsprint, we can simply click to pick the stories that interest us. Even clicking is starting to get old, since we can just tap a tablet or cell phone in virtual silence. The Web lets us sample nearly all books in print without even making a purchase and efficiently download the whole book in a flash. We have both a digital, virtual identity and a real one. This profile just scratches the surface of the way our lives have been radically transformed through digital innovation. Radically transformed. Creatively destroyed.


Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






October 22, 2012

Paul Samuelson, in 2009 Interview, Says Economists Should Study Economic History



Clarke Conor interviewed Paul Samuelson in the summer of 2009. Since Samuelson died in October 2009, the interview was one of his last.

Samuelson was a student of Joseph Schumpeter at Harvard, and Schumpeter worked to get Samuelson financial support and a job. Near the end of his life, Schumpeter was ridiculed when he warned National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) economists that they should not neglect economic history.

It took Paul Samuelson a long time to appreciate Schumpeter's truth.


Very last thing. What would you say to someone starting graduate study in economics? Where do you think the big developments in modern macro are going to be, or in the micro foundations of modern macro? Where does it go from here and how does the current crisis change it?

Well, I'd say, and this is probably a change from what I would have said when I was younger: Have a very healthy respect for the study of economic history, because that's the raw material out of which any of your conjectures or testings will come. And I think the recent period has illustrated that. The governor of the Bank of England seems to have forgotten or not known that there was no bank insurance in England, so when Northern Rock got a run, he was surprised. Well, he shouldn't have been.

But history doesn't tell its own story. You've got to bring to it all the statistical testings that are possible. And we have a lot more information now than we used to.



For the full interview, see:

Clarke, Conor. "An Interview with Paul Samuelson, Part Two." The Atlantic (2009), http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/06/an-interview-with-paul-samuelson-part-two/19627/.

(Note: bold indicates Conor question, and is bolded in original.)

(Note: the interview was posted on The Atlantic online website, but I do not believe that it ever appeared in the print version of the magazine.)






October 20, 2012

Much Innovation Has "Nothing to Do with Science--It's Just Creative Mankind Chipping Away at Things"



(p. 122) VANE and MULHEARN: The prize rewards specific discoveries, achievements, or breakthroughs in economic science. Your pioneering contributions have opened up a rich seam of research for others to mine. Does academic knowledge largely progress through the lead taken by a small number of creative innovators?
PHELPS: That's such a good question. It resonates with a subject in the area of innovation theory. The old guys like Arthur Spiethoff thought that progress was due to the great discoveries of the scientists and navigators. Schumpeter (1934) (p. 123) didn't depart altogether from that, he simply said, well, that's right but you've got to have some entrepreneur to actually implement it. But don't think there's much creativity there--everybody knows what's in the air. And it's very rare that anything new really gets created in the course of this development work. But now we don't think about innovation in that way so much. We recognize that once in a while there is a big leap which creates the ground for a surge of innovations to follow. Nowadays we realize that an awful lot of innovation just comes from business people operating at the grass roots having ideas on the basis of what they see around them. Nothing to do with science--it's just creative mankind chipping away at things. I know that the Sens and the Mundells and the Lucases are towering figures, but they couldn't have become so if they hadn't read a lot of papers by, well, pretty average people who are just doing a good job of exploring a question and giving inspiration. I guess the towering figures are people with just a little more drive, a little more imagination, just a little cleverer in putting some things together. In other words, I don't know the answer to the question [laughter].


For the full interview, from which the above is quoted, see:

Vane, Howard R., and Chris Mulhearn, interviewers. "Interview with Edmund S. Phelps." Journal of Economic Perspectives 23, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 109-24.






March 10, 2012

"Crises Are an Inevitable Concomitant of Risk"



(p. 11) Some economic risks are worth taking, and crises are an inevitable concomitant of risk. Crises, like firm failures, can be seen as a manifestation of the Schumpeterian process of creative destruction. The role for economic analysis is to ensure that the creation dominates and that the destruction is not too costly.


Source:

Eichengreen, Barry. Capital Flows and Crises. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.






February 29, 2012

Successful Innovation Depends More on Will than on Intellect



(p. 9) The odysseys of [Lasseter, Catmull, Smith and Jobs], and of Pixar as a whole, bring to mind the observation of the maverick economist Joseph Schumpeter that successful innovation "is a feat not of intellect, but of will." Writing about the psychology of entrepreneurs in the early twentieth century, a rime when the subject was unfashionable, he believed few individuals are prepared for "the resistances and uncertainties incident to doing what has not been done before." Those who braved the risks of failure did so out of noneconomic as well as economic motives, among them "the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one's energy and ingenuity." In Pixar's case, at least, the resistances and uncertainties were abundant--as was the will.


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





February 20, 2012

Nasar Gives Compelling Portrait of Joseph Schumpeter and His Vienna



Grand-PursuitBK2012-02-05.jpg














Source of book image: http://luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/grand-pursuit.jpg





(p. C31) Ms. Nasar gives us Belle Époque Vienna -- infatuated with modernity and challenging London in the race to electrify with new telephone service, state-of-the-art factories and power-driven trams -- and then a devastating picture of Vienna at the end of World War I: war veterans loitering outside restaurants waiting for scraps, and desperate members of a middle class that saw inflation wipe out all its savings trading a piano for a sack of flour, a gold watch chain for a few sacks of potatoes.


. . .


Among the more compelling portraits in this volume is that of Joseph Alois Schumpeter, the brilliant European economist who argued that the distinctive feature of capitalism was "incessant innovation" -- a "perennial gale of creative destruction" -- and who identified the entrepreneur as the visionary who could "revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention" or "an untried technological possibility."



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Economist's Progress: Better Living Through Fiscal Chemistry." The New York Times (Fri., December 2, 2011): C31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 1, 2011.)







January 30, 2012

Creative Destruction Creates as Many New Jobs as It Destroys



(p. 113) It was Joseph Schumpeter who pointed out that the competition which keeps a businessman awake at night is not that from his rivals cutting prices, but that of entrepreneurs making (p. 114) his product obsolete. As Kodak and Fuji slugged it out for dominance in the 35mm film industry in the 1990s, digital photography began to extinguish the entire market for analogue film - as analogue records and analogue video cassettes had gone before. Creative destruction, Schumpeter called it. His point was that there is just as much creation going on as destruction - that the growth of digital photography would create as many jobs in the long run as were lost in analogue, or that the savings pocketed by a Wal-Mart customer are soon spent on other things, leading to the opening of new stores to service those new demands. In America, roughly 15 per cent of jobs are destroyed every year; and roughly 15 per cent created.


Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





December 27, 2011

Companies Can Grow to Greatness in Brutally Turbulent Environments



(p. 118) All that said, there remains a question: what about "the perennial gale of creative destruction" as described by the famous twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter, wherein technological change and visionary entrepreneurs upend and destroy the old order and create a new order, only to see their new order destroyed and replaced by an even newer order, in an endless cycle of chaos and upheaval? Perhaps all social institutions in our modern world face disruptive forces so fast, big, and unpredictable that every entity will fall within years or decades, without exception. Can we still stave off decline in the face of severe turbulence?

While working on How the Mighty Fall, my colleague Morten Hansen and I have been simultaneously working on a six-year research project to study companies that grew from vulnerability to greatness in severe environments characterized by rapid and unpredictable change in contrast to others that did not prevail in the same brutally turbulent environments.



Source:

Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

(Note: italics in original.)






November 9, 2011

Schumpeter's Simile for Capitalist Mobility



(p. 156) In fact, the upper strata of society are like hotels which are indeed always full of people, but people who are forever changing.



Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated by Redvers Opie. translation of 2nd German edition that appeared in 1926; translation first published by Harvard in 1934 ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1983.





October 27, 2011

Schumpeter on the Difference Between "Making a Road and Walking Along It"



(p. 85) Carrying out a new plan and acting according to a customary one are things as different as making a road and walking along it.



Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated by Redvers Opie. translation of 2nd German edition that appeared in 1926; translation first published by Harvard in 1934 ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1983.






September 16, 2011

Art Diamond Describes Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction







The clip above is embedded from You Tube. It was recorded on July 6, 2011 in Mammel Hall, the location of the College of Business at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I am grateful to Charley Reed of UNO University Relations for doing a great job of shooting and editing the clip.





August 29, 2011

In 1880s Prices Fell Because of Technological Progress



RecentEconomicChangesBK.jpg
















Source of book image: http://covers.openlibrary.org/b/id/5764338-L.jpg







Michael Perelman has strongly suggested that I read David Well's book. It is on my "to do" list.



(p. C10) The dull title of "Recent Economic Changes" does no justice to David A. Wells's fascinating contemporary account of a deflationary miasma that settled over the world's advanced economies in the 1880s. His cheery conclusion: Prices were falling because technology was progressing. What had pushed the price of a bushel of wheat down to 67 cents in 1887 from $1.10 in 1882 was nothing more sinister than the opening up of new regions to cultivation (Australia, the Dakotas) and astounding improvements in agricultural machinery.


For the full review, see:

JAMES GRANT. "FIVE BEST; Little-Known Gold From the Gilded Age." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 6, 2011): C10.


Source of book under review:

Wells, David A. Recent Economic Changes and Their Effect on Production and Distribution of Wealth and Well-Being of Society. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889.


Michael Perelman argues that in Recent Economic Changes, David Wells anticipates the substance, although not the wording, of Schumpeter's "creative destruction":

Perelman, Michael. "Schumpeter, David Wells, and Creative Destruction." The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9, no. 3 (Summer 1995): 189-97.





July 30, 2011

Capitalism Was Not Inevitable



RelentlessRevolutionBK.jpg













Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/519PfT2oUtL.jpg




(p. 15) What is the nature of capitalism? For Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian-born economist whose writings have acquired a special relevance in the past year or two, this most modern of economic systems "incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one." Capitalism, Schumpeter proclaimed, cannot stand still; it is a system driven by waves of entrepreneurial innovation, or what he memorably described as a "perennial gale of creative destruction."

Schumpeter died in 1950, but his ghost looms large over Joyce Appleby's splendid new account of the "relentless revolution" unleashed by capitalism from the 16th century onward. Appleby, a distinguished historian who has dedicated her career to studying the origins of capitalism in the Anglo-American world, here broadens her scope to take in the global history of capitalism in all its creative -- and destructive -- glory.

She begins "The Relentless Revolution" by noting that the rise of the economic system we call capitalism was in many ways improbable. It was, she rightly observes, "a startling departure from the norms that had prevailed for 4,000 years," signaling the arrival of a new mentality, one that permitted private investors to pursue profits at the expense of older values and customs.

In viewing capitalism as an extension of a culture unique to a particular time and place, Appleby is understandably contemptuous of those who posit, in the spirit of Adam Smith, that capitalism was a natural outgrowth of human nature. She is equally scornful of those who believe that its emergence was in any way inevitable or inexorable.


. . .


. . . , she captures how a new generation of now forgotten economic writers active long before Adam Smith built a case "that the elements in any economy were negotiable and fluid, the exact opposite of the stasis so long desired." This was a revolution of the mind, not machines, and it ushered in profound changes in how people viewed everything from usury to joint stock companies. As she bluntly concludes, "there can be no capitalism . . . without a culture of capitalism."


. . .


The individual entrepreneur is at the center of her analysis, and her book offers thumbnail sketches of British innovators from James Watt to Josiah Wedgwood. She continues on to the United States and Germany, giving readers a whirlwind tour of the lives and achievements of a host of men whom she calls "industrial leviathans" -- Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie in the United States; Thyssen, Siemens and Zeiss in Germany. All created new industries while destroying old ones.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN MIHM. "Capitalist Chameleon." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., January 24, 2010): 15.

(Note: ellipses added except for the one in the "there can be no capitalism . . . without a culture of capitalism" quote.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated January 22, 2010.)


Book under review:

Appleby, Joyce. The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.





April 3, 2011

U.S. Holds "Edge in Its Openness to Innovation"



TycoonsBK2011-03-11.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.tower.com/tycoons-how-andrew-carnegie-john-d-rockefeller-jay-charles-r-morris-paperback/wapi/100346776?download=true&type=1



(p. 24) Judging by Charles R. Morris's new book, "The Tycoons," it takes about 100 years for maligned monopolists and "robber barons" to morph into admirable innovators.

Morris skillfully assembles a great deal of academic and anecdotal research to demonstrate that Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and J. P. Morgan did not amass their fortunes by trampling on the downtrodden or ripping off consumers - . . .


. . .


Though Morris only hints at it, the truth is that the real heroes of the American industrial revolution were not his four featured tycoons, but the American people themselves. I don't mean this to sound like a corny burst of patriotism. In the 19th century, the United States was still young. Most families had either been booted out of Europe or fled it, and they didn't care about tradition or the Old Guard. With little to lose, they were willing to bet on a roll of the dice, even if it was they who occasionally got rolled. Europe was encrusted with guilds, unions and unbendable rules. Britons took half a day to make a rifle stock, because 40 different tradesmen poked their noses into the huddle. American companies polished off new rifle stocks in 22 minutes.

The United States still holds an edge in its openness to innovation. In 1982, French farmers literally chased the French agriculture minister, Edith Cresson, off their fields with pitchforks because she suggested reform. By contrast, back in the late 1850's, Abraham Lincoln was a hot after-dinner speaker. Was he discussing slavery? No. The title of his talk was "Discoveries and Inventions." The real root of economic growth is not natural resources or weather or individual genius. It's attitude, not latitude. The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called innovations gales of "creative destruction." Americans, not Europeans, had the gall to stare into those gales - with optimism.



For the full review, see:

TODD G. BUCHHOLZ . "'The Tycoons': Benefactors of Great Wealth." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 2, 2005): 24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the title "'The Tycoons': Benefactors of Great Wealth.")


Book under review:

Morris, Charles R. The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy. New York: Times Books, 2005.





March 17, 2011

Koch Does Not Run with the Antelope



If you were standing amongst a herd of antelope when a dangerous predator arrived, you would not see the antelope defending themselves against the predator. What you would see would be their white rear ends disappearing in the distance.

Last July in Wichita I heard some executives from Koch Industries talking about Market-Based Management. A couple of them mentioned Koch's stands in defense of the free market. As a result of these efforts, Koch Industries has become the target of many agencies of the government and of groups opposed to the free market. Once or twice I heard an executive say something like: 'it would have been a lot easier if we had just painted our butts white and run with the antelope.'

Schumpeter thought that those in business would not defend the fortress of capitalism (CSD, p. 142). And the evidence suggests that Schumpeter was mainly right. But we can hope that there are enough exceptions, in unpretentious places like Wichita, to keep the fortress standing.


(p.A15) Years of tremendous overspending by federal, state and local governments have brought us face-to-face with an economic crisis. Federal spending will total at least $3.8 trillion this year--double what it was 10 years ago. And unlike in 2001, when there was a small federal surplus, this year's projected budget deficit is more than $1.6 trillion.

Several trillions more in debt have been accumulated by state and local governments. States are looking at a combined total of more than $130 billion in budget shortfalls this year. Next year, they will be in even worse shape as most so-called stimulus payments end.

For many years, I, my family and our company have contributed to a variety of intellectual and political causes working to solve these problems. Because of our activism, we've been vilified by various groups. Despite this criticism, we're determined to keep contributing and standing up for those politicians, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are taking these challenges seriously.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "Why Koch Industries Is Speaking Out; Crony capitalism and bloated government prevent entrepreneurs from producing the products and services that make people's lives better." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., MARCH 1, 2011): A15.


Koch's book is:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.





March 5, 2011

Caballero Worries about the Relevance of Mainstream Macro Modeling



In the past, I have found some of MIT economist Ricardo Caballero's research useful because he takes Schumpeter's process of creative destruction seriously.

In a recent paper, he joins a growing number of mainstream economists who worry that the recent and continuing economic crisis has implications for the methodology of economics:


In this paper I argue that the current core of macroeconomics--by which I mainly mean the so-called dynamic stochastic general equilibrium approach--has become so mesmerized with its own internal logic that it has begun to confuse the precision it has achieved about its own world with the precision that it has about the real one. This is dangerous for both methodological and policy reasons. On the methodology front, macroeconomic research has been in "fine-tuning" mode within the local-maximum of the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium world, when we should be in "broad-exploration" mode. We are too far from absolute truth to be so specialized and to make the kind of confident quantitative claims that often emerge from the core. On the policy front, this confused precision creates the illusion that a minor adjustment in the standard policy framework will prevent future crises, and by doing so it leaves us overly exposed to the new and unexpected.


Source:

Caballero, Ricardo J. "Macroeconomics after the Crisis: Time to Deal with the Pretense-of-Knowledge Syndrome." NBER Working Paper # w16429, October 2010.


The paper has been published as:

Caballero, Ricardo J. "Macroeconomics after the Crisis: Time to Deal with the Pretense-of-Knowledge Syndrome." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 85-102.





February 13, 2011

Internet Enabled Creative Destruction



(p. R4) To understand the challenges that faced businesses the past 10 years, consider the household names that didn't make it through the decade: Anheuser-Busch, Compaq, Gillette, Enron, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, WorldCom.


. . .


As the decade rolled on, the Internet came to be known for destroying businesses. It upended decades-old business models in fields such as media, advertising, travel and entertainment, as consumers and advertisers migrated to the digital world.

But that same shift created opportunity. No one epitomized that better than Google Inc. A mere 15 months old at the beginning of the decade, it morphed from a startup technology company into an advertising and media powerhouse and is now plotting a move into communications. There, it will clash with Apple Inc., which was reborn following the return of co-founder Steve Jobs in 1997. Apple's iPod and iTunes reshaped the music industry; its iPhone revolutionized communications by opening itself to independent innovators.

"This is what [Austrian economist Joseph] Schumpeter had in mind with his term 'creative destruction,'" says Paul David, an economic historian at Stanford University. Industrial collapse is a "messy, messy process," Mr. David says. "It's a great drama, and watching it play out in this decade has been very interesting."



For the full story, see:

SCOTT THURM. "Creativity, Meet Destruction; The Decade Rewrote the Corporate Handbook, Thanks to the Web, Globalization and the Collapse of Two Bubbles." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 21, 2009): R4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 22, 2009.)





December 20, 2010

Government "Gave People the Crazy Juice"



BoettkePete2010-12-19.jpg "Peter J. Boettke of George Mason University is the emerging standardbearer for a revived Austrian school of economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Peter J. Boettke, shuffling around in a maroon velour track suit or faux-leather rubber shoes he calls "dress Crocs," hardly seems like the type to lead a revolution.

But the 50-year-old professor of economics at George Mason University in Virginia is emerging as the intellectual standard-bearer for the Austrian school of economics that opposes government intervention in markets and decries federal spending to prop up demand during times of crisis. Mr. Boettke, whose latest research explores people's ability to self-regulate, also is minting a new generation of disciples who are spreading the Austrian approach throughout academia, where it had long been left for dead.

To these free-market economists, government intrusion ultimately sows the seeds of the next crisis. It hampers what one famous Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter, called the process of "creative destruction."


. . .


(p. B3) It wasn't a lack of government oversight that led to the crisis, as some economists argue, but too much of it, Mr. Boettke says. Specifically, low interest rates and policies that subsidized homeownership "gave people the crazy juice," he says.




For the full story, see:

KELLY EVANS. "Spreading Hayek, Spurning Keynes; Professor Leads an Austrian Revival." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 28, 2010): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





November 20, 2010

Capitalism's Market Entrepreneurs Benefit the Common Man



VanderbiltFiskCartoon2010-11-14.jpg"Rails to riches: An 1870 cartoon depicting James Fisk's attempt to stop Cornelius Vanderbilt from gaining control of the Erie Railroad Company." Source of caption and cartoon: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


I have read H.W. Brands' Masters of Enterprise book and found that it contained some interesting anecdotes, but not very insightful interpretation. From Amity Shlaes' uswdul review quoted below, I would expect the same from Brands' most recent book.


(p. C7) Mr. Brands laments that capitalism's triumph in the late 19th century created a disparity between the "wealthy class" and the common man that dwarfs any difference of income in our modern distribution tables. But this pitting of capitalism against democracy will not hold. When the word "class" crops up in economic discussions, watch out: it implies a perception of society held in thrall to a static economy of rigid social tiers. Capitalism might indeed preclude democracy if capitalism meant that rich people really were a permanent class, always able to keep the money they amass and collect an ever greater share. But Americans are an unruly bunch and do not stay in their classes. The lesson of the late 19th century is that genuine capitalism is a force of creative destruction, just as Joseph Schumpeter later recognized. Snapshots of rich versus poor cannot capture the more important dynamic, which occurs over time.

One capitalist idea (the railroad, say) brutally supplants another (the shipping canal). Within a few generations--and in thoroughly democratic fashion--this supplanting knocks some families out of the top tier and elevates others to it. Some poor families vault to the middle class, others drop out. If Mr. Brands were right, and the "triumph of capitalism" had deadened democracy and created a permanent overclass, Forbes's 2010 list of billionaires would today be populated by Rockefellers, Morgans and Carnegies. The main legacy of titans, former or current, is that the innovations they support will produce social benefits, from the steel-making to the Internet.

The second failing of "Colossus" is its perpetuation of the robber-baron myth. Years ago, historian Burton Folsom noted the difference between what he labeled political entrepreneurs and market entrepreneurs. The political entrepreneur tends to compete over finite assets--or even to steal them--and therefore deserves the "robber baron" moniker. An example that Mr. Folsom provided: the ferry magnate Robert Fulton, who operated successfully on the Hudson thanks to a 30-year exclusive concession from the New York state legislature. Russia's petrocrats nowadays enjoy similar protections. Neither Fulton nor the petrocrats qualify as true capitalists.

Market entrepreneurs, by contrast, vanquish the competition by overtaking it. On some days Cornelius Vanderbilt was a political entrepreneur--perhaps when he ruined those traitorous partners, for instance. But most days Vanderbilt typified the market entrepreneur, ruining Fulton's monopoly in the 1820s with lower fares, the innovative and cost-saving tubular boiler and a splendid advertising logo: "New Jersey Must Be Free." With market entrepreneurship, a third party also wins: the consumer. Market entrepreneurs are not true robbers, for their ruining serves the common good.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "An Age of Creative Destruction." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 16, 2010): C7.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 29 (sic), 2010.)


The book under critical review by Shlaes:

Brands, H.W. American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900. New York: Doubleday, 2010.


The Folsom book rightly praised in passing by Shlaes is:

Folsom, Burton W. The Myth of the Robber Barons. 4th ed: Young America's Foundation, 2003.





October 7, 2010

Creative Destruction Book Is Useful for Documenting Dynamism of U.S. Firms



CreativeDestructionBK.jpg












Source of book image: http://www.innovation-creative.com/IMAGES/Livres_innovation_2/Foster_&_Kaplan/Foster_&_Kaplan-(US).jpg



The first couple of chapters of Creative Destruction are useful at providing some statistics on the degree of dynamism in U.S. companies over the past century or so.

In the rest of the book the authors present some interesting examples and refer to some useful research, but too often fall into the too-quick and too-easy management fad-advice mode---and Christensen and Raynor make a sound point in claiming that Foster and Kaplan sometimes oversell their main point.

Still there is some thought-provoking material here and there. I will be quoting a couple of the neater insights in the next couple of weeks.


Book discussed:

Foster, Richard N., and Sarah Kaplan. Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market---and How to Successfully Transform Them. New York: Currency Books, 2001.





July 28, 2010

"A Rare Phenomenon in Europe -- A Genuine Business Celebrity"



HayekNicolas2010-07-08.jpg












"Nicolas Hayek was asked to help shut the troubled Swiss watch industry, but instead he revived it by introducing the Swatch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Richard Langlois has used the story of Nicolas Hayek to illustrate why Schumpeter was wrong when he worried that the entrepreneur might become obsolete.


(p. A23) Nicolas Hayek, a Lebanese-born business consultant who is widely credited with having saved the Swiss watch industry with the introduction of the Swatch, the inexpensive, plastic -- and, as it transpired, highly collectible -- wristwatch that made its debut in 1983, died Monday in Biel, Switzerland. He was 82.

Mr. Hayek, a founder and the chairman of the Swatch Group, died of heart failure while working at the company's headquarters, according to an announcement on the company Web site.

The formation of the Swatch Group, which in addition to Swatch today comprises high-end watch brands like Breguet, Omega, Longines, Tissot, Calvin Klein and Mido, made Mr. Hayek one of Switzerland's wealthiest men. The exquisite irony is that the company came about after Mr. Hayek was brought in to help shut the foundering Swiss watch industry altogether.

A flamboyant figure with a roguish sense of humor, Mr. Hayek was "a rare phenomenon in Europe -- a genuine business celebrity," as The Harvard Business Review described him in 1993.



For the full story, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Nicolas Hayek Dies at 82; His Swatch Saved an Industry." The New York Times (Tues., June 29, 2010): A23.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 28, 2010.)


Nicolas Hayek's entrepreneurship is nicely summarized and analyzed on pp. 59-65 of:

Langlois, Richard N. The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and the New Economy. London: Routledge, 2006.





June 4, 2010

At Apple Wozniak Was the Inventor, and Jobs Was the Entrepreneur



iWozBK2010-05-18.jpg















Source of book image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_TwOg8fVl5Og/SkXmn7MyaxI/AAAAAAAAAug/G-klN-KQHis/s1600/iWoz.jpg




iWoz is a fun read, with wild fluctuations in the significance of what is written. When Wozniak writes about the ingredients of inventiveness, it is significant. When he talks about his pranks, or his obsessions with certain number combinations, it is strange. (Maybe I just haven't figured out the significance of Wozniak's quirks---I once heard George Stigler say that even the mistakes of a great mind were worth pondering.)

In the next few weeks I'll be quoting a few of the more significant passages.

An over-riding lesson from the book, is the extent to which both Wozniak and Jobs were necessary for the Apple achievement. Wozniak was a genius inventor, but he did not have the drive or the skills, or the judgment of the entrepreneur.

Schumpeter famously distinguished invention from innovation. Wozniak was the inventor, and Jobs was the innovator (aka, the entrepreneur).


Book discussed:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.






March 9, 2010

The Entrepreneur as the Agent of Creative Destruction



(p. 132) . . . the function of entrepreneurs is to reform or revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention or, more generally, an untried technological possibility for producing a new commodity or producing an old one in a new way, by opening up a new source of supply of materials or a new outlet for products, by reorganizing an industry and so on. Railroad construction in its earlier stages, electrical power production before the First World War, steam and steel, the motorcar, colonial ventures afford spectacular instances of a large genus which comprises innumerable humbler ones--down to such things as making a success of a particular kind of sausage or toothbrush. This kind of activity is primarily responsible for the recurrent "prosperities" that revolutionize the economic organism and the recurrent "recessions" that are due to the disequilibrating impact of the new products or methods. To undertake such new things is difficult and constitutes a distinct economic function, first, because they lie outside of the routine tasks which everybody understands and, secondly, because the environment resists in many ways that vary, according to social conditions, from simple refusal either to finance or to buy a new thing, to physical attack on the man who tries to produce it. To act with confidence beyond the range of familiar beacons and to overcome that resistance requires aptitudes that are present in only a small fraction of the population and that define the entrepreneurial type as well as the entrepreneurial function. This function does not essentially consist in either inventing anything or otherwise creating the conditions which the enterprise exploits. It consists in getting things done.



Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 18, 2010

Establishments Assume New Methods Are Unsound Methods



(p. 188) For the next two years, Conway coordinated her efforts under Sutherland at PARC with Mead's ongoing work at Caltech. But she was frustrated with the pace of progress. There was no shortage of innovative design ideas; computerized design tools had advanced dramatically since Mead's first efforts several years before. Yet the industry as a whole continued in the old rut. As Conway put it later, the problem was "How can you take methods that are new, methods that are not in common use and therefore perhaps considered unsound methods, and turn them into sound methods?" [Conway's italics].

She saw the challenge in the terms described in Thomas Kuhn's popular book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. it was the problem that took Boltzmann to his grave. It was the problem of innovation depicted by economist Joseph Schumpeter in his essays on entrepreneurship: new systems lay waste to the systems of the past. Creativity is a solution for the creator and the new ventures he launches. But it wreaks dissolution--"creative destruction," in Schumpeter's words-- for the defenders of old methods. In fact, no matter how persuasive the advocates of change, it is very rare that an entrenched establishment will reform its ways. Establishments die or retire or fall in revolution; they only rarely transform themselves.




Source:

Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.

(Note: italics in original.)





October 5, 2009

The Economist Starts a Column Named "Schumpeter"



SchumpeterAirplaneGraphic.jpg











Source of Schumpeter stairway to innovation graphic (my name for it): http://media.economist.com/images/20090919/D3809WB0.jpg


Thanks to Shane Eloe for alerting me that in their Sept. 19th issue, The Economist started a column named "Schumpeter." Here are a couple of paragraphs from their first installment:


(p. 78) Joseph Schumpeter was one of the few intellectuals who saw business straight. He regarded business people as unsung heroes: men and women who create new enterprises through the sheer force of their wills and imaginations, and, in so doing, are responsible for the most benign development in human history, the spread of mass affluence. "Queen Elizabeth [I] owned silk stockings," he once observed. "The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort...The capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses." But Schumpeter knew far too much about the history of business to be a cheerleader. He recognised that business people are often ruthless monomaniacs, obsessed by their dreams of building "private kingdoms" and willing to do anything to crush their rivals.

Schumpeter's ability to see business straight would be reason enough to name our new business column after him. But this ability rested on a broader philosophy of capitalism. He argued that innovation is at the heart of economic progress. It gives new businesses a chance to replace old ones, but it also dooms those new businesses to fail unless they can keep on innovating (or find a powerful government patron). In his most famous phrase he likened capitalism to a "perennial gale of creative destruction".




For the full commentary, see:

"Schumpeter; Taking flight; This week we launch a new column on business and management. Why call it Schumpeter?" The Economist (Sat., Sept. 19, 2009): 78.

(Note: the online version was dated Thurs., Sept. 17th)

(Note: ellipsis in original.)





October 2, 2009

Obama Should Remember that a Tariff War Helped Create the Great Depression



As an economics graduate student at Harvard, David Rockefeller was a student of Joseph Schumpeter.

After Schumpeter died, his wife spent the last few years of her life working to pull together the disorganized, but nearly completed, manuscript of Schumpeter's magnificent History of Economic Analysis. In her preface, Mrs. Schumpeter writes: "It seems appropriate at this point to acknowledge gratefully a gift from David Rockefeller and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation which made possible much of the secretarial and editorial assistance outlined above." (p. x)

Below I quote a few passages from David Rockefeller's reaction to Obama's imposition of tariffs on Chinese automobile tires:


(p. A21) AS if he needed another policy concern to distract him from the health care debate, President Obama now finds himself embroiled in a quarrel with China over his imposition of a steep tariff on automobile tires from that country that is to take effect this week. The Chinese have responded by threatening to impose higher tariffs on American chicken. This may seem like a petty dispute, but the controversy could endanger the global economic recovery if the underlying issue -- the rise in protectionism --is not resolved quickly and forcefully. Perhaps Washington has justification for increasing tariffs in this particular case, but in general it sets a bad precedent.

President Obama should resist the desire to accommodate the forces of protectionism from unions, environmentalists and cable television pundits alike. Giving in to their demands may be politically astute, but it would send the wrong message to our trading partners and, more important, inflict damage on the already weakened American economy. Despite the recent rally in the stock market, the next two or three years could still be very painful.

I lived through the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it, and I saw that there was no direct cause and effect relationship. Rather, there were specific governmental actions and equally important failures to act, often driven by political expediency, that brought on the Depression and determined its severity and longevity.

One critical mistake was America's retreat from international trade. This not only helped to turn the 1929 stock market decline into a depression, it also chipped away at trust between nations, paving the way for World War II.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID ROCKEFELLER. "Present at the Trade Wars." The New York Times (Mon., September 21, 2009): A21.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated Sun., Sept. 20.)





September 3, 2009

When the Berries Are Scarce, Keep Your Eyes Open for Gold



SvenssonWiikSwedishEntrepreneurs2009-08-14.jpg "Harriet Svensson, left, and Siv Wiik, amateur geologists and berry-picking grandmothers, at the site where they found gold." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Schumpeter focued on entrepreneurial innovation, while Kirzner focused on entrepreneurial alertness.

The article quoted below, presents a neat example of a couple of Kirznerian entrepreneurs:


(p. A9) OVERTURINGEN, Sweden -- It was a lousy blueberry season in 2007, said Siv Wiik, 70, one of a pair of Swedish grandmothers now credited with discovering what experts say may be one of the richest gold deposits in Europe. "That year it was too cold in the spring, so there were few berries," she said.

Berry picking is a serious business to Mrs. Wiik (pronounced VEEK), who was born in this village of 171, and her friend, Harriet Svensson, 69. For 40 years the two, widows with children and grandchildren, have explored every patch of field and forest clearing in the region, hunting for mushrooms and wild berries -- blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cloudberries.

But the women are also amateur geologists. They never leave home for a stroll in forests or fields without their geologists' hammers, with their 30-inch handles, and their magnifying eyepieces, dangling from ribbons around their necks.

So in that terrible August when the blueberry crop failed, they decided to poke around for minerals. They went to a place called Sorkullen, far down an unpaved logging road, where trees had recently been felled, upending the earth and exposing rock to the air. Using their hammers, they cleared soil from around the stones, digging for about six hours, deeper and deeper, until they found a rock with a dull glimmer.


. . .


A huge Swedish lumber conglomerate, S.C.A., owns the land where they found the gold, but not the mineral rights. So they proceeded to obtain the rights for a large area around the find, then entered into negotiations, alone and without lawyers, with about 20 mining companies from Sweden and abroad, finally choosing Hansa Resources, of Vancouver, Canada.

This month, Hansa began boring at the site to obtain samples to send to Vancouver for analysis. "Whether it's gold or not, even with a high-grade ore, you cannot see it with the naked eye," said Anders Hogrelius, project manager for the drilling. "This was a surprise, and I think it's positive, since it shows that it's worthwhile to go outside the traditional mining areas."

The windfall for the women has until now been modest. Hansa paid the women about $125,000 for the mining rights, and if a second round of boring is authorized this fall, the company will pay an additional $225,000. But the women have also been given a 20 percent stake in any future mining activities, which could yield a bonanza for many years to come.


. . .


Mr. Hogrelius, the drilling project manager, said a fully operating mine would bring jobs. "We usually estimate five jobs created in services for every one in the mines," he said. A first estimate of initial investment, he added, comes to about $15 million.



For the full story, see:

JOHN TAGLIABUE. "Overturingen Journal; Barren Berry Season Leads to Far Richer Discovery." The New York Times (Mon., July 13, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


SwedenMap.jpg











"A mine in Overturingen could provide much-needed jobs." Source of map and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





August 31, 2009

Creative Destruction Is Scary, but "Inevitable and Probably Even Desirable"



(p. 5) Development is a complicated phenomenon. Decades before he popularized the phrase "creative destruction," Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian School economist, was honing his ideas about innovation and disruptive change in "The Theory of Economic Development."

Disruptive change, creative destruction, is what I'm living every day. In the big cities, India's economic development can seem so simple. Business thrives, the middle and upper classes are celebrating, and the country is moving inexorably ahead.

But around here, where a way of life is disappearing and no one knows what will take its place, where someone seems to lose for everyone who wins, it's a lot harder to know what to make of India's economic boom. From my vantage point, development seems both wonderful and frightening; it is both inspiring and, at times, dispiriting.

People sometimes ask me how I feel about India's economic development. I tell them the truth. I say I don't know. I say I feel ambivalent about the passing of a world I knew as a child, a transition that I know is inevitable and probably even desirable. But I haven't reconciled myself to it yet.



For the full commentary, see:

AKASH KAPUR. "An Indian Says Farewell to Poverty, With Jitters." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., August 8, 2009): 5.






August 16, 2009

Richard Langlois on Why Capitalism Needs the Entrepreneur



DynamicsOfIndustrialCapitalismBK.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/Dynamics-Industrial-Cpitalism-Schumpeter-Lectures/dp/0415771676/ref=sr_11_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1204828232&sr=11-1



Schumpeter is sometimes viewed as having predicted the obsolescence of the entrepreneur, although Langlois documents that Schumpeter was always of two minds on this issue.

Langlois discusses Schumpeter's ambivalence and the broader issue of the roles of the entrepreneur and the corporation in his erudite and useful book on The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism. He concludes that changing economic conditions will always require new industrial structures, and the entrepreneur will always be needed to get these new structures built.

(I have written a brief positive review of the book that has recently appeared online.)



Reference to Langlois' book:

Langlois, Richard N. The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and the New Economy. London: Routledge, 2006.


Reference to my review of Langlois' book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Review of Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and the New Economy." EH.Net Economic History Services, Aug 6 2009. URL: http://eh.net/bookreviews/library/1442


Apparently Langlois likes my review:

http://organizationsandmarkets.com/2009/08/07/another-nanosecond-of-fame/




LangloisRichard2009-08-12.jpg




"Richard N. Langlois." Source of photo and caption: http://www.clas.uconn.edu/facultysnapshots/images/langlois.jpg






June 16, 2009

Entrepreneur's Dresses "Would Save Mothers Endless Work"



Schumpeter would have loved the passage quoted below---it is a wonderful example for his argument that capitalism mainly benefits ordinary people of modest means.


(p. 147) Listen to how Borgenicht describes his decision to expand beyond aprons:


From my study of the market I knew that only three men were making children's dresses in 1890. One was an East Side tailor near me, who made only to order, while the other two turned out an expensive product with which I had no desire at all to compete. I wanted to make "popular price" stuff--wash dresses, silks, and woolens. It was my goal to produce dresses that the great mass of the people could afford, dresses that would--from the business angle--sell equally well to both large and small, city and country stores. With Regina's help--she always had excellent taste, and judgment--I made up a line of samples. Displaying them to all my "old" customers and friends, I hammered home every point--my dresses would save mothers endless work, the materials and sewing were as good and probably better than anything that could be done at home, the price was right for quick disposal.



Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.





May 4, 2009

Do Recessions Sometimes Encourage Creative Destruction?



DesktopPCbroken2009-02-15.jpg Source of image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) The dot-com bust earlier in the decade dragged down high-fliers like Sun Microsystems and America Online but set the stage for a new generation of Web powerhouses like Google and other innovative Internet software companies like Salesforce.com, founded on disrupting the status quo.

The recession of the early 1990s sent I.B.M., then the dominant force in technology, into a five-year tailspin. But it also propelled Microsoft and Compaq, later acquired by Hewlett-Packard, and Dell to the forefront of computing.

Indeed, Silicon Valley may be one of the few places where businesses are still aware of the ideas of Joseph Schumpeter, an Austrian economist who wrote about business cycles during the first half of the last century. He said the lifeblood of capitalism was "creative destruction." Companies rising and falling would unleash innovation and in (p. B4) the end make the economy stronger.

Recessions "can cause people to think more about the effective use of their assets," said Craig R. Barrett, the retiring chairman of Intel, who has seen 10 such downturns in his long career. "In the good times, you can get a bit careless or not focused as much on efficiency. In bad times, you're forced to see if there is a technology" that will help.

So who's up, who's down and who's out this time around? Microsoft's valuable Windows franchise appears vulnerable after two decades of dominance. Revenue for the company's Windows operating system fell for the first time in history in the last quarter of 2008. The popularity of Linux, a free operating system installed on many netbooks instead of Windows, forced Microsoft to lower the prices on its operating system to compete.

Intel's high-power processors are also under assault: revenue tumbled by 23 percent last quarter, marking the steepest decline since 1985.

Meanwhile, more experimental but lower-cost technologies like netbooks, Internet-based software services (called cloud computing) and virtualization, which lets companies run more software on each physical server, are on the rise.



For the full story, see:

BRAD STONE and ASHLEE VANCE. "$200 Laptops Break a Business Model." The New York Times (Mon., January 25, 2009): B1 & B4.






March 10, 2009

Larry Moss Made a Difference



MossLarry2009-03-09.jpg












Laurence S. Moss

Source of photo: http://www3.babson.edu/academics/faculty/lmoss.cfm



On Sunday (3/8/09) I learned that Larry Moss passed away on February 24, 2009.

Larry was full of the joy of life. He was intense. He was an amateur magician, and a wit, and an energetic conversationalist. I used to run into him once a year at the History of Economics Society meetings, and always enjoyed our conversations.

He was a neo-Austrian, though not "pure" enough for some of the ultra-Rothbardians. I first met him at a long-weekend seminar in Austrian economics when I was a graduate student, and he was a presenter.

I remember that he and I thought that the dialogue would be richer, and the neo-Austrian position ultimately strengthened, if its defenders understood better some of the alternative positions. So we announced a kind of rump session during one of the free-time periods. During this session, Larry gave the attendees a brief summary of what Walras had been up to, and I summarized Becker's paper on the robustness of the law of demand to various forms of irrational and habitual behavior.

If memory serves, we suffered some mild heckling, and Larry was more severely criticized for disloyalty to the cause. (I cannot prove it, but I believe he paid a price for that in terms of invitations to future similar gatherings.)


I did not follow Larry's research systematically, but know that he wrote the definitive account of Mountifort Longfield's economics. He also had a nice, early paper in the JEL on the uses of film in teaching economics.

He took Schumpeter seriously, and wrote the script for the wonderful Schumpeter tapes in the Knowledge Products series on great economists that Kirnzer edited.

A couple of year's ago, I invited Larry to participate in the Schumpeter session that I organized at George Mason's Summer Institute for the Preservation of the History of Economic Thought. He initially agreed, but then had to withdraw because of his health.

More recently, I submitted one of my more idiosyncratic efforts (on the career consequences of writing on polywater) to the journal that Larry edited. I received excellent comments, and the editorial process was handled with grace and efficiency.


Larry was one of the "good guys" in many different ways, and the world is worse for his passing.


Here are a couple of Larry's more obscure writings, that I have found useful:

Moss, Laurence S. "Film and the Transmission of Economic Knowledge: A Report." Journal of Economic Literature 17, no. 3 (1979): 1005-19.

Moss, Laurence S. "Review: Robert Loring Allen's Biography of Joseph A. Schumpeter." American Journal of Economics and Sociology 52, no. 1 (1993): 107-18.

The reference to Larry's Schumpeter tapes is:

Moss, Laurence S. Joseph Schumpeter & Dynamic Economic Change: Capitalism as "Creative Destruction". Nashville, TN: Knowledge Products, Inc., 1988. audio.





February 8, 2009

A Toast to Schumpeter on His Birthday (February 8, 1883)


ForbesKeynesSchumpeterCover1983-05-23edited.jpg








Source: scan (and crop) of the cover of the May 23, 1983 issue of Forbes .


In the May 23, 1983 issue of Forbes there appeared a now-famous essay by the late and great management guru Peter Drucker in which he pointed out that 1983 was the centennial of the birth of both John Maynard Keynes and Joseph A. Schumpeter. He noted that in the decades since the great economists' passing, the academic and policy worlds worshiped at the feet of Keynes, and all but ignored Schumpeter (hence the many candles in front of the Keynes portrait on the cover, and the single, small candle in front of the Schumpeter portrait).

But Drucker argued that the world had gotten it wrong. Schumpeter was more important because he had understood a crucial truth: the process of creative destruction is indeed the essential fact about capitalism.


The reference for the original Drucker essay is:

Drucker, Peter F. "Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?" Forbes, May 23, 1983, 124-28.

The reference to the reprint of the Drucker essay is:

Drucker, Peter F. "Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?" In The Frontiers of Management New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999, 104-15.

A typo-laden version of the essay has been posted on the web at:

http://www.peterdrucker.at/en/texts/proph_01.html

(Note: I thank Aaron Brown for alerting me to the neat cover that appears at the top of this entry).




February 5, 2009

Inventors Move from Declining Industries to New, Expanding Industries


Petra Moser's comments (see below) about inventors applying similar ideas to different industries seem complementary to Burke's emphasis on the importance of serendipitous "connections." An inventor exposing herself to many industries' problems and products, would be more likely to see additional applications for inventions originally developed for another industry.

(p. 3) By some logic, there is no earthly reason why bicycles should still exist.

They are a quaint, 19th-century invention, originally designed to get someone from point A to point B. Today there are much faster, far less labor-intensive modes of transportation. And yet hopeful children still beg for them for Christmas, healthful adults still ride them to work, and daring teenagers still vault them down courthouse steps. The bicycle industry has faced its share of disruptive technologies, and it has repeatedly risen from the ashes.

. . .

"Much of the history of the 'American system of manufacturing' is the story of inventors moving from a declining industry to a new expanding industry," says Petra Moser, an economic historian at Stanford who studies innovation. "Inventors take their skills with them."

Gun makers learned to make revolvers with interchangeable parts in the mid-19th century, Ms. Moser says. Then those companies (and some former employees, striking out on their own) applied those techniques to sewing machines when demand for guns slackened. Later, sewing machine manufacturers began making woodworking machinery, bicycles, cars and finally trucks.

. . .

Meanwhile, we've already seen some of the "destruction" half of Joseph Schumpeter's famous "creative destruction" paradigm, with many newspapers cutting staff and other production costs. Unfortunately for newspapers, historians say, the survivors in previous industries facing major technological challenges were usually individual companies that adapted, rather than an entire industry. So a bigger shakeout may yet come.

But perhaps the destruction will lead to more creativity. Perhaps the people we now know as journalists -- or, for that matter, autoworkers -- will find ways to innovate elsewhere, just as, over a century ago, gun makers laid down their weapons and broke out the needle and thread. That is, after all, the American creative legacy: making innovation seem as easy as, well, riding a bike.



For the full commentary, see:

CATHERINE RAMPELL. "Ideas & Trends; How Industries Survive Change. If They Do." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., November 15, 2008): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)




January 24, 2009

Capitalism's Defenseless Fortress



FortressDefended.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.

(p. 143) . . . capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own; the bourgeois finds to his amazement that the rationalist attitude does not stop at the credentials of kings and popes but goes on to attack private property and the whole scheme of bourgeois values.

The bourgeois fortress thus becomes politically defenseless. Defenseless fortresses invite aggression especially if there is rich booty in them. Aggressors will work themselves up into a state of rationalizing hostility---aggressors always do.



Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.


FortressDefenseless.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.





November 28, 2008

Companies "Once as Strong as Dinosaurs But Now Just as Extinct"


From McCraw's discussion of Schumpeter's legacy:

(p. 496) No country, regardless of how long it has been prosperous, can take permanent affluence for granted. Nor can any company assume its continued existence---as names such as Digital Equipment, Pan American Airways, Pullman, Douglas Aircraft, and the Pennsylvania Railroad remind us. Each of these companies once epitomized the cutting edge not only of its own industry but of American business as a whole. And all are now in the dustbin of history, along with hundreds of thousands of other businesses of all sizes---once as strong as dinosaurs but now just as extinct.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




November 22, 2008

"Three Generations from Overalls to Overalls"


(p. 156) Because it proceeds by competitively destroying old businesses and hence the existences dependent upon them, there always corresponds to it a process of decline, of loss of caste, of elimination. This fate also threatens the entrepreneur whose powers are declining, or his heirs who have inherited his wealth without his ability. This is not only because all individual profits dry up, the competitive mechanism tolerating no permanent surplus values, but rather annihilating them by means of just this stimulus of the striving for profits which is the mechanism's driving force; but also because in the normal case things so happen that entrepreneurial success embodies itself in the ownership of a business; and this business is usually carried on further by the heirs on what soon become traditional lines until new entrepreneurs supplant it. An American adage expresses it: three generations from overalls to overalls. And so it may be. Exceptions are rare, and are more than compensated for by cases in which the descent is still faster. Because there are always entrepreneurs and relatives and heirs of entrepreneurs, public opinion and also the phraseology of the social struggle readily overlook these facts. They constitute "the rich" a class of inheritors who are removed from life's battle. In fact, the upper strata of society are like hotels which are indeed always full of people, but people who are forever changing.


Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated by Redvers Opie. translation of 2nd German edition that appeared in 1926; translation first published by Harvard in 1934 ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.




November 14, 2008

A Schumpeterian Policy Program Promotes Innovation and Creative Destruction


McCraw on the nature of "a Schumpeterian program" :

(p. 169) Yet it is not difficult to identify a Schumpeterian program---at whatever level of analysis one chooses: the individual entrepreneur, the business firm, the industry, or even the country. At all levels, Schumpeter's litmus test is whether the players are pursuing innovation and bringing about creative destruction. If they are, then the program is Schumpeterian.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




November 12, 2008

Schumpeter Learned from His Failures


McCraw (2007, p. 112) quotes from Schumpeter's diary:

Really, I don't quite regret any of my efforts and failures---every one of them taught me something about myself and life that uniform success would have hidden.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




November 4, 2008

When the Ship Is Sinking, Schumpeter Suggests: "Rush to the Pumps"



Wabash economics professor Ben Rogge's best lecture focused on a question made famous by Schumpeter: "Can Capitalism Survive?" In some ways, Ben's message was a pessimistic one.

But near the end of his lecture, Rogge included the following quote from Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

(p. xi) This leads to the charge of "defeatism." I deny entirely that this term is applicable to a piece of analysis. Defeatism denotes a certain psychic state that has meaning only in relation to action. Facts in themselves and inference from them can never be defeatist or the opposite whatever that might be. The report that a given ship is sinking is not defeatist. Only the spirit in which this report is received can be defeatist: The crew can sit down and drink. But it can also rush to the pumps.


Source of quote:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.


Reference to Rogge's collection of essays that includes the title essay mentioned above:

Rogge, Benjamin A. Can Capitalism Survive? Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1979.






October 24, 2008

L.E.D.'s as the Next Leapfrog Advance in Light



A few years ago I presented a paper at the meetings of Society for Social Studies of Science in which I mentioned Nordhaus's wonderful paper in which he measures advances in technology that produce illumination. Some of the technologies represent leapfrog advances that are part of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.

At the end of my presentation, a member of the audience gave me a reference to the new L.E.D. light technology that he suggested was the next leapfrog advance. (Alas, I do not remember his name.)


(p. C3) L.E.D. bulbs, with their brighter light and longer life, have already replaced standard bulbs in many of the nation's traffic lights. Indeed, the red, green and yellow signals are -- aside from the tiny blinking red light on a DVD player, a cellphone or another electronic device -- probably the most familiar application of the technology.

But it is showing up in more prominent spots. The ball that descends in Times Square on New Year's Eve is illuminated with L.E.D.'s. And the managers of the Empire State Building are considering a proposal to light it with L.E.D. fixtures, which would allow them to remotely change the building's colors to one of millions of variations.

. . .

The problem, though, is the price. A standard 60-watt incandescent usually costs less than $1. An equivalent compact fluorescent is about $2. But in Europe this September, Philips, the Dutch company dealing in consumer electronics, health care machines and lighting, is to introduce the Ledino, its first L.E.D. replacement for a standard incandescent. Priced at $107 a bulb, it is unlikely to have more than a few takers.

"L.E.D. performance is there, but the price is not," said Kevin Dowling, a Philips Lighting vice president . . .

. . .

"The Marcus Center lighting will require no maintenance for 15 years," Mr. Gregory said. "That's a dream for a lighting designer."

But he does not expect standard bulbs to disappear totally. Just as the invention of the light bulb did not completely kill the candle and kerosene lamp markets, Mr. Gregory said, "there will always be a need for incandescent bulbs. They will never totally go away."

"The way an incandescent bulb plays on the face on a Broadway makeup mirror," he said, "you can never duplicate that."



For the full story, see:

ERIC A. TAUB. "Fans of L.E.D.'s Say This Bulb's Time Has Come." The New York Times (Mon., July 28, 2008): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The reference to the Nordhaus paper is:

Nordhaus, William D. "Do Real-Output and Real-Wage Measures Capture Reality? The History of Light Suggests Not." In The Economics of New Goods, edited by Robert J. Gordon and Timothy F. Bresnahan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press for National Bureau of Economic Research, 1997, pp. 29-66.


LEDsNewYearsBallFullSpectrum.jpg "The full spectrum of color, design and programming available for the Times Square ball." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 21, 2008

The Current Financial Crisis Reveals a Need for Reform


As I think about the current financial crisis, I have been struck by the uncertainty among economists about what should be done. Many economists are silent. Those who speak, have offered very diverse opinions. And even among those who express opinions, there is a lack of confidence in their opinions.

Milton Friedman used to say that economists will be listened to when there is a crisis, and that economists need to be ready, as Friedman himself was with his floating exchange rate proposal. (Milton, we need you again.)

I believe that one lesson from the current crisis is that we need reform---reform of economists' research priorities and methods. We should become more interested in policy relevance, history and institutions; and less interested in mathematical rigor.

We should avoid what Schumpeter called "the Ricardian Vice." (Highly stylized, aggregated models, based on unrealistic simplifying assumptions, that are then blindly applied to policy decisions in the actual, richly "thick" world---see McCloskey's essay on thick and thin methods in economics.)

We also should spend less time in studying cute, counter-intuitive results ("freakonomics"), and spend more time on the big issues.

We should be willing to suggest institutional reforms and experiments, and participate in experiments (natural and artificial) to see how they work. (Spontaneous order is nice when it happens, but entrepreneurial vision and initiative can improve the world too.)

Capitalism has produced huge gains in longevity and standards of living. Yet capitalism is in danger of being hobbled or destroyed.

Schumpeter warned of "the crumbling of the protecting walls." We should have been better prepared to rebuild and defend them.

Note: The "Ricardian Vice" phrase is from Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis, p. 473; the "protecting walls" phrase is from Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, p. 143.

The McCloskey essay mentioned is:

McCloskey, Deirdre. "Thick and Thin Methodologies in the History of Economic Thought." In The Popperian Legacy in Economics, 245-57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.




October 19, 2008

McCraw on the Nature of Schumpeter's Defense of Socialism


McCraw on the third part of Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

(p. 359) In answer to the question that opens Part III, "Can socialism work?" Schumpeter responds with the provocative statement, "Of course it can." But a close reading of the subsequent text reveals that he actually means, "Of course (p. 360) it can't," at least in comparison with capitalism. He is now writing in full ironic mode, like the satirist Johnathan Swift. "A Modest Proposal"---Swift's famous pamphlet of 1729---had suggested that problems of famine and overpopulation could be met by one simple step: feeding children from poor families to the rich. His proposal, Swift argued, was "innocent, cheap, easy and effectual."

Schumpeter's Swiftian approach to socialism recalls to mind the delight he took as a young man in Vienna's coffeehouses, where political and artistic discussion often continued well into the night. In this kind of setting, no proposition was too absurd or too subtly hedged with conditions and exceptions . Speakers won admiration for their sarcasm and wit, no less than for the cogency of their arguments. To puncture a point of view while seeming to recommend it was especially delicious.



Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




October 15, 2008

Schumpeter Saw Keynes' Work as a "Striking Example" of "the Ricardian Vice"


McCraw on Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis:

(p. 460) . . . , Schumpeter compared Keynes to David Ricardo: "His work, is a striking example of what we have called above the Ricardian Vice, namely, the habit of piling a heavy load of practical conclusions upon a tenuous groundwork, which was unequal to it yet seemed in its simplicity not only attractive but also convincing. All this goes a long way though not the whole way toward answering the questions that always interest us, namely the questions what it is in a man's message that makes people listen to him, and why and how."


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: italics in original.)




October 11, 2008

McCraw Calls Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis "an Epic Analytical Narrative"


McCraw on Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis:

(p. 461) History of Economic Analysis succeeds where much economic writing or our own time fails, having sacrificed the messy humanity of its subject on the alter of mathematical rigor. Above all else, Schumpeter's History is an epic analytical narrative. It is about real human beings, moored in their own time, struggling like characters in a a novel to resolve difficult problems. Sometimes the problems (p. 462) are purely intellectual. Sometimes they are issues of public policy. Often they are both. But what Schumpeter was trying to do---and in fact did---was answer the deceptively simple question he posed in the early pages of his book: to discover "how economists have come to reason as they do."


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




October 8, 2008

Steve Jobs Shows Schumpeter Was Wrong About Bureaucratization of the Entrepreneurial Function


JobsSteveGauntAppearance.jpg "Steven P. Jobs during a conference in June in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article cited below.

Sometimes Schumpeter suggested that in mature capitalism, it would be possible for some aspects of entrepreneurship to be made routine enough to be performed by corporate bureaucracies.

The creative innovations of Steve Jobs, and the stock market reaction to rumors of his ill-health, illustrate that individual entrepreneurs still matter.

(p. B2) During Apple's earnings conference call Monday, Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer declined to answer an analyst's question about Mr. Jobs's health, calling it "a private matter." Apple's demurral raised new concerns among investors, who have been worried about Mr. Jobs's health since a 2004 bout with pancreatic cancer.

Their fears flared earlier this year, when Mr. Jobs appeared gaunt at a public appearance; the company at the time blamed "a common bug." The fears were stoked anew this week with a report in the New York Post that the CEO is unwell. Now, said one Apple fund investor, "everyone's worried."

Apple shares fell as low as $146.53 earlier Tuesday following the company's lackluster outlook for the current quarter. Some analysts suggested that concerns about Mr. Jobs's health were also weighing on the stock, which closed at $162.02, down $4.27, in 4 p.m. Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

. . .

The dearth of information has led investors to do their own digging over the years. In 2004, one hedge fund hired private investigators to tail Mr. Jobs to hospital appointments in the hopes of figuring out how sick he was, said a portfolio manager at the fund. Eventually, he said, Mr. Jobs "seemed to catch on," and became harder to track.

More recently, hedge-fund managers said Tuesday, fund managers have talked of asking doctors to closely analyze pictures of Mr. Jobs to monitor changes in his physical appearance, and have been talking about once again hiring investigators to find out Mr. Jobs's prognosis.



For the full story, see:
BEN CHARNY and JUSTIN SCHECK. "Worries Over Jobs's Health Weighs on the Stock." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 23, 2008): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Another relevant WSJ article is:
breakingviews.com. "GE Deal Is Looking Bright; Abu Dhabi Capital Accord Yields Potential Benefits For Both Participants; Boardroom Health." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 23, 2008): C18.

(Note: The online version of the title of this second WSJ article is: "GE's Imagination at Work Challenged at Home, Company Strikes Gusher With Abu Dhabi Linkup." )

The NYT article is:
JOHN MARKOFF. "Talk of Chief's Health Weighs on Apple's Share Price."
The New York Times (Weds., July 23, 2008): C5.


In fairness to Schumpeter, his position on this issue was frequently conflicted, as has been shown and discussed in:

Langlois, Richard N. "Schumpeter and the Obsolescence of the Entrepreneur." Advances in Austrian Economics 6 (2003): 287-302.




October 7, 2008

Schumpeter Poem on People Wanting to Be in Control of Their Lives


A few lines from an unpublished Schumpeter poem (written September 6, 1941) that McCraw quotes at length:

(p. 400) To live the lives which are our own
To manage our affairs
That's what the people wanted


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 29, 2008

Schumpeter Claimed Entrepreneurial Gains Result in New Jobs


From McCraw's summary of an article entitled "The Function of Entrepreneurs and the Interest of the Worker" that Schumpeter published in 1927 in a labor magazine :

(p. 178) Schumpeter's key point here is one he hammered home many times: it is the insatiable pursuit of success, and of the towering premium it pays, that drives entrepreneurs and their investors to put so much of their time, effort, and money into some new project whose future is completely uncertain. High entrepreneurial returns are essential to generate gains not only for individuals but also for society, through the creation of new jobs.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 25, 2008

"Schumpeter Has Courage"


McCraw quoting the diary of Schumpeter's former professor, Friedrich von Wieser:

(p. 101) "He is not misled by prevalent sentiment," the professor wrote in his diary. "Schumpeter has courage, an asset which cannot be over-praised."


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 21, 2008

Among Academic Economists Interest in Entrepreneurship is "A Quick Ticket Out of a Job"


From McCraw's discussion of Schumpeter's "legacy":

(p. 500) In the new world of academic economics, neither the Schumpeterian entrepreneur as an individual nor entrepreneurship as a phenomenon attracts much attention. For professors in economics departments at most major universities, particularly in the United States and Britain, a focus on these favorite issues of Schumpeter's has become a quick ticket out of a job. This development arose from a self-generated isolation of academic economics from history, sociology, and the other social sciences. It represented a trend that Schumpeter himself had glimpsed and lamented but that accelerated rapidly during the two generations after his death.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 17, 2008

Schumpeter's Name Forever Linked to Entrepreneurship


From McCraw's discussion of Schumpeter's "legacy":

(p. 496) Because of the importance of entrepreneurship, and because Schumpeter wrote about it with such insight and verve, his name will be forever linked to the idea.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 9, 2008

McCraw Identifies Schumpeter's "Signature Legacy"


McCraw is correct in identifying Schumpeter's "signature legacy":

(p. 495) Schumpeter's signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)




September 5, 2008

Schumpeter's Final Thoughts on the Importance of the Individual Entrepreneur



Here is McCraw discussing and quoting Schumpeter's notes for the Walgreen Lectures that he was preparing to deliver just before he died.

(p. 475) In notes he prepared in 1949 for the prestigious Walgreen Lectures, Schumpeter headed one entire section "The Personal Element and the Element of Chance: A Principle of Indeterminateness." Here, he wrote that the time had come for economists to face a problem they had long tried to dodge:

the problem of the influence that may be exerted by exceptional individuals, a problem that has hardly ever been treated without the most blatant preconceptions. Without committing ourselves either to hero worship or to its hardly less absurd opposite, we have got to realize that, since the emergence of exceptional indi-(p. 476)viduals does not lend itself to scientific generalization, there is here an element that, together with the element of random occurrences with which it may be amalgamated, seriously limits our ability to forecast the future. That is what is meant here by "a principle of indeterminateness." To put it somewhat differently: social determinism, where it is nonoperational, is a creed like any other and entirely unscientific.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.





September 2, 2008

Harvard Professor Doriot Used Venture Capital to Finance the Digital Equipment Corporation


CreativeCapitalBK.jpeg










Source of book image: http://creativecapital.wordpress.com/category/how-to-buy-creative-capital/

Doriot taught at Harvard during the whole time that Joseph Schumpeter taught at Harvard. Given that their interests apparently overlapped, it is surprising that there are no references to Schumpeter or to "creative destruction" in Ante's book.

There are also no references to Doriot in McCraw's recent comprehensive intellectual biography of Schumpeter.

(Scherer in his essay "An Accidental Schumpeterian" mentions taking a useful course from Doriot, but does not illuminate the relationship, if any, between Doriot and Schumpeter.)

(p. A17) Before Sand Hill Road near Stanford University became the center of the venture-capital universe - before Google and Pets.com - the modern market for financing risky startup companies took shape far from Silicon Valley in the years after World War II.

ARD was the first to raise what was then known as "risk capital" from outsiders at a time when investors' wounds were still fresh from the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930s. The high failure rate of start-ups had generally precluded raising money from average investors. And so ARD's chief competitors in the postwar years were the Rockefellers and another old-money operation, J.H. Whitney & Co.

. . .

The company would hardly merit attention except for its one grand slam, Digital Equipment Corp., which helped establish the East Coast high-tech stronghold along Route 128 outside Boston.

Digital, a minicomputer maker co-founded by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer Ken Olsen, received $70,000 from ARD in 1957 in return for a 70% stake, which eventually grew in value to hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr. Ante calculates the investment's return at 70,000%.

. . .

Doriot, who taught at Harvard for 40 years, beginning in 1926, offered a popular class that was ostensibly about manufacturing but was more a seminar in his business philosophy. "He stressed common sense themes such as self-improvement, teamwork, and contributing to society," Mr. Ante writes. Doriot was known for "spicing up his philosophy with practical and pithy words of advice." Among them: "Always remember that someone somewhere is making a product that will make your product obsolete."



For the full review, see:

RANDALL SMITH. "Bookshelf; Money to Make Things New." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 21, 2008): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Reference to the biography of Doriot:

Ante, Spencer E. Creative Capital: Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2008.




September 1, 2008

Schumpeter Saw that the "Demand for Teaching Produces Teaching and Not Necessarily Scientific Achievement"


From McCraw's summary of Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis:

(p. 453) During the mid-nineteenth century, universities were beginning to teach economics, but "the demand for courses and textbooks produced courses and textbooks and not much else. Does this not show that there is something to one of the theses of this book, namely, that need is not the necessary and sufficient condition of analytic advance and that demand for teaching produces teaching and not necessarily scientific achievement?"


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




August 28, 2008

Schumpeter on Civil Servants Drifting into "Bureau-Sadism"


(p. 435) . . . , the British civil service, which Schumpeter had admired ever since his youth in Vienna, had become enamored of their new role in economic planning, encouraged by the Labour government. Civil servants had drifted into "downright bureau-sadism" in their attitude toward business.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




August 24, 2008

Schumpeter on How Amphibial State Capitalism Lacks "Motive Power"


From McCraw's summary of a brief Schumpeter essay published in 1943 in Seymour Harris' Postwar Economic Problems:

(p. 424) Schumpeter went on to argue that both in the United States and in capitalist countries abroad, a high rate of public spending during the postwar period would likely evolve into total government control of investment.   . . .    Some industries might be nationalized, and if the government "should try to run the nationalized industries according to the principles of business rationality, Guided Capitalism would shade off into State Capitalism, . . . "

. . .

The overall result would likely be "an amphibial state for the calculable future." The amphibial state might well generate frictions among business, labor, and government and would not benefit from the "motive power" of either capitalism or socialism.



Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses added.)




August 20, 2008

FDR Turned Schumpeter into a Fan of Ludwig von Mises


From McCraw writing about Schumpeter:

(pp. 318-319) The New Deal struck him as still another prelude to authoritarianism. He became convinced that Roosevelt's program represented a step toward either fascism or socialism, and in either case potential dictatorship. He wrote a friend that Roosevelt was like a child mindlessly breaking a machine because he didn't understand its design. The president "is going to turn me into a fan of [Ludwig von] Mises," his classmate at the University of Vienna who had become a free-market fundamentalist and an opponent of almost all government intervention.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




August 16, 2008

Schumpeter on the Government Execution of an Entrepreneur


(p. 257) Entrenched interests fought tenaciously against mechanization and the factory system. Unlike the Prussian inventor of a ribbon-weaving loom, who was put to death in 1579 by order of the Danzig Municipal authority, "Entrepreneurs were not necessarily strangled," but "they were not infrequently in danger of their lives."


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

(Note: the phrases in quotation marks are quotations from Schumpeter's Business Cycles book.)




August 12, 2008

Schumpeter on Fools, Asses, and Academic Committees


(p. 225) The longer Schumpeter taught at Harvard, the more he came to resent the bureaucratic routines of academic life that impinged on his research and writing. He especially disliked departmental meetings, and after several years he began to refer to his colleagues as the "fools" (full professors, a play on the German pronunciation of "full") and "asses" (associate and assistant professors). "These committees!" he wrote a friend, "This mentality, that believes that the core of the world is that one committee dines and makes a report for another committee, which in turn dines."


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




August 11, 2008

Soros Warns Against Too Much Creative Destruction


SorosCryingWolf.jpg





Investor George Soros as the boy who cried "wolf" one time too often. Source of Soros caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

I have mixed feelings about George Soros. He likes Karl Popper, and I like Karl Popper. He donated a bunch of money to help worthy scholars in Eastern Europe, and financed a conference in Romania on private philanthropy, at which I gave a presentation.

On the other hand, he has also given a bunch of money to politicians who oppose economic freedom. And I think the high level of government regulation he favors would greatly reduce innovation.

(p. B2) WSJ: Are you getting recognition from heavyweights in academia or policy making?

Mr. Soros: It has certainly not penetrated academia, and not policy makers either. There was an article in The Wall Street Journal about people doing research on bubbles at Princeton, so I'm going to meet with one of them. I wish I could engage in a discussion with [the Federal Reserve]. I'm waiting for a phone call. I'm [meeting with] Alan Greenspan.

WSJ: But you are quite critical of Greenspan.

Mr. Soros: Greenspan is one of the great manipulators of financial markets. I mean it in a good way. He managed [in 2001] to forestall a more serious recession. He kept interest rates [low] too long. And he did not heed the warnings that lending standards were being lowered, that deceptive practices were being used. He was too much of a market fundamentalist. He believed that if you leave it to markets, everything will be all right. That's initially self-reinforcing, but eventually self-defeating.

WSJ: Greenspan argues that the benefits of innovation are worth the occasional bubble.

Mr. Soros: This is, of course, [Joseph] Schumpeter's creative destruction idea. However ... going overboard in generating change is not necessarily a good thing. Financial innovation may not be an unmixed blessing because it really prevents proper regulation.

If you look at the 19th century, you had creative destruction going on, one financial crisis after another. But each time you had a crisis, you had an examination of what went wrong, and you put in some instrument or some institution to prevent it from happening.

I'm not advocating ... central planning because that's worse than markets. But the regulators need to learn from the mistakes that they have made. I think it's pretty clear that you've got to accept responsibility for moderating asset bubbles. ... That involves regulating credit as well as [interest rates].



For the full story, see:

GREG IP. "Soros, the Man Who Cries Wolf, Now Is Warning of a 'Superbubble'." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 21, 2008): B1-B2.

(Note: brackets and ellipses in original.)

(Note: I am grateful to Jamie McDonald for calling this article to my attention.)




August 8, 2008

McCain "Shows a Lack of Understanding of the Insights of Joseph Schumpeter"


I agree with the Karl Rove's analysis below, that John McCain does not exhibit much understanding of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction. On the other hand, I have seen no evidence that Barack Obama has any such understanding either. (Nor have I seen any evidence that Rove's former boss, George W. Bush, has any such understanding, for that matter.)

And, in general, I am still of the belief that, overall, between the two of them, McCain will put fewer obstacles in the path of innovation than will Obama.

(p. A13) This past Thursday, Mr. McCain came close to advocating a form of industrial policy, saying, "I'm very angry, frankly, at the oil companies not only because of the obscene profits they've made, but their failure to invest in alternate energy."

But oil and gas companies report that they have invested heavily in alternative energy. Out of the $46 billion spent researching alternative energy in North America from 2000 to 2005, $12 billion came from oil and gas companies, making the industry one of the nation's largest backers of wind and solar power, biofuels, lithium-ion batteries and fuel-cell technology.

Such investments, however, are not as important as money spent on technologies that help find and extract more oil. Because oil companies invested in innovation and technology, they are now tapping reserves that were formerly thought to be unrecoverable. Maybe we are all better off when oil companies invest in what they know, not what they don't.

And do we really want the government deciding how profits should be invested? If so, should Microsoft be forced to invest in Linux-based software or McDonald's in weight-loss research?

Mr. McCain's angry statement shows a lack of understanding of the insights of Joseph Schumpeter, the 20th century economist who explained that capitalism is inherently unstable because a "perennial gale of creative destruction" is brought on by entrepreneurs who create new goods, markets and processes. The entrepreneur is "the pivot on which everything turns," Schumpeter argued, and "proceeds by competitively destroying old businesses."

Most dramatic change comes from new businesses, not old ones. Buggy whip makers did not create the auto industry. Railroads didn't create the airplane. Even when established industries help create new ones, old-line firms are often not as nimble as new ones. IBM helped give rise to personal computers, but didn't see the importance of software and ceded that part of the business to young upstarts who founded Microsoft.

So why should Mr. McCain expect oil and gas companies to lead the way in developing alternative energy? As with past technological change, new enterprises will likely be the drivers of alternative energy innovation.



For the full story, see:

KARL ROVE. "Obama and McCain Spout Economic Nonsense." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 19, 2008): A13.

(Note: I thank John Pagin and Dagny Diamond for alerting me to Rove's discussion of Schumpeter.)




August 7, 2008

Ordinary People Have Prospered in Recent Decades


CareyDrewLivingLarge.jpg




Source of image: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/02/blog-post_2174.html



Stephen Moore is right when he calls Drew Carey's "Living Large" video "wonderful."

It would be even more wonderful, if it gave a bit more emphasis, a la Schumpeter, to the positive effects of new products, in addition to its emphasis on declining prices of already existing products.

(p. W11) A few weeks ago I gave a talk on the state of the economy to a group of college students -- almost all Barack Obama enthusiasts -- who were griping about how downright awful things are in America today. As they sipped their Starbucks lattes and adjusted their designer sunglasses, they recited their grievances: The country is awash in debt "that we will have to pay off"; the middle class in shrinking; the polar ice caps are melting; and college is too expensive.

I've been speaking to groups like this one for more than 20 years, but I have never confronted such universal pessimism from a young audience. Its members acted as if the hardships of modern life are making it nearly impossible for them to get out of bed in the morning. So I conducted a survey of these grim youngsters. How many of you, I asked, own a laptop? A cellphone? An iPod, a DVD player, a flat-screen digital TV? To every question somewhere between two-thirds and all of the hands in the room rose. But they didn't even get my point. "Well, duh," one of them scoffed, "who doesn't have an iPod these days?" I was way too embarrassed to tell them that I, for one, don't. They thought that living without these products would be like going back to prehistoric times.

They seemed clueless that as recently as the early 1980s only the richest people in the world had cellphones and the quality of these products left much to be desired. Watch a movie from 20 years ago and you will laugh out loud seeing big clunky black machines that weighed as much as a brick, gave crackly service and cost $4,200. Now cellphones are practically free -- even disposable. And the cost of making calls has dropped dramatically too.

. . .

There's a wonderful new video on Reason.tv called "Living Large." In it, comedian Drew Carey goes to a lake in California where people are relaxing on $80,000 27-foot boats and goofing around on $25,000 jet skis that they have hitched to their $40,000 SUVs. Mr. Carey asks these boat owners what they do for a living. As it turns out, they aren't hedge-fund managers. One is a gardener, another a truck driver, another an auto mechanic and another a cop.

. . .

After my lecture, one young woman walked up to me on her way out and huffed: "What I favor is a radical redistribution of wealth in America." I tried to tell her that America's greatness is a result of our focus on creating wealth, not redistributing it. But it was too late -- she was already tuning in to her iPod.



For the full commentary, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "DE GUSTIBUS; The Bare Necessities: A Generation Tries to Imagine Life Without iPods." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 14, 2008): W11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The video is:

Carey, Drew. "Living Large: The Middle Class." reason.tv Posted February 8, 2008.




July 28, 2008

McCraw on Schumpeter


  Source of book image: http://reader2.com/wasp1028

I am in the process of writing a full-length review of McCraw's book for the annual Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology. Suffice it to say that McCraw's book is very useful and very interesting, and gets a lot right that is important. Most notably, McCraw appreciates that Schumpeter's central message is that innovation is what matters most about capitalism.

Source of book:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




July 18, 2008

Global Warming Alarmists "Want Us to Sacrifice Liberty"


KlausVaclavCzechPresident.jpg








President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

In addition to his insights into global warming, Vaclav Klaus is an advocate of the work of Joseph Schumpeter.

(p. A9) Mr. Klaus is . . . interested in the politics of global warming. He has written a book, tentatively titled "Blue, Not Green Planet," published in Czech last year and due out in English translation in the U.S. this May. The main question of the book is in its subtitle: "What is in danger: climate or freedom?"

He likens global-warming alarmism to communism, which he experienced first-hand in Cold War Czechoslovakia, then a Soviet satellite. While the communists argued that we must all sacrifice some freedom in pursuit of "equality," the "warmists," as Mr. Klaus calls them, want us to sacrifice liberty -- especially economic liberty -- to prevent a change in climate. In both cases, in Mr. Klaus's view, the costs of achieving the goal, and the impossibility of truly doing so, argue strongly against paying a price of freedom.

. . .

In Europe, Mr. Klaus has the reputation of a firebrand, if not a loose cannon. This is a president, after all, who calls global warming "alarmism" a "radical political project" based in a form of "Malthusianism" that is itself grounded on a "cynical approach [by] those who themselves are sufficiently well-off."

"It is not about climatology," he insists. "It is about freedom."



For the full article, see:

BRIAN M. CARNEY. "The Weekend Interview with Vaclav Klaus; The Contrarian of Prague." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 8, 2008): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




July 14, 2008

"Innovation Has Helped Lift Untold Numbers Out of Poverty"


ProductivityRevolutionGraphic.gif Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) . . . the impact of our technological innovation has helped lift untold numbers out of poverty.

This technology has created massive amounts of change. Like the Industrial Revolution before it, the current transformation is anything but pain-free. It's what Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction. Google, Craigslist and Microsoft have been prospering. General Motors, United Airlines and the New York Times have not. In the midst of layoffs in the newsroom, it's hard to see anything good happening in the rest of the economy.



For the full commentary, see

BRIAN WESBURY. "Change We Can Believe In Is All Around Us." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 11, 2008): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




June 15, 2008

Over-generalizing from Our Recent Experience


Rosenberg and Birdzell (1986) mention that Marx over-emphasized the centrality of factories to capitalism, because of the prominence of factories in the period of capitalism during Marx's adulthood. They suggest that factories are only one phase, albeit an important one, in the development of capitalism.

And Schumpeter and Rosenberg may have done the same in his believe that large corporate labs would be able to routinize innovative entrepreneurial activity.

One relevant passage:

It is understandable that Marx, writing in 1848, should speak of modern industry as already a century old, for many of the institutions of industry in 1848 were already that old. Yet the greatest advances in the output of the capitalist engine of production, and the greatest changes in its modes of organization, still lay ahead. (1986, p. 184.)

Also relevant is the earlier:

In all Western countries, the inventory of physical facilities for economic production changes. The inventory at any given moment is unquestionably important, but it is like a single frame of a movie; taken alone, it misses all the action, and it is the action that we need to understand and that holds the promise of economic advance to non-Western countries. (1986, p. 144.)

Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 26, 2008

"A Single Frame of a Movie"


(p. 144.) In all Western countries, the inventory of physical facilities for economic production changes. The inventory at any given moment is unquestionably important, but it is like a single frame of a movie; taken alone, it misses all the action, and it is the action that we need to understand and that holds the promise of economic advance to non-Western countries.

Source:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 19, 2008

"How the West Grew Rich" is an Elegant and Wonderful Book


HowTheWestGrewRickBK.jpg









Source of book image:
http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/22600000/22606300.jpg


For many years I have wanted to carefully read Rosenberg and Birdzell's How the West Grew Rich. I am glad I have finally done it, and wish I had done it sooner. It is a tour de force of careful scholarly synthesis of a wide range of issues related to a fundamental question with many implications for policy.

The authors operate within a broadly Schumpeterian perspective, in that they see innovation as the key driver of human progress. One underlying theme is that societies that give more play to experimentation in institutions, are more likely to allow, encourage, and widely adopt, innovations.

Although written over two decades ago, the book only rarely seems dated. (The only instance I can think of is the occasional attention that the authors give to Marxist claims, that are seldom taken as seriously now as they sometimes still were in 1986.)

The writing style is not easy to read, but is rewarding. They write with elegance, and subtlety, and dry wit.

The reference to the book:

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 15, 2008

Schumpeterians Lead Ranking of Business Gurus


GuruGraphic.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

The top two business gurus in the WSJ's latest ranking, have each written major books that make substantial use of Schumpeter's concept of creative destruction. (The Hamel book is Leading the Revolution, and the Thomas Friedman book is The Lexus and the Olive Tree.)

Others among the top 20 gurus who have written favorably of the process of creative destruction, include Clayton Christensen, Jack Welch, and Tom Peters.

(p. B1) The guru game is changing.

Psychologists, journalists and celebrity chief executives crowd the top of a ranking of influential business thinkers compiled for The Wall Street Journal. The results, based on Google hits, media mentions and academic citations, ranked author and consultant Gary Hamel No. 1.

But Dr. Hamel is the only traditional business guru in the top five, which includes two journalists, Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell, and a former CEO, Bill Gates. Mr. Gladwell is among three thinkers in the top eight who focus on psychology. His 2005 book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" examined the role of snap judgments in decision-making. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard best known for the theory of "multiple intelligences," is No. 5, while Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who has written about "emotional intelligence," ranks eighth.

Thomas H. Davenport, a management professor at Babson College, compiled the ranking, employing the same methodology he used in a 2003 book, "What's the Big Idea?" Several well-known business gurus fell lower in the updated list, including Michael Porter and Tom Peters, who topped the 2003 ranking and dropped to Nos. 14 and 18, respectively. Harvard's Prof. Porter noted that his last book was on health care rather than general management, and that "I feel like my recent work continues to have an impact in my various fields."

Dr. Davenport says the changes show that time-strapped managers are hungry for easily digestible advice wherever they can find it. Today, the most pressing themes include globalization, motivation and innovation. Traditional business gurus writing "weighty tomes" are in decline, he says.


For the full story, see:

ERIN WHITE. "New Breed of Business Gurus Rises; Psychologists, CEOs Climb in Influence, Draw Hits, Big Fees." Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 5, 2008): B1.

GuruTop20table.gif

Source of table:

ERIN WHITE. "What Influential Business Thinkers Focus On; Top Gurus Ponder Manager's Worries, New Approaches." Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 5, 2008): B6.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title: "Quest for Innovation, Motivation Inspires the Gurus; Leading Thinkers Apply Varied Skills For Global Solutions.")




February 24, 2008

Innovative New Products Often Expensive at First, But Price Soon Falls


AdoptionInnovationsGraph.gif Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 14) To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.

As the second chart, on the spread of consumption, shows, this wasn't always so. The conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most -- the amount of time one had to put in at work to gain the necessary purchasing power.

At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.


For the full commentary, see:

W. MICHAEL COX and RICHARD ALM. "You Are What You Spend." The New York Times Company, Week in Review section (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.




February 17, 2008

Puzzle: Entrepreneurial Silicon Valley Donates Mainly to Democrats

 

    Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Entrepreneurship thrives when government is small, so it puzzles me when the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley embrace the Democrats, who generally advocate bigger government.

Of course, my Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to point out that there are always cross-currents that go in a different direction from the mainstream. And among the Democrats, there are what used to be called "new Democrats" who appreciate Schumpeter, and entrepreneurship, and dynamism.

Plus, some Democrats are more respectful of personal, lifestyle choices, and in Silicon Valley, that may be what is given the most weight.

Or, more cynically, maybe there's a public choice explanation---that Silicon Valley donates to Democrats as a form of 'insurance,' in the hope that if the Democrats are elected, they will refrain from over-regulating and over-taxing Silicon Valley. (Even more cynically, compare the case of Florida's sugar-subsidy-rich Fanjul brothers, one of whom donated huge bucks to the first Bush, while another donated huge bucks to Bill Clinton.)

(Another factor is that, alas, entrepreneurs often do not pay much attention to what conditions encourage entrepreneurship.)


(p. C4)  In a flip from the primary season for the 2000 presidential election, 60 percent of the contributions so far from people in the technology field here are going to Democrats. The Democratic candidates raised $1.4 million from the industry in the first half of this year, while Republican candidates raised $890,000. That total is up from $1.2 million in the first six months of each of the last two presidential primary races.

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURIE J. FLYNN.  "In Primary, Tech's Home Is a Magnet." The New York Times  (Fri., August 24, 2007):  C1 & C4.

 




February 8, 2008

Schumpeter in The Age of Turbulence

 

AgeOfTurbulenceBK.jpg    Source of book image:  http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594201318,00.html#  

 

Joseph Schumpeter was born on this date in 1883.

Alan Greenspan's much-discussed memoir, is full of thoughtful discussions of Schumpeter's central mesage of creative destruction.  Here are a few lines from the first of those discussions:

 

(p. 48)  Working with heavy industry gave me a profound appreciation of the central dynamic of capitalism.  "Creative destruction" is an idea that was articulated by the Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942.  LIke many powerful ideas, his is simple:  A market economy will incessantly revitalize itself from within by scrapping old and failing businesses and then reallocating resources to newer, more productive ones.  I read Schumpeter in my twenties and always thought he was right, and I've watched the process at work through my entire career. 

 

The reference to Greenspan's book is:

Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World Economic Flexibility. New York: Penguin Press, 2007. 

 




January 27, 2008

Raghuram Rajan on the Current Economic Downturn and the Subprime Mortgage Mess

 

       "Traders in the oil futures pit of the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday" (January 22. 2008).  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below. 

 

Raghuram Rajan is mentioned in the article quoted below.  I first ran across him as the co-author of a book that was billed as applying Schumpeterian ideas of creative destruction to issues of economic growth and development. 

Then, at the American Economic Association meetings in New Orleans in early January, I was on my way to a History of Economics Society reception, when I stumbled by chance into a modest reception in which Rajan was giving an informal speech on the subprime mortgage crisis.

It was such an interesting presentation, that I ended up totally missing the History of Economics Society reception.  Rajan argued that the main problem was one of misguided incentives.  Bonuses at top investment firms like Merrrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase, are supposed to go to those whose investments produce high returns, with modest risks.  The problem with the complicated securities based on the subprime mortgages was that they produced high returns, but the risks were actually also fairly high.  The high-flying investors probably had some knowledge of this, but the public did not.  In most years the investors could invest in the high return, but high risk, securities, and collect huge bonuses.  But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Rajan suggested that the answer would be a change in the way in which the traders are given bonuses.  Instead of handing them out annually, let them become vested only after observing the investment's track record for several years.  If the investment goes south before the bonus is vested, the trader does not get the bonus.  This would provide an incentive and reward for those who accurately accessed the risk of their investments. 

 

(p. A1)  . . . , Wall Street hasn't yet come clean. Even after last week, when JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo announced big losses in their consumer credit businesses, financial service firms have still probably gone public with less than half of their mortgage-related losses, according to Moody's Economy.com. They're not being dishonest; they just haven't untangled all of their complex investments.

"Part of the big uncertainty," Raghuram G. Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said, "is where the bodies are buried."

As Mr. Rajan pointed out, this situation is more severe than the crisis involving Long Term Capital Management in the late 1990s. That was a case in which a limited set of bad investments, largely at one firm, had the potential to drive down the value of other firms' holdings in the short term. Those firms then might have stopped lending money because they no longer had the capital to do so. But their own balance sheets were largely healthy.

This time, the firms are facing real losses, which will almost certainly curtail lending, and economic growth, this year.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; Worries That the Good Times Were Mostly a Mirage."  The New York Times  (Weds., January 23, 2008):  A1 & A23.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The Schumpeterian book co-authored by Rajan, is:

Rajan, Raghuram G., and Luigi Zingales.  Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists:  Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity.  New York:  Crown, 2003.

 




December 25, 2007

"Adopt the Schumpeterian Ethos of Creative Destruction"

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. R10)  High-technology industries are tough places to do business.

Competition is constant, fierce and characterized by only temporary advantage, fueled by the ease with which software makers and other high-tech companies can copy and distribute new products and services.

Instantaneous delivery through the Internet to hundreds of millions of consumers means a company with a slightly better online marketplace or search engine, for example, can quickly dominate the market, and just as easily be dethroned by a rival with a new approach.

If this brutal competitive cycle -- first described as "creative destruction" by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 -- makes you uncomfortable, we've got some bad news.

We've been studying competition in all U.S. industries, not just the high-tech ones, and we've observed a remarkable pattern: On average, the whole U.S. economy has become more "Schumpeterian" since the mid-1990s. What's more, these changes have been greatest in the industries that buy the most software and computer hardware.

Over the past dozen years, in other words, information-technology consumption is associated with the kinds of competitive dynamics we're accustomed to seeing in the IT-producing industries. And because every industry will become even more IT-intensive over the next decade, we expect competition to become even more Schumpeterian.

. . .

(p. R11)  For executives, the key lesson is to treat information-technology efforts as opportunities to define and deploy new ways of working, rather than just projects to install, configure or integrate systems. Our work suggests three broad areas of focus for top managers:

- First, they need to look at how the company should be doing business differently. That means deciding what new tasks should be enabled with technology, and how widely they should be deployed.

- Second, managers need to lead the deployment of new procedures to success. People don't like changes to their jobs dictated from outside and embedded in software. Overcoming this inertia and resistance requires skillful leadership.

- Third, managers need to foster innovation by encouraging experimentation, collaboration, dialogue and all of the other activities that generate good ideas. That means building a technology infrastructure and an accompanying set of practices that reduce the cost of creating and replicating process innovations.

Managers might not want competition in their industry to become more Schumpeterian, but they don't have a choice. Companies are using IT to increase the speed of process innovation and replication. These companies drive the competitive dynamics of their industries, rather than reacting to them, leaving their rivals with a stark choice: Adopt the Schumpeterian ethos of creative destruction, or watch from the sidelines as others increasingly gain market share and value.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW MCAFEE and ERIK BRYNJOLFSSON.  "Technology; Dog Eat Dog; Be warned: Industries that buy a lot of technology are becoming as cutthroat as those that produce technology."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., April 28, 2007):  R10 & R11. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




November 23, 2007

Motorola Hurt By Failing to Leapfrog Itself

 

MotorolaStockRazrBurn.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Clayton Christensen, in a series of books, has highlighted why it is difficult for a successful incumbent to prepare a successor for its own winning product.  The Motorola case below is another example.

Note, though, that Motorola's failure is not the understandable one of failing to prepare what Christensen calls a "disruptive innovation."  If the story below is right, it is a case of the less understandable failure to continue to deliver with what Christensen calls "sustaining innovation."

 

(p. A1)  A year ago, Motorola Inc. appeared headed for a third straight year of rich profits under Chief Executive Ed Zander, driven by its hit cellphone the Razr. "A lot of you are always asking what is after the Razr," Mr. Zander said in an April 2006 conference call after another quarter of 30%-plus growth. "I say more Razrs."

But behind the scenes, Motorola was working furiously to get a successor phone to market by the second half of 2006, according to people familiar with the matter. When it failed to do so, profit margins on handsets narrowed and the company swung to a loss. Key executives left. And as the stock slid, activist investor Carl Icahn built up a position and began campaigning for a board seat to address what he called Motorola's "operational problems."

Motorola's travails illustrate the risks for a company that rides high with a big consumer hit. Amid its success with the Razr, it fell behind on developing a phone with the next generation of technology. Missing a beat is especially hazardous in cellphones, where it can take two to three years to develop a new line.

. . .

(p. A14)  As the Razr grew hot, some former designers and engineers say Motorola repeated mistakes it had made a decade earlier with another big hit, the compact flip-top phone known as the StarTAC. That phone was a huge seller, but it also was an analog phone, and its popularity blinded the company to an industry shift to digital technology. Similarly, while Motorola was selling countless Razrs, competitors were hard at work on more sophisticated products for 3G networks.

Motorola put engineers and designers who could have been working on new products on the Razr and its derivatives, some former executives say. "All resources went to feeding the beast," says a former Motorola designer. "Suddenly, you created this thing that requires a lot of energy and attention." Other former executives dispute that the focus on the Razr diverted work from other products and contend Motorola was right to ride the still-popular Razr as long as possible.

 

For the full story, see: 

CHRISTOPHER RHOADS and LI YUAN.  "DROPPED CALL; How Motorola Fell A Giant Step Behind; As It Milked Thin Phone, Rivals Sneaked Ahead On the Next Generation."   The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., April 27, 2007):  A1  & A14. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The most complete source of Christensen's theory and examples is:  

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

 

ZanderEdMotorolaCEO.gif  Motorola CEO.  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




November 6, 2007

Process Innovations Are Neglected, But Important

 

In discussing the process of creative destruction, Schumpeter mentioned both product and process innovations.  By far the greater attention has been given to product innovations.  But maybe process innovations deserve more attention than they have received:

 

Snazzy products are the stuff of legends, romanticized by “early adopters” and skewered by neo-Luddites. Yet while these products bring glory to companies, novel processes are often more important in keeping the cash registers ringing.

. . .

Consider the question of Google’s greatest business secret. Is it the algorithms behind its search tools? Or is it the way it organizes vast clusters of computers around the globe to answer queries so quickly? Perhaps predictably, Google won’t disclose the number of computers deployed in its vast information network (though outsiders speculate that the network has at least 450,000 computers).

I believe that the physical network is Google’s “secret sauce,” its premier competitive advantage. While a brilliant lone wolf can conceive of a dazzling algorithm, only a superwealthy and well-managed organization can run what is arguably the most valuable computer network on the planet. Without the computer network, Google is nothing.

Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, appears to agree. Last year he declared, “We believe we get tremendous competitive advantage by essentially building our own infrastructures.”

Process innovations like Google’s computer network are often invisible to the public, and impossible to duplicate by rivals. Yet successful companies realize that maintaining competitive advantage depends heavily on sustaining process innovations.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

G. PASCAL ZACHARY. "PING; The Unsung Heroes Who Move Products Forward." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., September 30, 2007): 3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




October 9, 2007

Latin America Discourages Entrepreneurs

 

LatinAmericanCompetitivenessGraph.gif   Source of table:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A18) Economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) may be best known for his innovative work showing the link between entrepreneurial discovery and economic progress.

But as Carl Schramm, president of the Kauffman Foundation of Entrepreneurship has pointed out, Schumpeter's insights about risk-takers didn't make him an optimist.

In a speech last year to European finance ministers in Vienna, Mr. Schramm explained Schumpeter's fears: He "worried that entrepreneurial capitalism would not flourish because the bureaucracies of modern government and big corporations would dampen innovation -- the process of 'creative destruction' would be too ungovernable for a modern, Keynesian-regulated economy to tolerate." As a result, Mr. Schramm said, Schumpeter thought that "the importance of entrepreneurs would fade over time as capitalism sought predictability from governments who would plan economic activity as well as order social benefits."

Mr. Schramm's comments caught my attention because they so accurately describe Latin America. There the entrepreneur has been all but run out of town by the bureaucracies that Schumpeter feared. Growth has suffered accordingly.

The World Bank's annual "Doing Business" survey, released last week, demonstrates the point. The 2008 survey, which evaluates the regulatory climate for entrepreneurs in 178 countries, finds that Latin America and the Caribbean was the slowest reforming region this year and that it "is falling further behind other regions in the pace" of reform.

. . .

The most important lesson for Latin America from the World Bank's report is that its competitors around the world are working to unleash entrepreneurial spirits, and doing nothing is not an option. As Mr. Schramm told his Vienna audience, "Schumpeter saw what a century of evidence would prove: Socialism has not sustained economic growth." Now, if only more Latin American policy makers would catch on.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY.  "THE AMERICAS; No Room for Entrepreneurs."  The Wall Street Journal   (Mon., October 8, 2007):  A18.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




September 14, 2007

Searching for Schumpeter in Amazon

 

Econ Journal Watch, a fresh innovative online journal, just published a paper of mine where I document the large number of books included in Amazon.com's "Search Within the Book" feature, that mention Schumpeter.  The nature of the mentions vary, but many relate to Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.  The focus on creative destruction is especially pronounced in business books. 

The fact that many business practitioners find "creative destruction" to be a fruitful concept in understanding capitalism, speaks well of the concept, and speaks well of Schumpeter.

 

The citation for my paper is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Thriving at Amazon: How Schumpeter Lives in Books Today." Econ Journal Watch 4, no. 3 (September 2007): 338-44.

 

My paper has been highlighted at: 

http://organizationsandmarkets.com/2007/09/10/content-analysis-using-amazoncom/

(Thanks to Kevin Rollins for alerting me to this blog entry.)

 




September 6, 2007

Cambridge Ignorant of Schumpeter

 

  The house in Cambridge, Mass. where Schumpeter lived for many years.  Source of photo:  F.M. "Mike" Scherer, posted with his permission.

 

On his way from his home to his Harvard Office, Mike Scherer walks near the homes in which Joseph Schumpeter lived over 50 years ago.

Scherer reports that the streets of Cambridge are replete with historical markers documenting the significance in intellectual history of various houses and locales.

Across the street from the impressive house in which Schumpeter lived for over 15 years, for instance, there is a sign indicating where the poet T.S. Elliot had lived for a year during a sabbatical.

But there is no sign in front of either of the homes in which Joseph Schumpeter lived (or in front of the home in which Nobel-prize-winner Wassily Leontief lived).

Scherer thinks the lesson is that economists should be more humble.  I think that the lesson is that the citizens and officials of Cambridge should be less ignorant.

 

The above account is partly from my memory of Scherer's oral remarks in June at George Mason at the Summer Institute for the Preservation of the History of Economics.  Here is a briefer version he sent me in an email dated 12/20/2006:

Since moving back to Harvard, I often walk to my home in West Cambridge. The shortest route is via Ash Street, right by Schumpeter's first own home in Cambridge. The neighborhood is full of houses with historical plaques, but I looked in vain for Schumpy's. However, across the street is a house in which T. S. Eliot lived for two years. It has a plaque! That's a profound statement on the relative value of what we academics do.

 

    From top to bottom, for the four photos at the bottom of the entry:  The first is of the house in which Schumpeter lived for many years.  The second is of a house where Schumpeter lived for a short time.  The third is of the street signs at the corner near one of Schumpeter's houses.  The fourth is one of the many plaques that Cambridge installs to honor those who the Cambridge community deems worthy of honor.  All of the photos above were taken on or about May 27, 2007 by F.M. "Mike" Scherer, who kindly gave them to me and gave me permission to post them.

 




July 19, 2007

Sturm und Drang Schumpeterianism

 

I am conflicted about how to evaluate Zachary's Schumpeterian article in a recent Sunday New York Times.  On the one hand he says much that is true and useful about Schumpeter and capitalism.  On the other hand he seems to relish the destructive side of creative destruction, extending it beyond what Schumpeter intended, to include disasters such as war and environmental crises.

My view, on the other hand, is that the destructive side is usually over-estimated, can be reduced further, and is an unfortunate cost of innovation and progress.

Here is a part of the Zachary op-ed piece that I like:

 

An Austrian economist who taught at Harvard, Mr. Schumpeter in 1942 coined the term ''creative destruction'' to describe what he viewed as the engine of capitalism: how new products and processes constantly overtake existing ones. In his classic work, ''Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy,'' he described how unexpected innovations destroyed markets and gave rise to new fortunes.

The historian Thomas K. McCraw writes in his new biography of Schumpeter, ''Prophet of Innovation'' (Belknap Press): ''Schumpeter's signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general. Almost all businesses, no matter how strong they seem to be at a given moment, ultimately fail and almost always because they failed to innovate.''

Mr. Schumpeter's concept of creative destruction is justly celebrated. The economics writer David Warsh calls it the most memorable economic phrase since Adam Smith's ''invisible hand.'' Peter Drucker, the late business guru, went so far as to declare Mr. Schumpeter the most influential economist of the last century.

Clearly, any quick survey of technological change validates Mr. Schumpeter's essential insight. The DVD destroyed the videotape (and the businesses around it). The computer obliterated the typewriter. The automobile turned the horse and buggy into an anachronism.

Today, the Web is destroying many businesses even as it gives rise to others. Though the compact disc still lives, downloadable music is threatening to make the record album history.

''Schumpeter's central idea is just as important now as ever,'' says Louis Galambos, a business historian at Johns Hopkins University. ''The heart of capitalism and its claim as an efficient economic system over the long term is the role that innovation plays.''

 

For the full commentary, see:

G. PASCAL ZACHARY.  "PING; The Silver Lining to Impending Doom."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 6, 2007):   3.

 




June 26, 2007

"Roosevelt Warned us of Fearing Fear Itself; Now We Fear Life Itself"

 

   Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/159523005X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V46468787_SS500_.jpg

 

I saw Todd Buchholz on C-Span and on CNBC, and I enjoyed hearing his views, so I decided to buy his Bringing the Jobs Home.  I don't like the title, because it sort of implies that the job market is a zero-sum-game, in which one country's gain implies another country's loss.  Us true-blue free marketers believe that the market is a non-zero-sum game in which everyone everywhere can have jobs, and have better ones over time.

But Buchholz's little book is fun to read, and says much that is plausible about how the government hurts the worker and reduces the efficiency of the labor market. 

Read the following excerpt for part of his rousing conclusion to the book.

(And, Aaron, I agree with you that Buchholz is wrong to say the American spirit is "innate.") 

 

(p. 177)  . . . :  Since the 1960s, each year we've lost a little nerve, gained another bureaucrat, another lawyer, another layer of protection against life's uncertainties.  We have gotten used to a government that aims to coddle us but ends up both preventing us from growing and dampening the innate American spirit.  The spirit still stirs but gets buried under the weight of the nanny state.

. . .

(p. 178)  American government officials today cannot put our standard of living in a lockbox to preserve, protect and defend us.  Franklin D. Roosevelt warned us of fearing fear itself; now we fear life itself. 

. . .

(p. 179)  To paraphrase Churchill, Americans did not sail the perilous Atlantic, scale the Appalachians and struggle past the Rockies because we were made of cotton candy.

 

Source: 

Buchholz, Todd G. Bringing the Jobs Home: How the Left Created the Outsourcing Crisis--and How We Can Fix It. New York: Sentinel, 2004.

 




May 20, 2007

Should Netscape Be Viewed as a Failed Company, or as a Successful Project?

 

(p. 53)  Recall the story of Netscape, once the darling of the New Economy.  Netscape was formed in 1994.  It went public in 1995.  And by 1999, it was gone, purchased by America Online and subsumed into AOL's operation.  Life span:  four years.  Half-life:  two years.  Was Netscape a company---or was it really a project?  Does the distinction even matter?  What matters most is that this short-lived entity put several products on the market, prompted established companies (notably Microsoft) to shift strategies, and (p. 54) equipped a few thousand individuals with experience, wealth, and connections that they could bring to their next project.

And Netscape is not alone.  A University of Texas study found that between 1970 and 1992, the half-life of Texas businesses shrank by 50 percent.  Likewise, a Federal Reserve analysis of New York companies found that the type of firm that created the most new jobs (microbusineses with fewer than ten employees) often had the shortest life span.  The life cycle of companies has been that jobs, too, have diminishing half-lives.  Ten years ago, nobody ever heard of a Web developer.  Ten years from now, nobody may remember Web developers.

Most important, at the very moment the longevity of companies is shrinking, the longevity of individuals is expanding.  Unlike Americans in the twentieth century, most of us today can expect to outlive just about any organization for which we work.  It's hard to imagine a lifelong job at an organization whose lifetime will be shorter--often much shorter--than your own.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




May 18, 2007

"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




April 22, 2007

Dilbert's New Product Leapfrogs the iPod

 

  Source:  scanned from Omaha World-Herald (Fri., April 20, 2007):  7E.

 

Today's entry is part of my continuing effort to document the concept of "leapfrog" competition, which I take to be Schumpeterian in spirit, though I have never found anywhere that Schumpeter himself used it.

 




April 19, 2007

Advice from Charles Koch: A Successful Business Schumpeterian

   Source of book image:  http://media.wiley.com/product_data/coverImage300/89/04701398/0470139889.jpg

 

When Charles Koch became the chief executive of Rock Island Oil & Refining after the death of his father in 1967, the company was a moderately successful enterprise based in Wichita, Kan. He renamed it Koch Industries in honor of his father -- and over the next 40 years proceeded to transform Fred Koch's legacy into the world's largest private company. Koch Industries -- now a commodity and financial conglomerate that includes brands such as Stainmaster, Lycra and Dixie cups -- has 80,000 employees in 60 countries. Its revenue last year was $90 billion. In one generation, the book value of Koch Industries has increased 2,000-fold. That's an 18% compounded annual return -- comparable with the long-term track record of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

. . .

At age 71, Mr. Koch clearly feels that the time has come to pass along the business formula that has served him so well. In "The Science of Success," he describes a technique, called Market-Based Management (MBM), that he says evolved from his reading, early in his career, in history, political science, economics and other disciplines. He arrived at an understanding of what allows a free society to prosper, Mr. Koch says, and decided to apply those principles to business.

. . .

. . .   He is especially fond of the "Austrian school" of economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Joseph Schumpeter, who emphasized production processes, technology and the dynamic competitive models of "creative destruction." 

 

For the full review, see: 

MARK SKOUSEN.  "BOOKS; A Short Course in Long-Term Value."   The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., March 7, 2007):  D8. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




April 18, 2007

Another Effort to Explore the Black-Box of Innovation

 

(p. 210)  Schumpeter argues that innovation can happen endogenously and that its main source is the creative entrepreneur.  Schumpeterian innovation is still black-boxed, however, because it is the product of the ingenuity of entrepreneurs and cannot be reproduced systematically.

. . .

The reconstructionist view takes off where the new growth theory left off.  Building on the new growth theory, the reconstructionist view suggests how knowledge and ideas are deployed in the process of creation to produce endogenous growth for the firm.  In particular, it proposes that such a process of creation can occur in any organization at any time by the cognitive reconstruction of existing data and market elements in a fundamentally new way.

 

Source:

Kim, W. Chan, and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

 




April 16, 2007

Leapfrog the Elevator Competition into a Blue Ocean

 

(p. 178)  They wanted to cut waste, freeing people to produce higher-quality elevators faster at lower cost to leapfrog the competition.  But plant employees could not have known that.

 

Source: 

Kim, W. Chan, and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

 




April 15, 2007

More on Creative Destruction in Science Fiction

On April 11, 2007 I posted an entry noting a new science fiction book with the title Creative Destruction.  Not having read the book, I wondered aloud whether the book contained any reference to Schumpeter.

Yesterday (4/13/07), I was delighted to receive an email from the author of the book, answering my question.  With his permission, I reproduce his email below:

 

Dr. Diamond,

I noticed your blog entry about Creative Destruction, my computer-themed SF collection.  You asked:  Does Schumpeter get a mention?

Absolutely.  Here are the opening lines of the foreword:

     If the Internet bubble had a patron saint, he was an obscure economist named Joseph Schumpeter.

     Schumpeter owes his posthumous celebrity to two words: creative destruction.  In 1942, he wrote of the "... Process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.

     "Creative destruction," he said, "is the essential fact about capitalism."  Every dotcom, of course, claimed its new technology would sweep out the old in a frenzy of creative destruction. Occasionally -- think Yahoo! and Amazon -- they were even correct.

The stories in the collection are most definitely science fiction -- I have degrees in physics and computer science -- but I also have an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Best regards,

- Ed Lerner

 

(Note:  I have changed the format of the email, a little.  The ellipsis was in the original.)

 




April 8, 2007

Kodak Tries to Survive Creative Destruction

   A Kodak digital production printer.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

Digital photography replacing film technology is an example of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction, and maybe also of the gradual growth of a disruptive technology.  Leading incumbent firms frequently have trouble prospering, or even surviving, during such a change.  Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had articles on the latest news from Kodak.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times version:  

 

On Tuesday, as the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled its long-anticipated consumer inkjet printer in New York, the mood at the company’s Rochester headquarters could not have been more positive.

“People know we are back on the offensive,” said Frank Sklarsky, Kodak’s chief financial officer.  “And that’s making them a lot more charged up about coming to work.”

But yesterday, Kodak gave them reason again to feel depressed.  The company said it would cut 3,000 more jobs this year, on top of the 25,000 to 27,000 it had already said would be gone by the end of 2007.  At that rate, Kodak will end the year with about 30,000 employees, half the number of just three years ago and a fraction of the 145,000 people it employed in 1988, when its brand was synonymous with photography.

Kodak executives insist that the new cuts do not indicate any snags in the continuing struggle to transform itself from a film-based company into a major competitor in digital imagery.  And analysts, too, say the cuts are inevitable, and probably healthy.

 

For the full NYT story, see: 

CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH.  "Shrinking Pains at Kodak."  The New York Times   (Fri., February 9, 2007): C1 & C4.

 

For the related WSJ story, see: 

WILLIAM M. BULKELEY and ANGELA PRUITT.  "Kodak Sees More Job Cuts, Higher Restructuring Costs."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., February 9, 2007):  B4.

 

 

 KodakJobsBarGraph.gif KodakJobsGraph.gif PrinterMarketSharePieChart.gif   Source of the first and third graphic:  the WSJ article cited above.  Source of the second graphic:  the NYT article cited above.

 




April 5, 2007

Jim Collins on How Boeing Leapfrogged McDonnell Douglas

(p. 202)  Wisely, through the 1940s, Boeing had stayed away from the commercial sphere, an arena in which McDonnell Douglas had vastly superior abilities in the smaller, propeller-driven planes that composed the commercial fleet.  In the early 1950s, however, Boeing saw an opportunity to leapfrog McDonnell Douglas by marrying its experience with large air-(p. 203)craft to its understanding of jet engines. 

 

Source:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.

 




February 4, 2007

Middendorf "Studied Under Joseph Schumpeter"

GloriousDisasterBK.jpg   Source of book image:  http://basicbooks.com/perseus/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465045731

 

William Middendorf was important in the Goldwater campaign for president.  Here is a brief excerpt from his recent book about the campaign:

 

(p. 8)  . . ., I became a disciple of the Austrian libertarian school of economics, having studied under Joseph Schumpeter (an odd-man-out at Harvard, later named by the Wall Street Journal as the most important economist of the twentieth century) and Ludwig Von Mises (at New York University).  Schumpeter and Von Mises saw entrepreneurship as a major driving force in economic development, considered private property---protected by an independent judiciary---essential to the efficient use of resources, and held that government intereference in market processes was usually counterproductive.

 

The reference to the book is: 

Middendorf, J. William, II. Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

 




January 30, 2007

Schumpeterian Alan Greenspan Receives Second Richest Book Advance Ever Paid

GreenspanAlanGrin.jpg   Why is this man smiling?  (Alan Greenspan has reason to grin.)  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

I believe that the market for economists is imperfectly competitive, since the supply and demand for academics is highly regulated by governmental and quasi-governmental institutions.  But it is interesting that the second highest book advance ever paid is going to Alan Greenspan.  Greenspan is a practical, eclectic, economist who believes that Schumpeter's process of creative destruction is important for understanding the workings of a capitalist economy. 

 

(p. C1)  Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, has agreed to sell his memoir for an advance of more than $8.5 million, according to people involved in the negotiations, making a deal that appears to give him the second-largest advance ever paid for a nonfiction book. 

. . .

(p. C8)  Mr. Greenspan's advance ranks second only to the more than $10 million paid to former President Bill Clinton for his memoir, "My Life," which was published in June 2004. Pope John Paul II received an advance of $8.5 million in 1994 for his book, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton received an $8 million advance for her memoir, "Living History," published in 2003.

 

For the full story, see: 

EDWARD WYATT.  "Greenspan's Book Deal Is Said to Be Among the Richest."  The New York Times (Weds.,  March 8, 2006): C1 & C8.

 




January 21, 2007

Barney Frank on Schumpeter's "Great Concept"

FrankBarney.jpg   Barney Frank. Source of photo: http://www.house.gov/frank/welcome.html

 

Policy-makers are often enthused by the innovation unleashed by Schumpeter's process of creative destruction, but draw back out of fear of the destruction of jobs.  In the passage below, Barney Frank expresses that fear.

I think that there are answers to the fear.  More and better jobs are created, than destroyed; workers can invest in general skills that do not depreciate, and retool the specific skills that do depreciate; and conscientious workers suffer from lack of recognition and upward mobility, when creative destruction is stiffled.  The pain is less than usually thought, and the gain is greater. 

 

One of the consequences of this separation between economic growth and the well-being of the great majority of citizens is that an increasing number of citizens don't care about economic growth.  Not surprising.  Not only do they not benefit, but in many cases they get the short-term disruptive effects.

I mean, there was a great concept from Joseph Schumpeter of creative destruction in which, as the old economic order is destroyed, resources are freed up for the new order.

Well, increasingly, we have people who see the destruction in their own lives, but don't see that they're going to be part of the new creation.

 

Source:

Transcript of remarks delivered at the National Press Club on "Wages" by Democratic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, on January 3, 2007.

 




December 23, 2006

Schumpeter's "Sarcastic Remark" on Mathematics in Economics

Erich Schneider had been a student of Schumpeter's at the University of Bonn in the late 1920s.  The following sentences are from his lectures on Schumpeter that he published in German in 1970, and that were were translated into English by W.E. Kuhn and published in that form in 1975.

(p. 41) When, after many years of separation, I saw Schumpeter again at Harvard in the fall of 1949 and heard his lectures on economic theory--which he gave at 2 p.m., as in Bonn--I found him to be exactly the same man as before. On that afternoon he talked about the nature of dynamic analysis and about the role of difference equations in the framework of such an analysis.

To the above passage, Schneider adds footnote 3:

(p. 59) He dropped the sarcastic remark: "There are economists who do not know what a difference equation is; but there are also those who know nothing else."

Schneider, Erich.  Joseph A. Schumpeter:  Leben Und Werk Eines Grossen Sozialokonomen (Life and Work of a Great Social Scientist). Lincoln, Neb.:  University of Nebraska--Lincoln Bureau of Business Research, 1975.




December 20, 2006

"The Referee Should Not Be Too Quick With His Whistle"

I found the following wise comments while reading a short review of an old book by Edgar Monsanto Queeny, who followed his father as CEO of the Monsanto corporation, and who wrote a book called The Spirit of Enterprise which Schumpeter praised in a letter to Queeny.

(The abbreviation T.N.E.C. stands for the Temporary National Economic Committee, which I believe was an ad hoc congressional committee during part of F.D.R.'s presidency.)

Mr. Queeny does not give us a satisfactory analysis of the T.N.E.C. reports but his observations are always commonsensical and suggestive.  What emerges, and what is important, is that the positive Liberal State should not aim at too subtle a plan for freedom.  The referee should not be too quick with his whistle nor too ready to order players off the field.  The rules of the game may well allow for a little hurly-burly.  Economists like Professor Hutt, who are working out the rules of the game of free enterprise, deserve the highest praise.  But they should realize that refinement has its price as well as simplicity, and of the two simplicity costs the less.

Shenfield, A. A. "Review of the Spirit of Enterprise by Edgar M. Queeny." Economica 12, no. 48 (November 1945): 264.

 

The reference to Queeny's book is:

Queeny, Edgar M. The Spirit of Enterprise. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943.

 




December 14, 2006

"Forgotten not for lack of importance, but for lack of theoretical frame-works"

A paper by current head of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, Ed Lazear, is significant for what it says near the end about economists forgetting facts, because the facts do not fit into current theory.

(p. 260)  Human capital theory is primarily a supply-side approach that focuses on the characteristics and skills of the individual workers.  It pays far less attention to the environments in which workers work.  As such, the human capital framework has led researchers to focus on one class of questions, but to ignore others.  Specifically, little attention has been paid to the jobs in which workers are employed. 

(p. 263) The fact that some jobs and some job characteristics are more likely to lead to promotions than other jobs is not surprising.  But the analysis suggests that other ways of thinking about wage determination, namely, through job selection, may have been unduly ignored in the past. 

. . .

Researchers have begun to make jobs rather than individuals the unit of analysis.  This change of focus can illuminate new issues and provide answers to questions that were once posed and forgotten.  The questions were forgotten not for lack of importance, but for lack of theoretical frame-works.  The theory is now developed and awaits confirmation in the data.

 

For the full paper, see:

Lazear, Edward P.  "A Jobs-Based Analysis of Labor Markets."  American Economic Review 85, no. 2 (May 1995):  260-265.

(Note:  elipsis added.)

 




November 21, 2006

"Come With Me, If You Want to Live"

Schumpeter famously stated that creative destruction is "the essential fact" about capitalism.  Was he right? 

To determine what is "the essential fact" you need to first answer the question "essential for what purpose?"  If the purpose is "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" then I think you can show that creative detruction is indeed the essential fact about capitalism; in the key sense that with creative destruction you have a form of capitalism that is best able to enhance "live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The Terminator famously said "Come with me, if you want to live!" ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day," 1991).  Life is a choice.  You can choose death instead.  Most people, most of the time, choose life. But there are examples of choosing death.  E.g., Leon Kass, an oft-quoted "expert" on medical ethics issues, is against current efforts to lengthen the human life span:

(p. D4)  While an anti-aging pill may be the next big blockbuster, some ethicists believe that the all-out determination to extend life span is veined with arrogance.  As appointments with death are postponed, says Dr. Leon R. Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, human lives may become less engaging, less meaningful, even less beautiful.

“Mortality makes life matter,” Dr. Kass recently wrote.  “Immortality is a kind of oblivion — like death itself.”

That man’s time on this planet is limited, and rightfully so, is a cultural belief deeply held by many.  But whether an increasing life span affords greater opportunity to find meaning or distracts from the pursuit, the prospect has become too great a temptation to ignore — least of all, for scientists.

“It’s a just big waste of talent and wisdom to have people die in their 60s and 70s,” said Dr. Sinclair of Harvard.

(And there's the occasional hermit, like the unibomber, who chooses to live a brutish life without electricity and indoor plumbing.)  So long as I, Arnold, and our compatriots, are allowed an island somewhere to peacefully pursue life, I do not much care what Leon and his friends do.  My argument, and the book I am writing on creative destruction, are not written for Leon.  They are written for all those who choose life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

The NYT quote related to Leon Kass's praise of mortality, is from p. D4 of:

MICHAEL MASON.  "One for the Ages:  A Prescription That May Extend Life."  The New York Times  (Tues., October 31, 2006):  D1 & D4. 

 




November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, Freedom's Friend, RIP

 

A week or so ago my mother and I were sharing our disappointment at the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, who we both thought was a good man.  She told me that she had thought he would have made a good President.  I told her that she was in good company, because in his memoirs, Milton Friedman had expressed the same thought (p. 391).

We were in very good company while Milton Friedman was with us, and I feel a sense of loss, both personally, and for the broader world. 

By chance, I sat behind Milton Friedman, and his wife and son, at the Rockefeller Chapel memorial service to honor Milton Friedman's good friend George Stigler.  I can't remember if Friedman spoke it at the service, or wrote it later, but I remember him saying (or writing) that the world was a darker place without Stigler in it. 

And it is darker yet, without Friedman in it.  (It is reported that he died of heart failure sometime early this morning at the age of 94.)

My first memory of meeting Milton Friedman was in the early 1970s at Wabash College.  My Wabash professor, Ben Rogge, was a friend of Friedman's.  They attended Mount Pelerin Society meetings together, and Rogge, along with his senior colleague John van Sickle, had invited Friedman to deliver a series of lectures at Wabash College, that became the basis of what remains Friedman's meatiest defense of freedom:  Capitalism and Freedom.  (Free to Choose is better known, broader, and important, but Capitalism and Freedom is more densely packed with stimulating argument, and provocative new ideas.)

The members of the small, libertarian Van Sickle Club were gathered around Friedman in a lounge at Wabash, and I remember Rogge asking Friedman:  'If there was a button sitting in front of you, that would instantly abolish the Food and Drug Administration, would you push it?'  I remember Friedman smiling his incredibly delighted smile, and saying simply, with gusto:  "yes!"

I remember attending some meetings at the University of Chicago, I think the first History of Economics Society meetings, with Rogge in attendance.  (This was in my first couple of years as a Chicago graduate student, when I was mainly doing philosophy.)  Stigler invited Rogge up for a drink, and Rogge said said 'sure' as long as Diamond could come along.  (E.G. West, the Adam Smith biographer, was also there, I think at Rogge's behest.)  The apartment had been Milton Friedman's for many years.  In fact I think he had built the several story apartment building, because he wanted convenient, comfortable living quarters close to his Chicago office.  Friedman's apartment occupied the top floor, and I vaguely recall, afforded a nice view of the campus. 

I lived for a year at International House, next to the Friedman apartment building.  I remember on Sunday morning's seeing Friedman dash into International House to buy his copy of the Sunday New York Times.  ("Dash" is too strong, but he certainly moved with more vigor than I ever have on Sunday mornings.)

When Friedman left Chicago for the Hoover Institute in California, he sold, or sublet his apartment to Stigler, who apparently used it on evenings when he did not want to drive out to his modest home in the Chicago suburb of Flossmoor.

I was stunned to be in the presence of Stigler in Milton Friedman's former abode.  (I seem to remember E.G. West seeming almost equally overwhelmed.)  I remember much of the time being spent with Stigler trying to convince Rogge to join him for golf the following day.  Rogge demurred because he was wanting to see, for the first time, I think, a newly born grandchild in the Chicago area.  (Family was extremely important to Rogge, both in theory, and in practice.)

I also remember Stigler asking Rogge about Rogge's having convinced Friedman to give a speech at a fund-raiser at Wabash.  Stigler said something to the effect that this was the level of favor that he could not ask often of Friedman, and did the cause really justify it.  (I think one of Stigler's sons had been a Wabash student while Rogge was Dean of Students at Wabash.)  Rogge seemed to appreciate Stigler's point, but seemed to believe that solidifying Wabash's endowment was a worthy enough cause.

(This, by the way, is ironic, since Rogge agreed with Adam Smith that endowments were apt to be used for purposes different from the donor's intent.  In the founding of Liberty Fund, Rogge had tried to persuade Pierre Goodrich to have the Fund spend all of its funds in some modestly finite number of years.)

After I gradually made the switch from philosophy to economics, at Chicago, I got to know Stigler fairly well, but unfortunately did not know Friedman, personally, as well.

I remember attending a reception at Chicago in honor of Friedman's winning the Nobel Prize in 1976.  (It was at that reception, that I first struck up a conversation with my good friend Luis Locay.)

I registered for Milton Friedman's price theory class the final time he taught it, I think.  It was in a large, dark tiered classroom.  At the beginning of every class, Friedman would almost bounce into the classroom, bursting with pent-up energy.  I do not smile easily, or often, but I always smiled when I saw Friedman.  There was so much good-will, joy in life, enthusiasm for ideas. 

During one of these entrances, I noticed that Friedman, well into his 60s, was wearing the counter-culture-popular 'earth shoes'; apparently he was out-front in footwear, as well as ideas.

One characteristic that came through in class, as well as in his public debates and interviews, was that he was focused on the ideas and not the personalities expressing them.  I remember seeing Friedman debating some union official on television.  He talked at one point about how he and the official had had to work hard in their youth.  Friedman seemed to like the union official; he just disagreed with some of his ideas, and wanted the union official and everyone else, to understand why.  By the end of the "debate", the union official had a warm, amused, expression on his face.

I remember once Friedman saying that more of us should speak out more often on more topics; that the bad consequences to us weren't as bad as we supposed.  Probably he was right; though he had a lot working in his favor---his quick-wittedness, his good will, his sense of humor, and probably his being so short in physical stature---it was probably hard for anyone to feel threatened by him, so they were more apt to let down their guard and listen to what he had to say.

One of the unfair hardships of some of Friedman's years at Chicago, was the constant harassment from a group of Marxist students called, I think, the Spartacus Youth League.  Whenever Friedman was scheduled to speak, they would disrupt the event, and try to prevent his speaking.

So when it was time to tape the discussion half-hours of each hour episode of the original "Free to Choose" series, the discussions were scheduled as invitation-only.  I was in the audience for two or three of the discussions.  (They were fine, but personally, I would have preferred another half hour of pure Friedman.)

 

As a poor graduate student, I counted myself extremely lucky to find an auto-repairman who was a wizard at finding creative ways to keep old cars running, at low repair cost.  He was a man of few words, put he kept the words he gave.

I ran into him and his wife in a little Lebanese restaurant that was run out of the secondary student union just down from I-House.  He invited me to sit with them, which I did.  I remember him telling me that they were gypsies, and him mentioning that people sometimes had the wrong idea about gypsies.  He told me that he had been raised never to go into debt.  He told me how cheap White Castle hamburgers used to be.  When I told him that I was studying economics, he surprised me by saying that Milton Friedman had been a customer of his, and that he really liked Milton Friedman.

This gypsy was a simple, decent, hard-working fellow.  I don't know, but I strongly guess that Friedman saw the good in this fellow, and treasured what he saw.  And the gypsy liked Milton Friedman back.

 

Whenever I saw Friedman interviewed on television, or read one of his letters, or op-ed pieces, in the Wall Street Journal, I would feel a bit more optimistic about freedom, and life.  A lot of people give up, at some point, but Friedman never did---he just kept on observing, and thinking, and speaking.  The last time I had any interaction with him was at the meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) on April 4, 2005.  He was hooked up with the conference via video camera from an office in California.  He gave a brief presentation, and then spent quite some time answering questions.  (I recorded some of these in grainy, small video clips that can be viewed on my web site, or viewed on the web site of the APEE.)

I asked him a question about whether he agreed with Stigler in Stigler's memoirs that Schumpeter had something important to say about competition.  I wasn't as impressed by his answer to this question, as I was to some of his other answers.

I think that Schumpeter may be remembered as a crucial economist for our understanding of the process of capitalism:  innovative new products through creative destruction.  But if capitalist innovation prospers, part of the credit will belong to Milton Friedman.  

Friedman and Stigler were led into economics in part because of the challenge to capitalism posed by the Great Depression.  If depressions of that magnitude were an essential part of what capitalism was about, then a lot of people would prefer to have nothing to do with capitalism.  Schumpeter's response basically was to say that every once in awhile, really bad depressions will happen as part of the process of capitalism, and we just have to suck it up, and live through them. 

One of Milton Friedman's major contributions to economics, was to show that ill-advised government policies, such as a contraction of the money supply, were responsible for making the depression much deeper, and much longer than it needed to have been.  (See, e.g,  A Monetary History of the United States.)

In other words, he showed that Great Depressions are not an inescapable price we must pay if we choose to embrace the economic freedom, and the creative destruction, of capitalism.

 

When Friedman cleaned out his Chicago office to head for California, he left in the hallway for scavenging, extra copies of some of his books, and offprints of articles various academics had sent him.  So I have a Spanish copy of Capitalism and Freedom (even though I don't read Spanish), and several offprints of articles from distinguished economists who sent "best wishes" to "Milton." 

After the office was cleared out, I remember sticking my head in, and looking around the empty office, one final time, for sentiment's sake.  I was stunned to see a bright red, white and blue silk banner left hanging on the wall.  It was festooned with American flags, and said, in large letters:  "Buy American!" 

I felt anxious and confused:  was one of my heroes inconsistent on such a basic issue?  So I entered the office, and went over to the banner, and examined it more carefully.  It was then that I noticed, in small letters at the bottom of the banner:  "Made in Japan".

 

Some book references relevant to the discussion above:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Friedman, Milton, and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Nber Studies in Business Cycles. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1980.

Stigler, George J. Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988.

West, E. G. Adam Smith: The Man and His Works: Arlington House, 1969.

 

 In vino veritas.  Photo from Tio Pepe Bodega, Jerez, Spain.  Photographer:  Dagny Diamond.

 

Continue reading "Milton Friedman, Freedom's Friend, RIP" »




November 10, 2006

Gerstner Mentions "Leapfrog Competition"

After hearing a "leapfrog competition" mention in Gerstner's book, I did a phrase search in Amazon.  Apparently he uses the phrase once, as follows:

 

(p. 159)  This doesn't mean it wasn't a good transaction for AT&T.  It allowed AT&T to leapfrog its competitors.  But for IBM it was a strategic coup.

 

The book is:

Gerstner, Louis V., Jr. Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.




November 8, 2006

Gerstner's Insights on Business

 Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/0060523794.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1122531345_.jpg

 

Gerstner is known for turning around IBM, when many business experts thought it was headed down the tubes.  His book is useful as a report on what happened at IBM during his time as CEO, and also has some more broadly applicable observations.  I'll mention a few of these in this and a few other postings in the next couple of weeks. 

It is interesting how many successful and important business leaders and experts have spent some time associated with the McKinsey consulting group, where Gerstner started his career.  One major McKinsey figure, Richard Foster, is a strong advocate and elaborator of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction. 

I wonder if perhaps some of the success of McKinsey is due to the firm's embracing and applying Schumpeter's ideas?

Those who oppose creative destruction emphasize the destructive effect that the process has on some workers.  In fact the effects on labor are seen by many (e.g., Thomas Friedman) who are otherwise sympathetic, to be the major drawback of the process.  As a result some of them (e.g., Thomas Friedman) propose paternalistic 'safety net' labor policies.

We usually think of government as the main implementer of such policies, but among firms, IBM's labor policies were among the most paternalistic.  This is usually viewed as one of the positives about IBM.  But one of Gerstner's insights is to suggest that some of those in the IBM work force were hurt by IBM's paternalistic policies:

(p. 186)  . . . I came to feel that the real problem was not that employees felt they were entitled.  They had just become accustomed to immunity from things like recessions, price wars, and technology changes.  And for the most part, they didn't even realize that this self-contained, insulated system also worked against them.  I was shocked, for instance, to discover the pay disparities---particularly in very important technical and sales professions---of IBM comployess when comapred to the competition and the industry in general.  Our best people weren't getting what they deserved.

Maybe I should mention that I don't endorse everything in the book.  For example, Gerstner seems to think that a desire to "win" is crucial to success in business.  But I think the analogy between business and competitive sports is usually taken too far.  Can't one also succeed in business from a desire to innovate and to improve the world?

 

The reference on the book is: 

Gerstner, Louis V., Jr.  Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2002.

(Note:  in the quote, the ellipsis was added, but the italics was in the original.)

 




October 14, 2006

R&D Stats Better; But Still Omit a Lot of Innovation

GDPgrowthWithR&Dgraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

Note well Romer's caveat below that, although we may be measuring better, we are still not measuring Schumpeterian innovations (such as the Wal-Mart innovations that are vastly increasing the efficiency of retailing).

 

That research and development makes an important contribution to U.S. economic growth has long been obvious.  But in an important advance, the nation's economic scorekeepers declared they can now measure that contribution and found that it is increasing.

. . .

Since the 1950s, economists have explained economic output as the result of measurable inputs.  Any increase in output that can't be explained by capital and labor is called "multifactor productivity" or "the Solow residual," after Robert Solow, the Nobel Prize-winning economist considered the father of modern growth theory.

From 1959 to 2002, this factor accounted for about 20% of U.S. growth.  From 1995 to 2002, when productivity growth accelerated sharply, that grew to about 33%.  Accounting for R&D would explain about one-fifth, by some measures, of the productivity mystery.  It suggests companies have been investing more than the official data had previously shown -- a good omen for future economic growth.  "The slump in investment is not as drastic as people thought before they saw these figures," says Dale Jorgenson, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Mr. Jorgenson noted a lot of the multifactor productivity growth remains unexplained.  "The great mystery of growth . . . is not eliminated."

Paul Romer, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, said the better the measurements of R&D become, the more economists and policy makers will realize other factors may be more important.  "If you look at why we had rapid productivity growth in big-box retailing, there were lots of intangibles and ideas that . . . don't get recorded as R&D."

 

For the full story, see:

GREG IP and MARK WHITEHOUSE.  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., September 29, 2006):  A2.

(Note:  The slightly different online version of the title is:  "Why Economists Track Firms' R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth.")

(Note:  ellipses in Jorgenson and Romer quotes, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

 




October 2, 2006

Markets, Not Courts, Should Decide Intel Market Share

Intel executives, coming up on a pre-trial conference in a case that could decide their company's fate, should be looking with envy and admiration at Tiger Woods, and wondering how to make their business more like his.

If golf followed the same path as other businesses, Tiger could expect to face a lawsuit contending that his dominance of professional golf is based on unfair competition.  And in fact,  a few years back Sergio Garcia whined that Tiger got better practice times, favorable treatment around the course, more protection against distracting fans -- little things that could, Mr. Garcia intimated, explain Tiger's edge.  Sportswriters responded swiftly, deriding Mr. Garcia for looking to blame others for his being outcompeted.  They understood that sports contests belong on the field, not in the media or the courts.

The same should be true of business.  Market-based economies thrive on competition.  The competitive economy doesn't yield an infinite number of equally successful firms producing indistinguishable products, but lets winners and losers emerge from marketplace competition.  The (inevitably) temporary dominance of one product or one firm spurs others to compete harder.  Today, however, many businesses -- especially American ones -- find it easier to restrain a dominant competitor through the courts than to beat it in the market.

Take the case of Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, the dominant chipmaker for PCs and servers.  AMD for years played the role of Phil Mickelson to Intel Corporation's Tiger Woods -- the talented rival who keeps coming up short in head-to-head competition.  Last year, it decided to model Mr. Garcia rather than Mr. Mickelson, filing an antitrust action against Intel, charging it with a variety of unlawful actions.

. . .

AMD finds fault in Intel's continued market dominance:  Because Intel has had 80% or more of the x86 chip processor market for many years it must be doing something illegal to keep rivals out.  Yet, George Stigler, among others, long ago debunked the significance of market share as a measure of competition.  Duopoly markets, like the market for large commercial aircraft, can be fiercely competitive.  Ask anyone working at Boeing or Airbus.

Moreover, markets can change rapidly, especially high-tech markets, often in ways unanticipated by antitrust suits.  Witness the changes in computing that caused the government's antitrust case against IBM to implode.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

RON CASS.  "RULE OF LAW; Tigers by the Tail."  Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 23, 2006):  A7.

 




September 24, 2006

Life Is Better, But Could Be Better Still

  November 9, 1952 NYT ad announcing the introduction of the snowblower.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  When the first snow falls on the North Shore of Chicago this winter, Robert Gordon will take his Toro snow blower out of the garage and think about how lucky he is not to be using a shovel.  Mr. Gordon is 66 years old and evidently quite healthy, but his doctor has told him that he should never clear his driveway with his own hands.  “People can die from shoveling snow,” Mr. Gordon said.  “I bet a lot of lives have been saved by snow blowers.”

If so, most of them have been saved in the last few decades.  A Canadian teenager named Arthur Sicard came up with the idea for the snow blower in the late 1800’s, while watching the blades on a piece of farm equipment, but he didn’t sell any until 1927.  For the next 30 years or so, snow blowers were hulking machines typically bought by cities and schools.  Only recently have they become a suburban staple.

Yet the benefits of the snow blower, namely more free time and less health risk, are largely missing from the government’s attempts to determine Americans’ economic well-being.  The same goes for dozens of other inventions, be they air-conditioners, cellphones or medical devices.  The reasons are a little technical — they involve the measurement of inflation — but they’re important to understand, because the implications are so large.

. . .

(p. C10)  In the early 1950’s, Toro began selling mass-market snow blowers, which weighed up to 500 pounds and cost at least $150.  As far as the Bureau of the Labor Statistics was concerned, however, snow blowers did not exist until 1978.  That was the year when the machines began to be counted in the Consumer Price Index, the source of the official inflation rate.  By then, the cheapest model sold for about $100.

In practical terms, this was an enormous price decline compared with the 1950’s, because incomes had risen enormously over this period.  Yet the price index completely missed it and, by doing so, overstated inflation.  It counted the rising cost of cars and groceries but not the falling cost of snow blowers.

. . .

Mr. Gordon, besides being a fan of snow blowers, also happens to be one of the country’s leading macroeconomists.  A decade ago he served on a government-appointed group known as the Boskin Commission.  It argued, as Mr. Gordon still does, that the government exaggerated inflation by more than one percentage point every year.

. . .

. . .  Mr. Gordon’s adjustments show that men actually got a 27 percent raise in this period and women 65 percent.  The gains are not as big as those of the 1950’s and 60’s, but they do sound far more realistic than the official numbers.  Think about it:  we live longer than people did in the 1970’s, we’re healthier while alive, we graduate from college in much greater numbers, we’re surrounded by new gadgets and we live in bigger houses.  Is it really plausible, as some Democrats claim, that the middle class has made only marginal progress?

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "Economix; Life Is Better; It Isn’t Better. Which Is It?"  The New York Times  (Weds., September 20, 2006):  C1 & C10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 PayTwoViewsGraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




August 21, 2006

Big Business Is Often Bashed, But Is Not Always Bad

(p. 4) BUSINESS bashing by politicians in America has a long history, including rhetoric far more inflammatory than the denunciations being directed at Wal-Mart this year by some Democrats, who sometimes sound as if they are running against the company instead of another politician.

. . .

The company may not appreciate the honor, but its place in the political debate reflects its revolutionary effect on the American economy.

Put simply, the big winners as the economy changes have often been scary to many, particularly those with a stake in the old economic order being torn asunder.

“Twice as many Americans shop at Wal-Mart over the course of a year than voted in the last presidential election,” said H. Lee Scott Jr., the company’s chief executive, in a speech to the National Governors Association in February.

Wal-Mart’s success reflects its ability to charge less for a wide range of goods.  That arguably has reduced inflation and made the economy more efficient.  It has introduced innovations in managing inventory and shipping goods.

. . .

But the fact that Wal-Mart has more shoppers than any politician has voters shows that many of those workers — and many people higher on the income scale — find its prices irresistible.  That group no doubt includes some of the company’s critics.

Previous business targets of politicians have similarly been both popular and reviled.  The railroads enabled much of America to prosper, but to many people in the late 19th century they were viewed as villains.

They upset old economic relationships by making it possible to ship goods over much longer distances, thus introducing competition for local businesses and farms.

 

For the full commentary, see:

FLOYD NORRIS.  "THE NATION; Swiping at Industry From Atop the Stump."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., August 20, 2006):  4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

   Illinois protesters bashing Wal-Mart during the summer of 2006.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 15, 2006

More and Better Jobs Gained by 'Insourcing' than are Lost to 'Outsourcing'

  N. Gregory Mankiw, former chair of W.'s Council of Economic Advisors. The media, most Democrats, and some Republicans, skewered Mankiw in 2004 for simply and clearly stating the truth about outsourcing. Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

In December 2005, the McKinsey Global Institute predicted that 1.4 million jobs would be outsourced overseas from 2004 to 2008, or about 280,000 a year.  That’s a drop in the bucket.  In July, there were 135.35 million payroll jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Thanks to the forces of creative destruction, more jobs are created and lost in a few months than will be outsourced in a year.  Diana Farrell, director of the McKinsey Global Institute, notes that in May 2005 alone, 4.7 million Americans started new jobs with new employers.

What’s more, the threat of outsourcing varies widely by industry.  Lots of services require face-to-face interaction for people to do their jobs.  That is particularly true for the biggest sectors, retail and health care.  As a result, according to a McKinsey study, only 3 percent of retail jobs and 8 percent of health care jobs can possibly be outsourced.  By contrast, McKinsey found that nearly half the jobs in packaged software and information technology services could be done offshore.  But those sectors account for only about 2 percent of total employment.  The upshot:  “Only 11 percent of all U.S. services job could theoretically be performed offshore,” Ms. Farrell says.

Economists have also found that jobs or sectors susceptible to outsourcing aren’t disappearing.  Quite the opposite.  Last fall, J. Bradford Jensen, deputy director at the International Institute of Economics, based in Washington, and Lori G. Kletzer, professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, documented the degree to which various service sectors and jobs were “tradable,” ranging from computer and mathematical occupations (100 percent) to food preparation (4 percent).

Not surprisingly, Mr. Jensen and Professor Kletzer found that in recent years there has been greater job insecurity in the tradable job categories.  But they also concluded that jobs in those industries paid higher wages, and that tradable industries had grown faster than nontradable industries.  “That could mean that this is our competitive advantage,” Mr. Jensen says.  “In other words, what the U.S. does well is the highly skilled, higher-paid jobs within those tradable services.”

There is evidence that within sectors, lower-paying jobs are being outsourced while the more skilled ones are being kept here.  In a 2005 study, Catherine L. Mann, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, found that from 1999 to 2003, when outsourcing was picking up pace, the United States lost 125,000 programming jobs but added 425,000 jobs for higher-skilled software engineers and analysts.

 

For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL GROSS. "Economic View; Why ‘Outsourcing’ May Lose Its Power as a Scare Word." The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., August 13, 2006):  5. 




August 11, 2006

U.S. Economy Can Prosper, Even if G.M. Does Not

The fragility of success for large corporations is documented in the early chapters of the Foster and Kaplan book that is mentioned below. 

(p. 1)  THE announcement last week that General Motors would cut 25,000 jobs and close several factories is yet another blow to the Goliath of automakers and its workers.  But only if you work for G.M. is the company's decline a worry.  For consumers, the decline can be seen as a symbol of healthy competition.

G.M.'s sales, market share and work force have all been falling for a generation, even as the quality of its vehicles has gone up.  Why?  Because its competitors' products have improved even more.  Today's auto buyers enjoy an unprecedented array of well-built, well-equipped, reasonably priced vehicles offered by many manufacturers.

. . .

(p. 3)  . . .  even if a new generation is drawn to G.M.'s products, recovery of its former position seems unlikely.  Other brands have improved, too:  J.D. Power estimates that for the auto industry overall, manufacturing defects declined 32 percent since 1998 alone.

There is also great pressure to hold prices down, which is bad for companies like G.M. with vast amounts of overhead.  According to the consumer price index, new cars and light trucks today cost less in real-dollar terms than in 1982, despite having air bags, antilock brakes, CD players, power windows and other features either unavailable or considered luxury options back then.

This means that during the very period that General Motors has declined, American car buyers have become better off.  Competition can have the effect of ''creative destruction,'' in the economist Joseph Schumpeter's famous term, harming workers in some places, while everyone else comes out ahead.

. . .

As it continues to shrink, G.M. may serve as an exemplar of what the world economy will do in many arenas -- knock off established leaders, while improving quality and cutting prices.  In their 2001 book ''Creative Destruction,'' Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan, analysts at McKinsey & Company, documented how even powerhouse companies that are ''built to last'' usually succumb to competition.

Competition can be a utilitarian force that brings the greatest good to the greatest number.  Someday when the remaining divisions of General Motors are bought by some start-up company that doesn't even exist yet, try to keep that in mind.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

GREGG EASTERBROOK.  "What's Bad for G.M. Is . . ."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sunday, June 12, 2005):  1 & 3.

(Note:  the ellipsis in the title is in the original title; the ellipses in the article, were added.)

 

The full reference to the Foster and Kaplan book, is:

Foster, Richard and Sarah Kaplan.  Creative Destruction:  Why Companies that Are Built to Last Underperform the Market---and How to Successfully Transform Them.  New York:  Currency Books, 2001.

 




August 10, 2006

Static Assumptions Undermine Economic Policy Analysis


Over 50 years ago, Schumpeter emphasized that static models of capitalism miss what is most important in capitalism.  Yet static analysis still dominates most policy discussions.  But there is hope:


(p. A14) A bit of background:  Most official analysis of tax policy is based on what economists call "static assumptions."  While many microeconomic behavioral responses are included, the future path of macroeconomic variables such as the capital stock and GNP are assumed to stay the same, regardless of tax policy.  This approach is not realistic, but it has been the tradition in tax analysis mainly because it is simple and convenient.

In his 2007 budget, President Bush directed the Treasury staff to develop a dynamic analysis of tax policy, and we are now reaping the fruits of those efforts.  The staff uses a model that does not consider the short-run effects of tax policy on the business cycle, but instead focuses on its longer run effects on economic growth through the incentives to work, save and invest, and to allocate capital among competing uses.

 

For the full story, see:

ROBERT CARROLL and N. GREGORY MANKIW.  "Dynamic Analysis."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., July 26, 2006):  A14.





August 4, 2006

Schumpeter Not Invited to Milton Friedman's Dinner Party


FriedmanRoseMilton.jpg   Rose and Milton Friedman.  Source of image:  the online venison of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Milton Friedman is one of my heroes.  But my dinner party invitation list would include Hayek and Schumpeter in place of Marshall and Keynes.

 

If they were to throw a small dinner party . . . for Mr. Friedman's favorite economists (dead or alive), who'd be invited?  . . . he reeled off this answer:  "Dead or alive, it's clear that Adam Smith would be No. 1. Alfred Marshall would be No. 2. John Maynard Keynes would be No. 3. And George Stigler would be No. 4. George was one of our closest friends."  (Here, Mrs. Friedman, also an economist of distinction, noted sorrowfully that "it's hard to believe that George is dead.")

 

For the full interview, see: 

TUNKU VARADARAJAN. "COMMENTARY: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Rose and Milton Friedman; The Romance of Economics." The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., July 22, 2006):  A10.





August 2, 2006

Life Has Improved; And Can Continue to Improve

 Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

(p. 1)  New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled.  Over the past 100 years, says one researcher, Robert W. Fogel of the University of Chicago, humans in the industrialized world have undergone “a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth.”

. . .

(p. 19)  . . .  stressful occupations added to the burden on the body.

People would work until they died or were so disabled that they could not continue, Dr. Fogel said. “In 1890, nearly everyone died on the job, and if they lived long enough not to die on the job, the average age of retirement was 85,” he said. Now the average age is 62.

A century ago, most people were farmers, laborers or artisans who were exposed constantly to dust and fumes, Dr. Costa said. “I think there is just this long-term scarring.”

 

For the full story, see:

Health1860s1994.gif Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

HealthCivilWarAndNow.gif EscapeFromHungerAndPrematureDeath1700-2100BK.jpg  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above.  Source of book image:  http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521808782

 

Fogel's book is a primary academic source for much of what is interesting in the New York Times article.  Fogel predicts that if we don't screw things up, half of today's college students will live to be 100.  He shows that academics in the past have consistently and significantly underestimated the maximum lifespans that would be attainable in the future.

The full reference for the Fogel book is:

Fogel, Robert William. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100, Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

 




July 30, 2006

Beware of a Snapshot of a Moment in Time

  Source of photo:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/world/middleeast/27mideast.html?pagewanted=2

 

The photo of Condi Rice touching her forehead ran on the top of the front page of the New York Times on Thurs., July 27, 2006.  It ran big:  filling over a third of the length of the paper, and over half of the width.  It ran right next to the main headline of the front page:  "CEASE-FIRE TALKS STALL AS FIGHTING RAGES ON 2 FRONTS."

It appears that Condi Rice is discouraged, or has a headache, or is overcome. 

But a great CNN report by Jeanne Moos run on Sat., July 29, shows a dynamic version of the minute during which this snapshot was taken.  It shows that this photo is a split-second moment of Condi Rice brushing hair off of her forehead.

Our usual view of competition is to look at how many competitors there are at a moment in time.  We look at a snapshot.  But to really judge competition we must take Schumpeter seriously and look dynamically at whether there is the possibility of leapfrog competition over time.

In an earlier blog entry, I noted that Ronald Reagan resisted sitting for still photos because he thought that still photos could easily be manipulated to mislead.  Ronald Reagan was right.

 

(Jeanne Moos's report was entitled "Hairy Talks or Hair in Eyes?" on the CNN web site.  I believe it first ran on 7/28/06, though I saw it replayed in the afternoon of 7/29/06.)

 




July 29, 2006

Current Workplace Revolution Benefits Labor

(p. 8)  Would you change places with your grandfather?  Would you want to work 11 brutal hours a day... in yesterday's Bethlehem Steel mill, a Ford Motor Company factory circa 1935?  Not me.  Nor would I change places with my father ... who labored in a whilte-collar sweatshop, at the same company, in the same building, for 41 l-o-n-g years.

A workplace revolution is under way.  No sensible person expects to spend a lifetime in a single corporation anymore.  Some call this shift the "end of corporate responsibility."  I call it ... the Beginning of Renewed Individual Responsibility.  An extraordinary opportunity to take charge of our own lives.

 

Source of passage:

Peters, Tom.  Re-imagine!  London: DK, 2003.

(Note:  all of the ellipses in the above passage, appear in the original.)




July 26, 2006

Intense Competition in Chip Duopoly

IntelAMDWar.gif

Phil Hester, apparently a chip hotshot, joined A.M.D. ten months ago as its technology chief, to "help lead its battle against Intel."  (Hector Ruis, mentioned below, is the C.E.O. of A.M.D.)

Mr. Hester and other A.M.D. executives say that the technology in its laboratories gives them plenty of reason for optimism, and that in some product categories Intel is just catching up to advances A.M.D. pioneered.  Just next month, for example, A.M.D. is expected to introduce improvements to Opteron, and both companies are designing chips to run cooler and consume less energy.

Much like Intel, A.M.D. is working to increase the number of processors on each chip from two to four, and the company says it will introduce new designs for servers and desktop systems that will be released in mid-2007, followed later in the year by a new design for notebooks.  Many analysts are also expecting the company to counter Intel’s pricing moves with price cuts of its own.  At A.M.D.’s annual conference for analysts last month, Mr. Hester also disclosed an unusual plan to let other manufacturers build chips that work closely with its own chips, indicating an openness and flexibility that has not been seen before in the company’s strategy.

With that effort, referred to as Torrenza, A.M.D. is licensing some of its chip specifications to other technology developers so they can add specialized functions, like advanced graphics and math processing.

“We want to open up our technology and unleash a completely new wave of innovation,” Mr. Ruiz told analysts at the conference.

Advanced Micro has picked up about five percentage points of market share over the past year, nearly all of that from Intel, according to Mercury Research.  Today, A.M.D.’s overall share is about 21 percent, to Intel’s 74 percent, and at the analyst meeting Mr. Ruiz said the goal was to have a 30 percent share by 2008.

Mr. Hester said A.M.D.’s road map for new products had not changed much since his arrival.  Mostly he has focused on improving the way employees manage projects and pushing them to develop multiple designs at one time.  He said he also emphasized cooperation inside development teams, rather than having teams compete for attention.

The competitive situation has helped with this.  “Being the underdog creates a culture of cooperation,” Mr. Hester said.

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURIE J. FLYNN.  "Jumping at the Chance to Fire Away in the Chip War."  The New York Times (Weds., July 19, 2006):  C7. 

 

(Note:  the online version of the article has a different title, viz., "A.M.D. Seeks to Gain in Its Rivalry With Intel.")




July 25, 2006

Tom Peters: Over-the-Top Schumpeterian


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/078949647X/ref=cm_cr_dp_2_1/104-2835260-2878345?ie=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155

 

Tom Peters became famous as the co-author of the business classic In Search of Excellence (1982).  His Re-imagine! is exuberant, optimistic, exaggerated, and stylistically over-the-top.  I find it fun, bracing, entertaining, and sometimes edifying.  If you like the prose of The Cluetrain Manifesto and Gilder's Telecosm, then you may also like Re-imagine!

Here is an early, very brief passage: 


(p. 9)  My overall vision, in brief:  Business is cool. It's about Creativity and Invention and Growth and Service.  It's about Adam Smith's "hidden hand."  And Nobel laureate Frederick Hayek's "spontaneous discovery process."  And economist Joseph Schumpeter's "gales of creative destruction."  At its best, it's about building things that make life less burdensome than it was in medieval times.  About getting us beyond---far, far, far beyond---the quasi-slavery of the Middle Ages, the indentured servitude of the first 150 years of the Industrial Revolution, and the cubicle slavery of the last three-quarters of a century. 

Yes, business is cool.

(Or at least it can be.)

 

The citation to the book is:

Peters, Tom. Re-Imagine! London: DK, 2003.

(Note:  the italics in the above passage appears that way in the original.)





July 20, 2006

Job Hopping May Aid Technological Experimentation

When employees jump from company to company, they take their knowledge with them.  ''The innovation from one firm will tend to bleed over into other firms,'' Professor Rebitzer explained.  For a given company, ''it's hard to capture the returns on your innovation,'' he went on.  ''From an economics perspective, that should hamper innovation.''

He found a possible answer to the puzzle in the work of two management scholars, Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark.  In their book ''Design Rules:  The Power of Modularity'' (MIT Press, 2000), they argued that when there is a lot of technological uncertainty, the fastest way to find the best solution is to permit lots of independent experiments.  That requires modular designs rather than tightly integrated systems.

''By having a lot of modular experimenters, you can take the best, which will be a lot better than the average,'' Professor Rebitzer said.  Employee mobility may encourage productive innovation, as people quickly move to whichever company comes up with the best new technology.

. . .

To Professor Rebitzer's surprise (though not his co-authors'), it turns out that Silicon Valley employees really do move around more often than other people.  The researchers looked at job changes by male college graduates from 1994 to 2001.  During that period, an average of 2.41 percent of respondents changed jobs in any given month.

But, they write, ''living in Silicon Valley increases the rate of employer-to-employer job change by 0.8 percentage point.''

''This effect is both statistically and behaviorally significant -- suggesting employer-to-employer mobility rates are 40 percent higher than the sample average.''

 

For the full commentary, see: 

VIRGINIA POSTREL.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; In Silicon Valley, Job Hopping Contributes to Innovation."  The New York Times  (Thursday, December 1, 2005):  C4.

 

A PDF of the paper by Rebitzer and colleagues is downloadable at:    http://www.federalreserve.gov/Pubs/feds/2005/200511/200511abs.html

 

The book Postrel praises, is:

Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0262024667/104-2835260-2878345?redirect=true



July 5, 2006

Russians Try to Steal Rocker's Vacuum Tube Factory

Mike Matthews holding one of the vacuum tubes produced in the Russian factory he owns.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  SARATOV, Russia — Mike Matthews, a sound-effects designer and one-time promoter of Jimi Hendrix, bought an unusual Russian factory making vacuum tubes for guitar amplifiers.  Now he has encountered a problem increasingly common here: someone is trying to steal his company.

Sharp-elbowed personalities in Russia's business world are threatening this factory in a case that features accusations of bribery and dark hints of involvement by the agency that used to be the K.G.B.

Though similar to hundreds of such disputes across Russia, this one is resonating around the world, particularly in circles of musicians and fans of high-end audio equipment.

Russia is one of only three countries still making vacuum tubes for use in reproducing music, an aging technology that nonetheless "warms up" the sound of electronic music in audio equipment.

"It's rock 'n' roll versus the mob," Mr. Matthews, 64, said in a telephone interview from New York, where he manages his business distributing the Russian vacuum tubes.  "I will not give in to racketeers."

Yet the hostile takeover under way here is not strictly mob-related.  It is a dispute peculiar to a country where property rights — whether for large oil companies, car dealerships or this midsize factory — seem always open to renegotiation.  It provides a view of the wobbly understanding of ownership that still prevails.

. . .

(p. C4)  If the tube factory dies, so will the future of a rock 'n' roll sound dating back half a century, the rich grumble of a guitar tube amplifier — think of Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" — that musicians say cannot be replicated with modern technology.

"It's nice and sweet and just pleasing sounding," Peter Stroud, the guitarist for Sheryl Crow, said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.  "It's a smooth, crunchy distortion that just sounds good.  It just feels good to play on a tube amp."

He added:  "It would be a catastrophe for the music industry if something happened to that plant."

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "From Russia, With Dread; American Faces a Truly Hostile Takeover Attempt at His Factory."  The New York Times   (Tuesday, May 16, 2006):  C1 & C4.

 

The transistor disrupted the vacuum tube, a case that would usually be described as an episode of creative destruction.  One secondary lesson from the story above is that there may be a previously unremarked symmetry to the process of disruption.  A disruptive technology typically appeals only to a niche in the market, while the incumbent technology dominates the mainstream.  But after the disruptive technology improves sufficiently to capture much of the mainstream market, maybe there often will remain a niche market that still prefers the older disruptive technology?

To use Danny DeVito's example in "Other People's Money," the car may have disrupted horse-and-buggies.  But for some nostalgic "jobs" the horse-and-buggy may still be the better product, so there will likely remain some demand for buggy whips.

To the extent that this phenomenon is significant, it might serve to ease the labor market transition when one technology leapfrogs another.

 

VacuumTubeBox.jpg A vacuum tube used in guitar amplifiers, that was produced in the factory that Mike Matthews owned.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




July 4, 2006

Entrepreneur Risks His Money; Government Risks Yours


KaiserGeorgeB.jpg George B. Kaiser.  Source of photo: http://www.forbes.com/finance/lists/10/2003/LIR.jhtml?passListId=10&passYear=2003&passListType=Person&uniqueId=OXNB&datatype=Person

 

(p. A1)  In 2002, Kathleen Eisbrenner, then an executive at El Paso Corp., spent months trying in vain to find a buyer for the company's novel technology for importing natural gas.

In February 2003, she left for a vacation in Cancun, convinced that El Paso would be forced to abandon the project.  As she sat on the beach one afternoon, she got a call on her cellphone.  A colleague had a message from an intermediary, who said he had an "interested buyer," identified only as a "Midwest billionaire."

"It's Warren Buffett calling," she recalls telling her husband as they clinked pina colada glasses together in celebration.  "I was absolutely sure."

But it wasn't Mr. Buffett.  It was another billionaire named George B. Kaiser. 

 . . .

(p. A6)  . . . , Ms. Eisbrenner called Nicolas Saverys, the chief executive of Belgium-based Exmar NV.  Exmar was building two of the new-style LNG vessels.  Ms. Eisbrenner gushed that there was a wealthy buyer.  Mr. Saverys was initially skeptical.  He changed his mind in late February 2003 after meeting Mr. Kaiser in New York.  "At last, I was talking to someone who was putting his own money at stake," he says.

Mr. Saverys sealed the relationship by presenting Mr. Kaiser with a box of pralines from Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini at their second meeting.  Mr. Kaiser, an avowed chocoholic, returned the favor a couple of weeks later in Tulsa, giving Mr. Saverys a box of candy made by Christine Joseph, a Tulsa chocolatier who also was born in Belgium.

Convinced that Energy Bridge could work, Mr. Kaiser agreed to take over the business, closing the deal last December.  El Paso paid him $75 million; in return, he assumed a $120 million obligation to Exmar.  El Paso also agreed to pay to install the underwater pipeline connection that carries the gas from the ship to existing pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico.

The bulk of the $660 million Mr. Kaiser invested went to modify three specially equipped tankers and to charter them for 20 years.  If Energy Bridge opens on time in January, it will be at least two and a half years ahead of any new terminals being developed by other energy companies.  In addition, civic leaders in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, eager to keep LNG terminals and tankers far from the mainland, are encouraging Mr. Kaiser to build an offshore tanker-based project along the Atlantic coast of the U.S.

Mr. Kaiser, who declined requests for an interview but answered some questions by e-mail, concedes he doesn't like "taking a risk on an undemonstrated technology."  But he says that the chance to import natural gas quickly was "such an obvious and alluring business opportunity" that he felt compelled to get Energy Bridge into operation.  He's betting that new LNG-export facilities expected to come online next year in Egypt, Trinidad and Nigeria will create enough extra supply to provide him with ample LNG.

 . . .

He says he acquired Energy Bridge as a challenge.  "I don't gain much pleasure from personal expenditure or recognition," he wrote in an e-mail.  "And any gains I make from the enterprise will accrue to charity.  But I enjoy problem solving and I want to keep my brain active to forestall (or at least diminish) atrophy."

 

For the full story, see:  

Russell Gold.   "Liquid Assets: A Billionaire Takes a Gamble To Fix Natural-Gas Shortage; Mr. Kaiser Plans to Shift Processing Onto Tankers, Avoiding Terrorism Fears; A Deal Sealed With Sweets."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., July 23, 2004):   A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




June 20, 2006

Container Ships Revolutionized Shipment of Goods

Source of book image:  http://www.pupress.princeton.edu/titles/8131.html

 

Virginia Postrel's periodic column in the New York Times over the past six years, was a beacon of optimism, clarity and fresh insights on how the economy works.  The excerpt below is from her last column.  Presumably she is moving on to other worthy challenges, but her column in the Times will be missed.

 

''Low transport costs help make it economically sensible for a factory in China to produce Barbie dolls with Japanese hair, Taiwanese plastics and American colorants, and ship them off to eager girls all over the world,'' writes Marc Levinson in the new book ''The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger'' (Princeton University Press).

For consumers, this results in lower prices and more variety.  ''People now just take it for granted that they have access to an enormous selection of goods from all over the world,'' Mr. Levinson said in an interview.  That selection, he said, ''was made possible by this technological change.''

. . .  

The idea of containerization was simple:  to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk.  But turning that idea into real-life business practice required many additional innovations.

New equipment, from dockside cranes to the containers themselves, had to be developed.  Carriers and shippers had to settle on standard container sizes.  Ports had to strengthen their wharves, create connections to rail lines and highways, build places to store containers and strike new deals with their unions.

Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions.  Malcom McLean himself bought fast fuel-guzzling ships right before the 1973 oil crisis and slow, economical ships just as fuel prices turned down.  ''Almost everybody who was concerned with containerization in any way at some point got the story wrong,'' Mr. Levinson said.

It is a classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

Virginia Postrel.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; The Container That Changed the World."  The New York Times  (Thursday, March 23, 2006):  C3.

 

The full reference to Levinson's book is:

Levinson, Marc.  The Box:  How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.  Princeton University Press, 2006.

 




June 9, 2006

Leapfrog Competition in Video Game Machines

  Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0385479492/ref=cm_cr_dp_2_1/104-0758544-2447945?%5Fencoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155

 

Co-opetition is a readable book with some plausible discussion of interesting cases.  The central message is that business is not always a zero-sum game (in contrast, say, to competitive sports).  One implication is that the firm's complementary relationships with other firms, may deserve as much attention as its competitive relationships. 

One qualitfication:  I think the book too much emphasizes game theory as the sine qua non source of the book's insights.  About the only game theory you really need to understand 99% of the book's analysis is the concept of the "zero-sum game."

In a couple of places, the book discusses "leapfrog" competiton in the video game industry:

 

(p. 102)   By mid-1995 the price of the 3DO machine was down to $400 (with $150 worth of software thrown in).  Cumulative sales passed half a million.  Progress, surely, but as of early 1996, 3DO's future remains uncertain. It no longer has the 32-bit game to itself.  Sega is shipping its 32-bit Saturn machine at $400.  Sony has launched its 32-bit PlayStation at $300.  Looking to leapfrog them all is Nintendo, whose 64-bit Ultra machine is due out in April 1996 at a price under $250.  

(p. 114)  Could a challenger hope to breach Nintendo's virtuous circle?  Not once the circle had got rolling.  Forget about alternatives--TV,  books, sports.  From a kid's perspective, there were no good alternatives to a video game.  The only real threat came from alternative video game systems.  Here, software was key, as always.  With a huge library of Nintendo titles to choose from, why would anyone buy another machine?  Perhaps a challenger could take successful Nintendo games over to its platform and then offer its own library.  But the exclusivity clause killed that option.  No game could be taken to another platform for a two-year period, by which time the game was passe.  A challenger would have had to start from scratch.  While large profits and shortages normally invite entry, the virtuous circle made competing in Nintendo's game hopeless.  The only hope was to leapfrog Nintendo with a new technology; that's what Sega ultimately did, as we'll see in the Scope chapter.

 

Source: 

Brandenburger, Adam M., and Barry J. Nalebuff.  Co-Opetition;  a Revolution Mindset That Combines Competition and Cooperation; the Game Theory Strategy That's Changing the Game of Business,  1st ed.  Currency, 1996.

 

 




June 5, 2006

Leonard Read's Comparative Advantage


When I was a student at Wabash College, Ben Rogge arranged for Liberty Fund to finance my attendance at a couple of weekend seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education in New York.  The seminars were taught by Rogge, Edmund Opitz, and Leonard Read.  I remember upon returning to Wabash after one of the seminars, Rogge asking me what I thought of Read.  I said something along the lines that I didn't much like his presentation style.  I remember saying that he expressed himself in a way that I associated with used car salesmen.  (So unlike Rogge's low-key, witty, intensity.)

My memory is that Rogge did not respond directly to my comment, but (perhaps with a hint of a smile) mentioned that among many audiences, especially in business, Leonard Read was an extremely effective speaker. 

I do not doubt that, and I also do not doubt that Read belongs in the pantheon of free market defenders.  His essay "I, Pencil" is by itself sufficient for admission.  But he did more than write and speak; he nurtured and called attention to others who had wisdom to offer.  For one small example, many of us learned about Albert Jay Nock's "The Remnant" through Leonard Read's The Freeman.

I believe that the last time I saw Read was at the memorial service at Wabash College for Ben Rogge.  I ended up sitting near Read and Opitz, who had flown in from New York.  I introduced myself as a Rogge student who had attended FEE seminars. 

I remember Read looking very sad, and depressed, and almost lost.  I also remember that he expressed some mild indignation that more of Rogge's students hadn't made it back for the memorial service. 

But as a serious reader of "The Remnant," Read on further reflection probably realized that the attendance at a memorial service is not a good measure of a teacher's influence on his students.

Apparently one student, whom Read himself influenced, was Charles Koch:


(p. A8) Whereas the bookshelves of most of America's leading CEOs are stocked with pop corporate management and "how to succeed" books, Mr. Koch's office is a wall-to-wall shrine to writings in classical economics, or, as he calls it, "the science of liberty." The authors who have had the most profound influence on his own political philosophy include F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon, Paul Johnson and Charles Murray.  Mr. Koch says that he experienced an intellectual epiphany in the early 1960s, when he attended a conference on free-market capitalism hosted by the late, great Leonard Read.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006):  A8.

(Note:  In the quotation above, I have corrected the WSJ's misspelling of Read's last name.)





June 1, 2006

"Everybody wants to be like Bill Gates"

Vietnamese university students hoping to see Bill Gates.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/world/asia/27vietnam.html?ex=1303790400&en=255d4d4996b1a9a6&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

 

HANOI, Vietnam, April 26 — It was Lenin's birthday.  The most important Communist Party meeting in five years was under way. And the star of the show was the world's most famous capitalist, Bill Gates.

The president, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister all excused themselves from the party meeting on Saturday to have their pictures taken with Mr. Gates, who has more star power in Vietnam than any of them.

When people heard he was in town, hundreds climbed trees and pushed through police lines to get a glimpse of him.  He was the subject of the lead article in the next day's newspapers.

This is where Vietnam stands today, moving cautiously toward a new version of communism while the people and their leaders lunge eagerly for the brass ring of capitalist development.

"That was very symbolic," said Le Dang Doanh, an official in the Ministry of Planning, speaking of the reception for Mr. Gates.  "It is a very clear sign of the new mood of society and the people.  Everybody wants to be like Bill Gates."

 

For the full story, see:

SETH MYDANS.  "Communist Vietnam Lunges for Capitalism's Brass Ring."  The New York Times (Thurs., April 27, 2006):  A3.

Note:  the version of the article above corrects an error in the print version that had misidentified the day of Lenin's birth, and Gates visit as a Sunday (it was a Saturday).




May 28, 2006

Hunter-Gatherers Prefer Civilization

Source of photo:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A13) The newly arrived Nukak do not provide much detail about why they left.  They just say that "the Green Nukak," a possible reference to Marxist guerrillas, who wear camouflage, told them to leave.

"The Green Nukak said we could not keep walking in the jungle, or else there would be problems," explained Va-di, another Nukak man, whose words were translated from Nukak by Belisario.  "The Green Nukak told us to go where it is safe."

 . . .

In Aguabonita, the scene on a recent day was full of commotion and laughter.  Naked children tugged at the shirts of two foreign journalists, offering big smiles and hugs.  The men quickly welcomed the visitors into a makeshift shelter, where they laughed at some of the questions and, it seemed, wholly innocently at their own odd predicament.

Are they sad?  "No!" cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter.  In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier.  Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.

What do they like most?  "Pots, pants, shoes, caps," said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors.

Ma-be added, "Rice, sugar, oil, flour."  Others said they loved skillets.  Also high on the list were eggs and onions, matches and soap and certain other of life's necessities.

"I like the women very much," Pia-pe said, to raucous laughs.

One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still.  "When you walk in the jungle," she said, "your feet hurt a lot."

The men still go into the jungle, searching for monkeys, a delicacy the Nukak cannot seem to live without.  Monkeys are grilled, dismembered and boiled, then eaten piece by piece.  The women still spend their time carefully weaving intricate wristbands and hammocks, using threads from palm leaves.

All live in shelters now, enjoy constant medical attention and, on weekends, stroll into town to take in the sights.  "Nukak life is hard in the jungle," Dr. Maldonado said.  "You wake up thinking about food and you go hunt, you go search for nuts.  So when they see us they think their food problems are over."

That is not to say the Nukak do not have plans.

Ma-be explained that the idea is to grow plantains and yucca and take the crops to town.  "We can exchange it for money," he said, "and exchange the money for other things."  But first they need to learn how to cultivate crops.  The Nukak say they would like their children to go to school.  They also say they do not want to lose traditions, like hunting or speaking their language.  "We do want to join the white family," Pia-pe said, speaking of Colombian society, "but we do not want to forget words of the Nukak."

 

For the full story, see:

JUAN FORERO.  "Leaving the Wild, and Rather Liking the Change."  The New York Times (Thurs., May 11, 2006):  A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 25, 2006

Omit the Footnotes?

When I was a graduate student at Chicago, Milton Friedman was rumored to have given a presentation on how to write a doctoral dissertation in which he said something like: 

Take everything nonessential, and move it into footnotes.  Then collect all the footnotes into an appendix.  Finally, delete the appendix.

My memory is that Deirdra McCloskey, in her wonderful advice on how to write economics clearly, also advises against footnotes.  I at least attribute this advice to McCloskey (and Friedman) when I pass it on to students.

But sometimes, when I write an article, a misguided referee, or editor, insists that I omit some stuff that I think is really good.  When that happens, sometimes, if I feel strongly, I sneak some of that material back into the paper in footnotes.  Maybe no one will ever read it, but I feel better that it is still there.

And every once in awhile, it may turn out that the footnotes are what matter most: 

It was typical of Schumpeter's love for theory that he rejected Marshall's view that the reader could skip the footnotes and appendixes.  If time were short, Schumpeter advised, read them and skip the text!  (p. 7; italics in original.)

In this case, though, I suspect that Marshall was right, and Schumpeter wrong.

 

Source:

Samuelson, Paul. "Compete as an Economic Theorist." In Schumpeterian Economics, edited by Helmut Frisch, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1981, pp. 1-27.

 




May 23, 2006

Will Google Leapfrog Microsoft?


 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  Source of photo:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited below.


 

The Microsoft-Google rivalry is shaping up as a titanic corporate clash for the ages.

It may not turn out that way.  Markets and corporate fortunes routinely defy prediction.  But it sure looks as if the two companies are on a collision course, as the realms of desktop computing and Internet services and software overlap more and more.

Microsoft, of course, is the reigning powerhouse of computing and Google is the muscular Internet challenger.  On each side, the battalions are arrayed: executives, engineers, marketers, lawyers and lobbyists. The spending and competition are escalating daily.  For each, it seems, the other passes what Andrew S. Grove, a founder and former chairman of Intel, calls the "silver bullet test" of strategic competition.  "If you had one bullet, who would you shoot with it?"

How the Microsoft-Google confrontation plays out could shape the future of competition in computing and how people use information technology.

Do the pitched corporate battles of the past shed any light on how this one might turn out?

Business historians and management experts say the experience in two of the defining industries of the 20th century, mass-market retailing and automobiles, may well be instructive.  The winners certainly scored higher in the generic virtues of business management:  innovation, execution and leadership.

But perhaps even more significant, those who came out on top, judging from history, had two more specific attributes.  They were the companies, according to business historians, that proved able to adapt to change instead of being prisoners of past success.  And in their glory days, these corporate champions were magnets for the best and brightest people.

 

For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR.  "And in This Corner . . . Microsoft and Google Grapple for Supremacy as Stakes Escalate."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 10, 2006):  C1 & C14.



  Source of graphic:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 22, 2006

Static Versus Dynamic Pictures

Schumpeter distinguished the static picture of capitalism in the textbook model, with the dynamic reality captured in the process of creative destruction.   Apparently Ronald Reagan also understood that a dynamic view is better than a static snapshot.   Michael Deaver recounts:

(p. 75) . . . I told him that I noticed his aversion to sitting for photo shoots.  He looked at me surprised.  "That's funny, in all these years, nobody's ever noticed that."   I asked him to elaborate.  "Well, you can never recover from a still shot."

Reagan was most comfortable with moving film, he went on to say.  He truly believed the television camera was a friend, a device that would separate the real from the phony.  Still cameras could always be used to make a candidate look like a fool.  When he explained this to me in the (p. 76) late 1960s, he said, "You know how I sometimes touch my nose before I make a point?  Well, a still shot would show me picking my nose, while a live shot would show me making my point."

 

Source:

Deaver, Michael K.   A Different Drummer:   My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan.  Reprint ed.  Harper Paperbacks, 2003.

 




May 21, 2006

Successful Mutual Fund Expert Claims Capitalism is Revitalized by Creative Destruction

SAN FRANCISCO -- One morning in November 2003, 15 Dodge & Cox senior managers gathered in a conference room here to decide an issue brewing for years: Was it time to close the flagship Dodge & Cox Stock Fund to new investors?

For months, senior managers had stood in the hallways and gathered in glass-paned offices, questioning what long had been a point of pride in the mutual-fund world: huge sums of money pouring in for investment.  It became "a water-cooler kind of issue," recalls Kenneth Olivier, the firm's president.

. . .

Dodge also faces some other issues:  In December, longtime Chief Investment Officer John Gunn became chief executive, and a new president and executive vice president were named.  Another CEO switch could occur when Mr. Gunn turns 65 in 2008.  That would be a relatively large amount of turnover for a firm that has had only five CEOs in its history.

. . .

. . . , Mr. Gunn often speaks at mutual-fund forums and investor conferences.  The ruffled-hair Mr. Gunn resembles a college professor, wearing gray pants with yellow pinstripes, a light orange shirt and a yellow tie with zebras one recent day.  His feet on a chair, he quoted 20th century Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter when talking about media stocks, noting "capitalism is revitalized by waves of creative destruction."  Ancient Asian artifacts, like a pink stone statue from a 14th-century tomb, adorn the office.

As for the flagship fund's future, Mr. Pohl said as he and Mr. Gunn sat at a conference-room table,  "the fact that we have outperformed" since closing to new investors, "I think is proof" that the decision was made at the right time.

"So far," Mr. Gunn added, half-jokingly.

 

For the full story, see:

DIYA GULLAPALLI.   "When Mutual Funds Don't Want Your Cash Dodge & Cox Says No To Many New Customers; Angst at the Water Cooler."   The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., May 1, 2006):   R1 & R?.

(Note: ellipses added.)


 

 

Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited above.





May 20, 2006

Charles Koch Participates in Schumpeter's Process of Creative Destruction

 

KochClharles.gif Charles Koch.  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

I heard Charles Koch speak at the April 2005 Orlando meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.  Part of his speech involved how he has tried to apply in his own business, Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.  For a long time Koch has been a stalwart defender of the free market in word and deed.

Ideas seem to exhilarate him.  This no doubt explains in part why this professorial CEO delivers "dozens and dozens" of lectures around the country to his employees on these very topics.  But what does any of this have to do with explaining his company's prodigious profitability?  Well, everything -- he believes.  Mr. Koch contends that the key insight of his business career was melding these philosophical insights about the way the wealth-creation process works into a business operating system called "Market Based Management."  This system, which he has trademarked, enables every division of his business empire to operate as a separate, autonomous, profit-maximizing unit.  It is intended to reward employees who think like entrepreneurs.

"Long-term success entails constantly discovering new ways to create value for customers and building new capabilities to capture new opportunities," he instructs.  "In this sense, maintaining a business is, in reality, liquidating a business."  Mr. Koch likens the cycle to Schumpeter's "creative destruction" -- where the old and inefficient are ruthlessly swept away by the new.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006): A8.

 




May 15, 2006

Benjamin Rogge in 1973 Discussed Leapfrog Competition


Ben Rogge and the members of Wabash College's John Van Sickle Club in 1973.  Source of image: The Wabash 1973 Yearbook, p. 173.

 

In explaining Schumpeter's concept of competition within the process of creative destruction, I have long thought the phrase "leapfrog competition" was apt.  I have no memory of Schumpter himself using the phrase, but did think I remembered Rogge using the phrase.

Today (4/21/06) I used the Amazon.com "Search within the Book" feature to search for the "leapfrog", "leap-frog", and "frog" in Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.  No use of any of the three was found.  This provides some support to my belief that Schumpeter himself did not use the phrase.

I also today examined my lecture notes from Benjamin Rogge's Comparative Economic Systems course at Wabash College.  In the midst of a discussion of creative destruction on 1/25/73, I note "leap-frogging analogy" which supports my memory that Rogge made use of the phrase "leapfrog competition" in class.

In terms of in-print uses of the analogy, I have performed the same three searches using Liberty Fund's HTML version of Rogge's Can Capitalism Survive?  I found one "hit" which appears on p. 22 of the print versions of the book.  

The technical description of the market structure, in the language of the textbook model, would be that of “oligopoly”—the rule of the few.

All of this Schumpeter would label as nonsense. Why? Because the investigator would be examining “each year—taken separately” rather than the never-ending game of leapfrog that the data reveal and that represents the true nature of the competitive process.

I will be in the debt of anyone who can show me an earlier use of the word "leapfrog" in the context of a discussion of competiton in Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.





May 13, 2006

"life is too short"

Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0738204315/ref=cm_cr_dp_2_1/104-9985403-1047968?%5Fencoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155

The Cluetrain Manifesto is a thought-provoking, entertaining, uneven, overly-mystical, somewhat dated classic on the impact of the internet on business and life.  Here is the book's startling start:

WE DIE.

You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad.  Yet this central fact of human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it.  "Life is too short," we say, and it is.  Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success.  (p. 1)

Locke, Christopher, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. Cambridge, Mass.:  Perseus Books Group, 2001.

 

 




May 12, 2006

Radiologist Outsourcing Is Mainly a Myth

LeonhardtDavid.jpg David Leonhardt.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/19/business/19leonhardt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

A few years ago, stories about a scary new kind of outsourcing began making the rounds.  Apparently, hospitals were starting to send their radiology work to India, where doctors who make far less than American radiologists do were reading X-rays, M.R.I.'s and CT scans.

It quickly became a signature example of how globalization was moving up the food chain, threatening not just factory and call center workers but the so-called knowledge workers who were supposed to be immune.  If radiologists and their $350,000 average salaries weren't safe from the jobs exodus, who was?

On ABC, George Will said the outsourcing of radiology could make health care affordable again, to which Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York retorted that thousands of American radiologists would lose their jobs.  On NPR, an economist said the pay of radiologists was already suffering. At the White House, an adviser to President Bush suggested that fewer medical students would enter the field in the future.

"We're losing radiologists," Representative Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said on CNN while Lou Dobbs listened approvingly.  "We're losing all kinds of white-collar jobs, all kinds of jobs in addition to manufacturing jobs, which we're losing by the droves in my state."

But up in Boston, Frank Levy, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, realized that he still had not heard or read much about actual Indian radiologists.  Like the once elusive Snuffleupagus of Sesame Street, they were much discussed but rarely seen.  So Mr. Levy began looking.  He teamed up with two other M.I.T. researchers, Ari Goelman and Kyoung-Hee Yu, and they dug into the global radiology business.

In the end, they were able to find exactly one company in India that was reading images from American patients.  It employs three radiologists.  There may be other such radiologists scattered around India, but Mr. Levy says, "I think 20 is an overestimate."

Some exodus.

 

For the full story, see:

Leonhardt, David.  "Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing."  The New York Times (Weds., April 19, 2006):  C1 & C4.




May 10, 2006

Google Evolves

Gary Hamel has recently penned some thoughtful observations about what practices of Google have led to its success.  An excerpt from that analysis appears below.  (Hamel earlier wrote a popular book in which he makes extensive use of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.)

Only time will tell whether Google has succeeded in building an evolutionary advantage.  But consider:  Since it's founding, it has repeatedly morphed its business model.  Google 1.0 was a search engine that crawled the Web but generated little revenue; which led to Google 2.0, a company that sold its search capacity to AOL/Netscape, Yahoo and other major portals; which gave way to Google 3.0, an Internet contrarian that rejected banner ads and instead sold simple text ads linked to search results; which spawned Google 4.0, an increasingly global entity that found a way to insert relevant ads into any and all Web content, dramatically enlarging the online ad business; which mutated into Google 5.0, an innovation factory that produces a torrent of new Web-based services, including Gmail, Google Desktop, and Google Base.  More than likely, 6.0 is around the corner.

Of course Google may ultimately fall victim to hubris and imperial overstretch as it takes on Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, the occasional telecom giant and pretty much everyone else in cyberspace.  Or like Microsoft, it may simply become like every other big company as it grows.  But that's not the way I'd bet.  Google seems to have grasped the new century's most important business lesson:  The capacity to evolve is the most important advantage of all.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Hamel, Gary.  "Management à la Google."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A16.

 

 

 

And here is the information on Hamel's most recent book:

 

Hamel, Gary. Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life. Revised & Updated ed.  Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

 

 Source of image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EPFVBE/sr=8-1/qid=1146333251/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8




May 9, 2006

Europe's Antitrust Policies Based on "Pathological Revulsion" to Creative Destruction

One of the EU's findings is that Microsoft uses its desktop dominance to capture the market for Web server software, and now the EU further charges Microsoft with failing to honor its ruling.  So Microsoft's takeover of serverware proceeds apace?  Er, Brussels we have a problem.

At last count,  Apache-Linux had 62% of the market, Windows 25%,  with various others capturing smaller slices.  True, Microsoft saw a nearly five-point increase in market share last quarter thanks to GoDaddy.com shifting its 3.5 million hosted sites from Linux to Windows.  Maybe the EU should subpoena GoDaddy on grounds that for Microsoft to compete successfully for a customer is illegal.

The other pillar of Europe's case is Microsoft's alleged ability to foreclose the market to rival media-playing software.  This week, EU lawyers are trying to swat down the inconvenient fact that, since their ruling, Apple's iTunes and Macromedia's Flash Player have carved out big niches for themselves.  The Apple example is worth inspecting up close.  It demonstrates that people don't buy computers to run software, but to consume information and entertainment "content."  Apple gave them the music they wanted, and its software easily found a home on their computers.

Yet the EU simply rejects the example as irrelevant because it doesn't fit its mental category about what constitutes a "media player."  More than stupid -- this suggests a pathological revulsion against the kind of disorder in which an Apple can come along and upend all the procrustean assumptions of the EU's drearily youthful staff of economists and lawyers.  We're not kidding when we say there's a connection between the Microsoft case and the European 20-somethings who riot in the streets because they'd rather have no job than take a job from which they might fail and be fired.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.  "BUSINESS WORLD; The Land (and Antitrust Case) That Time Forgot."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A17.




May 2, 2006

Doctors Erect Barriers to Keep Out Competition

RadiologistBangalore.jpg A Bangalore radiologist.  One of three radiologists in India known to be reading U.S. scans.  Each of the three has a U.S. degree, as required by U.S. law.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/19/business/19leonhardt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

(p. C1) Radiologists seem like just the sort of workers who should be scared.  Computer networks can now send an electronic image to India faster than a messenger can take it from one hospital floor to another.  Often, those images are taken during emergencies at night, when radiologists here are sleeping and radiologists in India are not.

There also happens to be a shortage of radiologists in the United States.  Sophisticated new M.R.I. and CT machines can detect tiny tumors that once would have gone unnoticed, and doctors are ordering a lot more scans as a result.

When I talked this week to E. Stephen Amis Jr., the head of the radiology department at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, he had just finished looking at some of the 700 images that had been produced by a single abdominal CT exam.  "We were just taking pictures of big, thick slabs of the body 20 years ago," Dr. Amis said.  "Now we're taking thinner and thinner slices."

Economically, in other words, ra-(p. C6)diology has a lot in common with industries that are outsourcing jobs.  It has high labor costs, it's growing rapidly and it's portable.

Politically, though, radiology could not be more different.  Unlike software engineers, textile workers or credit card customer service employees, doctors have enough political power to erect trade barriers, and they have built some very effective ones.

To practice medicine in this country, doctors are generally required to have done their training here.  Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to be certified by a board of other doctors or be licensed by a state government.  The three radiologists Mr. Levy found in Bangalore did their residencies at Baylor, Yale and the University of Massachusetts before returning home to India.

"No profession I know of has as much power to self-regulate as doctors do," Mr. Levy said.

So even if the world's most talented radiologist happened to have trained in India, there would be no test he could take to prove his mettle here.  It's as if the law required cars sold here to have been made by the graduates of an American high school.

Much as the United Automobile Workers might love such a law, Americans would never tolerate it, because it would drive up the price of cars and keep us from enjoying innovations that happened to come from overseas.  But isn't that precisely what health care protectionism does?  It keeps out competition.

 

For the full story, see:

Leonhardt, David.   "Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 19, 2006):  C1 & C4.




April 30, 2006

Seeing How Life Has Improved Since the Days of the Cowboys

cowboyPBS.jpg A cowboy on "Texas Ranch House."   Source of image:  the WSJ article cited below.

 

"Texas Ranch House" -- circa 1867 -- is the latest PBS experiment in transporting a group of people back to another era so we can watch them live and struggle the way our ancestors did.  (Part one of eight begins Monday, 8-9 p.m. ET, but check local listings.)  As with past series such as "Colonial House," everything -- clothing, tools, food, housing and all-around deprivation -- is authentic.  Once again, though, stuffing 21st-century mentalities into period costumes and situations is a tough fit. And once again, it's the folks wearing the bodices that chafe the most.

The Western setting is fascinating for two reasons:  What seems familiar from movies and TV takes on fresh significance when there are real people -- not pampered actors -- trying to scratch out an existence on the frontier 24/7, with no plot to guide them.  There is also the fact, as one of the participants points out early on, that many of us exist today only because a forebear actually did make the real journey West and manage to survive there long enough to bear children.  What luck, we are reminded more than once during this series, that those ancestors were so different from contemporary Americans.

. . .

The trouble that threatens to sabotage the entire experiment develops in the widening gap between the cowboys and the Cooke family.  The first time one of the employees disses boss man Mr. Cooke, yelling "Don't let your wife run your life," we react with disgust at the insult.  As one of the women in the household explains to the camera, all the cowboys "are sexist bastards."  Besides, instead of rising early to ride the range in search of mavericks for 10 hours, the cowboys -- mostly young Americans plus one frisky British boarding-school boy playing the part of 19th-century remittance man -- indulge in long naps during the 100-degree days and often wake up in the morning with hangovers after nights of hard drinking.

At some point, though, certain facts begin to sink in:  Mr. Cooke does have management shortcomings and Mrs. Cooke is far more involved in running the business side of the ranch than a frontier wife would have been.  The ladies, in general, don't enjoy the roles or status that historical reality would dictate, and some act out in defiant, liberated ways.  A fatal flaw, if not the only one, for the success of the ranch enterprise.  In 1867, spending days making cornhusk dolls while the house filled with flies and vegetables rotted in the garden wasn't an option for folks who wanted to stay alive.  And, like it or not, keeping the ranch hands happy, as obnoxious as they might be, was more important than maintaining marital bliss.

This being a made-for-television environment, no one perishes, but there are no happy endings here, either.  When one of the Cooke daughters says to the camera, "I feel lost and dazed and hurt," you feel genuinely sorry for her.  At the same time, it's clearer than ever that emotional pampering, navel-gazing and gender warfare are modern luxuries.  Like it or not, if these had been features of daily life in the West 100 years ago, many of the people reading this would never have been born.

 

For the full review, see:

Nancy deWolf  Smith.  "TV REVIEW; The West That Never Was."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., April 28, 2006):   W10.




April 20, 2006

Labor Market Churn

Source of graph: Siems, Thomas F. "Beyond the Outsourcing Angst: Making America More Productive." Economic Letter 1, no. 2 (2006): 1-8.


Although the United States media focus on job loss and insecurity, the secular trend for the last 25 years has been one of greater number of jobs, lower levels of unemployment, and higher levels of productivity.




April 14, 2006

Labor Market Flexibility Increases Employment and Prosperity



"France is definitely behind," says William Keylor, professor of International Relations and history at Boston University. "If France were to create a more-flexible labor market it would eventually increase productivity and prosperity, but the short-term transition would be difficult and people just aren't thinking long term."

There have been labor changes across continental Europe recently. Denmark's measures to liberalize hiring and firing have helped the country cut its unemployment rate in half from about 10% in the early 1990s to under 5%. Spain, too, has introduced short-term employment contracts which have helped cut its unemployment rate by more than half from 20% a decade ago.

But elsewhere, attempts at change have met with staunch opposition, often resulting in watered-down measures. Italy passed changes to its labor laws in 2004, introducing an extension of temporary-work contracts that were introduced in 1997 and were credited with helping cut Italy's overall unemployment rate to 7.1% from 12% when the contracts began. Yet many economists say Italy, which recorded zero growth last year, hasn't gone far enough.

In Germany, where unemployment stands at 11%, a coalition government headed by conservative leader Angela Merkel has promised to reduce unemployment by introducing similar measures to those hotly debated in France. The government had to settle on compromise measures that can extend a current probation period for workers to 24 months, from the current six. But companies don't have the right to terminate contracts within those two years without giving just cause. Other, more difficult, provisions, are still on hold.

The new measures that will be introduced in Parliament as early as today are targeted at "disadvantaged" youths, which refer to people between 18 and 25 who have left school without any qualifications and who are unemployed. The provisions include increasing financial incentives to employers to hire people under 26 who face the most difficulties.

It would apply to some 160,000 young people currently hired under government-subsidized job contracts, according to an interview with Employment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo in an interview with Le Monde newspaper. The cost to the government would be around €150 million ($180 million) in the second half of 2006, Mr. Borloo was quoted as saying.

But economists said the change of tack was a bad signal. "The real problem is that the results obtained by opponents of the new law...show that it is very difficult to introduce reforms in France," Dominique Barbet, economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research note. "This will give opponents of reform confidence for future actions."



For the full story, see:

ALESSANDRA GALLONI. "Bowing to Protesters, Chirac Abandons Youth-Labor Law; Reversal Highlights Europe's Difficulties With Painful Reforms." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 11, 2006): A3 & A10.

(Note: the title and version of the article quoted here are from the online version. The title and content of the version in the printed paper was a little different in a couple of places.)





April 13, 2006

Wage Security Inversely Related to GDP Per Capita



Source of graph: Siems, Thomas F. "Beyond the Outsourcing Angst: Making America More Productive." Economic Letter 1, no. 2 (2006): 1-8.


Schumpeter's theory of creative destruction implies that more flexible labor markets will result in greater productivity per worker. The above recently published evidence, supports the implication.




April 12, 2006

Studies Show Economic Freedom Boosts Economic Growth

A trio of European economists have just published a meta-analysis on the effects of economic freedom (EF) on economic growth. After many pages, here is their bottom-line conclusion:

(p. 182) Most studies reviewed in this paper have serious drawbacks, including lacking senstitivity analysis and poor specifications of the growth model used. However, studies that have applied some kind of sensitivity analysis and sensible specfications generally find support for a positive relationship between changes in EF and growth. This suggests that liberalization will indeed boost economic growth.


For the full article, see:

De Haan, Jakob, Susanna Lundström, and Jan-Egbert Sturm. "Market-Oriented Institutions and Policies and Economic Growth: A Critical Survey." Journal of Economic Surveys 20, no. 2 (2006): 157-91.




April 7, 2006

Wildcatters Find 80% of Oil in U.S.


FindleyRichardL.gif Source of image: WSJ article cited below.


(p. A1) David F. Morehouse, senior geologist with the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, contends there is more new oil to be found in the continental U.S. Finding it, he says, will "depend on people doing the data analysis and, quite frankly, people going in and drilling enough in the right places."

Mr. Findley, who is 54 years old, did just that. Now production in this part of eastern Montana is growing, and new investors are arriving to explore the potential. At least one midsized firm, Marathon Oil Co., has begun buying leases. Halliburton Co., the big Houston-based oil-services company, has invested with Mr. Findley. The state says the proven oil find in the area will likely be in the range of 150 million barrels, hardly what oil-patch hands call an "elephant," but nevertheless boosting the nation's proven oil reserves by about 1%.

. . .

(p. A14) While many people associate big oil finds with big companies, over the years about 80% of the oil found in the U.S. has been brought in by wildcatters such as Mr. Findley, says Larry Nation, spokesman for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Wildcatters search for oil, nail down drilling rights, then seek money from banks or bigger companies to extract it.

Mr. Findley grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, the son of an accountant for a chain of grocery stores. A brother-in-law, a geologist, hired him as a field assistant to hunt for oil in west Texas. "I just fell in love with geology," he recalls. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1975 and got a job as a geologist with Tenneco Oil Co. In 1983 he left to found his own Montana-based consulting and exploration company, a one-man operation.

Three years later, world oil prices crashed, and fluctuating prices dogged Mr. Findley as he tried to stay in the business. In the 1990s, the majors left the area in the belief that it was played out. Mr. Findley felt there was more oil to be found and began putting together small exploration deals.

His income had dropped by more than half to $45,000 a year, and he wasn't sure how much longer that would last. "Many times, my wife and I sat down at the kitchen table and said, 'What are we going to do next?' We always came to the same conclusion. [Geology] is what I know. This is what I love. So we just kept going."


For the full story, see:

JOHN J. FIALKA. "Second Look; Wildcat Producer Sparks Oil Boom On Montana Plains After Majors Pulled Out, Mr. Findley Drilled Anew; Size of Find Still Unclear; A Rival Counts Tanker Trucks." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 5, 2006): A1 & A14.


Source of map: WSJ article cited above.




April 5, 2006

United States Still Has Vitality in Research and Innovation

Has the United States lost its vitality? No. Americans remain the hardest working people on the face of the earth and the most productive. As William W. Lewis, the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute, wrote, ''The United States is the productivity leader in virtually every industry.'' And productivity rates are surging faster now than they did even in the 1990's.

Has the United States stopped investing in the future? No. The U.S. accounts for roughly 40 percent of the world's R. & D. spending. More money was invested in research and development in this country than in the other G-7 nations combined.

Is the United States becoming a less important player in the world economy? Not yet. In 1971, the U.S. economy accounted for 30.52 percent of the world's G.D.P. Since then, we've seen the rise of Japan, China, India and the Asian tigers. The U.S. now accounts for 30.74 percent of world G.D.P., a slightly higher figure.

What about the shortage of scientists and engineers? Vastly overblown. According to Duke School of Engineering researchers, the U.S. produces more engineers per capita than China or India. According to The Wall Street Journal, firms with engineering openings find themselves flooded with résumés. Unemployment rates for scientists and engineers are no lower than for other professions, and in some specialties, such as electrical engineering, they are notably higher.

Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation told The Wall Street Journal last November, ''No one I know who has looked at the data with an open mind has been able to find any sign of a current shortage.'' The G.A.O., the RAND Corporation and many other researchers have picked apart the quickie studies that warn of a science and engineering gap. ''We did not find evidence that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon,'' the RAND report concluded.

. . .

. . . , the American workplace is so competitive, companies are compelled to promote lifelong learning. A U.N. report this year ranked the U.S. third in the world in ease of doing business, after New Zealand and Singapore. The U.S. has the second most competitive economy on earth, after Finland, according the latest Global Competitiveness Report. As Michael Porter of Harvard told The National Journal, ''The U.S. is second to none in terms of innovation and an innovative environment.''


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Nation of the Future." The New York Times (Thursday, February 2, 2006): A23.




March 26, 2006

"The world we have lost was ripe for rejection"

   The source for the image of the book cover is: http://img.textbookx.com/images/large/91/0521633591.jpg

 

Roche delineates minimal light and exiguous fires, chilblains and miasmas, the distinction of white linen, the rare treat of sweetness, the still rarer taste of coffee that made its drinkers sparkle, and the hankerings they inspired. Limited access to water affected drinking habits, cooking, hygiene, and sartorial practices. Housewives and laundresses coped with mountains of dirty linen by river or by pond; the great sent their laundry to the American islands for a whiter wash; the poor rioted for soap as well as bread. Society moved from an economy of scarcity and salvation to one of plenty and prodigality. But the move was slow and spotty. The world we have lost was ripe for rejection.

 

For the full review, see:

Weber, Eugen. "Recommended Reading." The Key Reporter 67, no. 2 (Winter 2002): 12.

 

The reviewed book is:

Roche, Daniel. A History of Everyday Things: The Birth of Consumption in France, 1600-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

 




March 25, 2006

Villepin Attacked for Trying to Make French Economy More Open to Creative Destruction

VillepinProtesters.jpg
French students in Lyon protest Villepin with a sign that says "Villepin branche ton sonotone" which I think translates into "Villepin, plug in your hearing aide.' Source of image: http://www.larazon.es/noticias/noti_int18071.htm


There is much to dislike about French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin; for example his performance on Iraq, and his restrictions on foreign companies buying French companies. But, so far, he has acted heroically in trying to add flexibility to French labor laws. French students have marched and rioted, French unions will not speak to him, and French politicians have ridiculed him. Now he is under attack, even within his own party.

". . . one day we are alone on the front line," he said in defending his youth jobs plan last month. "In this solitude we must find the force to advance."

But Mr. de Villepin's problem of late is that his enemies have been multiplying, even in his own camp.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who, like Mr. de Villepin, wants to run for president next year, for the first time distanced himself from his boss over the new labor law, which would allow employers to fire workers under the age of 26 without cause during their first two years on the job.


For the full story, see:

ELAINE SCIOLINO. "Labor Protests Put French Premier in a Bind." The New York Times (Thurs., March 23, 2006): A10.


VillepinSalute.jpg A salute to Villepin may be in order. Source of image: http://www.lesoir.be/rubriques/monde/page_5715_419028.shtml




March 12, 2006

Tom Friedman's The World is Flat, is Worth the Wait


Source of the graphic is page 1 of: MICHAEL O'CONNOR. "Library may help turn borrowers into buyers." Omaha World-Herald (Saturday, March 4, 2006): 1 & 2.


If you live in Omaha, and want to check out a copy of Thomas Friedman's pro-trade and globalization best-seller The World is Flat, it looks as though you're going to have to wait awhile. While you're waiting, you may want to read his earlier, and in some ways better, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It is better in its discussion of the importance of Schumpeterian creative destruction, and better in terms of the coherence and flow of the argument.

See:

Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. [ISBN # 0-385-49934-5]

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.




March 6, 2006

Lazear, New Chair of Council of Economic Advisors, Emphasizes Labor Market Flexibility


Ed Lazear was a labor economist at the University of Chicago during the time that I was a graduate student there, circa 1975-81. Sometimes in collaboration with the late Sherwin Rosen, he created models of the labor market that suggest ways of understanding otherwise puzzling labor market phenomena, for example in suggesting that CEOs might be highly paid to provide an incentive for all those who participate in the 'rank-order tournament' that results in the choice of CEO (see the Lazear-Rosen paper cited below).

Here is a brief excerpt from remarks by Ed Lazear following his being sworn in as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors on 3/6/06:

Healthy productivity growth over the past few years has been followed by impressive job creation and reductions in unemployment rates to levels that are low by historical standards. And we continue to improve. Much of the strength of the U.S. economy results from flexibility in labor and capital markets, and from keeping tax rates low.

For the full remarks, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/03/20060306.html (Thanks to Gary Blank for providing me this link.)


One of Lazear's most interesting papers:

Lazear, Edward, and Sherwin Rosen. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts." Journal of Political Economy 89, no. 5 (1981): 841-864.





March 1, 2006

EU Legislation to Protect the Incompetent

The source for the book cover image is: Amazon.com.


The brief book description on Amazon. com:

Bad is the new good. In the not too distant future the European Union enacts its most far reaching human rights legislation ever. The incompetent have been persecuted for too long. After all it's not their fault they can't do it right, is it? So it is made illegal to sack or otherwise discriminate against anyone for being incompetent. And now a murder has been committed and our possibly incompetent detective must find out who the murderer is. As long as he can find directions to get him through the mean streets.


Rob Grant. Incompetence. Orion Pub Co., 2003. ISBN: 0575074191




February 27, 2006

Notice of End of Telegram Service, Posted to Western Union Web Site


A telegram. Source of image: online version of article cited below.


BLOOMBERG NEWS

After 155 years in the telegraph business, Western Union has cabled its final dispatch.

The service that in the mid-1800s displaced pony-borne messengers has itself been supplanted over the last half-century by cheap long-distance telephone service, faxes and e-mail.

In a final bit of irony, Western Union informed customers last week in a message on its Web site.


For the full story, see the online version of:

"First Data Unit Scraps Telegrams." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., February 2, 2006): 9D.

(In the online version, the headline reads: "Western Union Telegrams Are No More.")




February 22, 2006

Solow's Wit (But Not Wisdom): Treat Schumpeter "Like a Patron Saint"


(p. 195) As Robert Solow wrote acidly in 1994, commenting on a series of papes on growth and imperfect competition, "Schumpeter is a sort of patron saint in this field. I may be alone in thinking that he should be treated like a patron saint: paraded around one day each year and more or less ignored the rest of the time."

Schumpeter was a most unwelcome guest at the neoclassical table. Yet it was hard for the mainstream to reject him out of hand, since Schumpeter was such a celebrant of capitalism and entrepreneurship. He thought it a superb, energetic, turbulent system, one that led to material betterment over time. He hoped it would triumph over socialism. He just didn't believe it functioned in anything close to the way the Marshallians did, and he was appalled that economists could apply an essentially static model to something as profoundly dynamic as capitalism. Schumpeter wrote presciently, "Whereas a stationary feudal economy would still be a feudal economy, and a stationary socialist economy would still be a socialist economy, stationary capitalism is a contradiction in terms." Its very essence, as the economic historian Nathan Rosenberg wrote, (p. 196) echoing Schumpeter, "lies not in equilibrating forces, but in the inevitable tendency to depart from equilibrium" every time an innovation occurs.


Source:

Kuttner, Robert. Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.





February 20, 2006

"I would have fired me if I was him"

BuffettWarren.jpg

Warren Buffett. Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited below.

A couple of years ago, I think, in the mid-afternoon we went into a nearly deserted Dairy Queen near Dodge and 115th and walked by an old guy eating ice cream with a couple of others (I'm guessing his daughter and grandchild). I said to Jeanette and Jenny something like: if that guy wasn't dressed so weirdly, I'd say he might be Warren Buffett. He was wearing some kind of overalls with the word WOODS printed in capitals on the back. Suddenly I remembered that I had seen in the paper that Buffett had caddied for Tiger Woods in some sort of celebrity tournament a few weeks earlier. We were tempted to ask for his autograph, but we let him eat his ice cream in peace.


(p. A1) He spends most of his day alone in an office with no computer. He makes swift investment decisions, steers clear of meetings and advisers, eschews set procedures and doesn't require frequent reports from managers.

. . .

(p. A5A (sic)) Mr. Buffett tends to stick to investments for the long haul, even when the going gets bumpy. Mr. Sokol recalls bracing for an August 2004 meeting at which he planned to break the news to Mr. Buffett that the Iowa utility needed to write off about $360 million for a soured zinc project. Mr. Sokol says he was stunned by Mr. Buffett's response: "David, we all make mistakes." Their meeting lasted only 10 minutes.

"I would have fired me if I was him," Mr. Sokol says.

"If you don't make mistakes, you can't make decisions," Mr. Buffett says. "You can't dwell on them." Mr. Buffett notes that he has made "a lot bigger mistakes" himself than Mr. Sokol did.


For the full article, see:

SUSAN PULLIAM and KAREN RICHARDSON. "Warren Buffett, Unplugged; The hands-off billionaire shuns computers, leaves his managers alone, yet has notched huge returns. He just turned 75. Can anyone fill his shoes?" THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Sat., November 12, 2005): A1 & A5A.


Source of graph: online version of WSJ article cited above.




February 9, 2006

Trickle-Down in India

BANGALORE, India, July 4 - It has been a little more than a year since the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came into power promising to embrace those excluded from the country's new economic prosperity.

While the impact of his government's efforts to help the poor -- like increasing credit to the country's many farmers and pumping in money for infrastructure, especially in rural areas -- will not show for another few years, experts say, the bounty from the expansion in manufacturing and services that has been putting money in the hands of millions of Indians is now noticeably trickling down.

''What is happening is amazing,'' said Joe Paul, the founder and chairman of the Uthsaha Society, a networking group that encourages slum dwellers in Bangalore to become financially independent. ''It is a ripple effect.''

. . .

. . . , where the new prosperity is percolating, it spans a broad spectrum and reflects much more than an occasional, isolated success story. A big catalyst is the construction boom in high-tech cities like Bangalore and Madras. Besides the demand for construction workers, workers at factories supplying the building materials, and drivers to transport those products, there is a demand for housekeepers, cooks and drivers to cater to the double-income families who live in the new residential complexes and high-rises. Caterers are needed to supply food to the office workers. Security guards are also in demand. Trained nurses are needed to tend to aging parents of workers traveling overseas or living in other cities.

''The last few years of strong growth has facilitated poverty reduction, even though the fruits of growth were not distributed evenly,'' said Ping Chew, a sovereign credit analyst at Standard & Poor's in Singapore. ''The middle-income group continues to be the biggest beneficiary and this will ensure that the benefits continue to pass on to the lower-income class.''


For the full story, see:

SARITHA RAI. "In India, Economic Prosperity Is Spreading Slowly." The New York Times (Tuesday, July 5, 2005): C3.




February 8, 2006

The Open Road

A strong argument could be made that the automobile is one of the two most liberating inventions of the past century, ranking only behind the microchip. The car allowed even the common working man total freedom of mobility -- the means to go anywhere, anytime, for any reason. In many ways, the automobile is the most egalitarian invention in history, dramatically bridging the quality-of-life gap between rich and poor. The car stands for individualism; mass transit for collectivism. Philosopher Waldemar Hanasz, who grew up in communist Poland, noted in his 1999 essay "Engines of Liberty" that Soviet leaders in the 1940s showed the movie "The Grapes of Wrath" all over the country as propaganda against the evils of U.S. capitalism and the oppression of farmers. The scheme backfired because "far from being appalled, the Soviet viewers were envious; in America, it seemed, even the poorest had cars and trucks."

. . .

The simplistic notion taught to our second-graders, that the car is an environmental doomsday machine, reveals an ignorance of history. When Henry Ford first started rolling his Black Model Ts off the assembly line at the start of the 20th century, the auto was hailed as one of the greatest environmental inventions of all time. That's because the horse, which it replaced, was a prodigious polluter, dropping 40 pounds of waste a day. Imagine what a city like St. Louis smelled like on a steamy summer afternoon when the streets were congested with horses and piled with manure.

. . .

There's a perfectly good reason that the roads are crammed with tens of millions of cars and that Americans drive eight billion miles a year while spurning buses, trains, bicycles and subways. Americans are rugged individualists who don't want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there.


For the full commentary, see:

Moore, Stephen. "Supply Side; The War Against the Car." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., November 11, 2005): A10.




February 3, 2006

"Better Coffee Rockefeller's Money Can't Buy"


(p. 263) In the middle of this fierce competition, with its low quality standards and apparent market saturation, a New York nut vendor and restaurateur proved that a new brand stressing quality could triumph.

 . . .

Black understood the power of advertising.  In radio spots, which blanketed the New York metropolitan airwaves,  Black's second wife, Jean Martin, sang a hummable jingle:
Chock full o' Nuts is that heavenly coffee,
Heavenly coffee, heavenly coffee.
(p. 264) Chock full o' Nuts is that heavenly coffee-
Better coffee Rockefeller's money can't buy.
By August 1954, less than a year after its debut, Chock full o' Nuts had grabbed third place among vacuum-packed coffees in New York City.

 

Source: 

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




February 1, 2006

"Going Postal" Shows that Free Market Jobs Are Not the Only Ones with Stress

WASHINGTON (AP) - The deadly shootings at a California mail processing plant are a grim reminder of cases in the 1980s and '90s that raised public concern and brought the post office and its employees and supervisors together in an effort to end violence at work.

Postmaster General John Potter met with union leaders Tuesday to discuss the tragedy, while Deputy Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe headed to the scene of the shootings.

Donahoe urged all postal employees to stay vigilant about facility security.

"That's the best line of defense to keep ourselves safe," he said, urging workers to make sure all doors close correctly and all locks function properly, and that only authorized people are in postal facilities.

In the California case, the shooter had taken an identification badge from a postal worker at gunpoint, postal officials said.

A 1986 case in Edmond, Okla., resulted in 14 people being killed before a disgruntled carrier took his own life. It was followed by a series of killings stretching into the 1990s that led to the rise of the phrase "going postal."

In 1992, the post office and several of its unions and supervisors organizations signed a joint statement calling for zero tolerance of violence in the workplace, as well as banning harassment, intimidation, threats or bullying.

Some incidents were traced to disputes between workers and their managers, and in the statement the Postal Service promised that people who do not treat others with dignity or respect would not be rewarded or promoted.


For the full story, see the online version of the Omaha World-Herald:

"Postal Shooting a Grim Reminder of Past." Omaha World-Herald (Weds., February 1, 2006).




January 29, 2006

Reagan "the man who championed creative destruction"

ReaganStatueLiberty.jpg Image source: http://www.nytstore.com/ProdDetail.aspx?prodId=2689


From Wooldridge's review of a book on Ronald Reagan:

Reeves argues that Reagan was a master of both imagination and delegation. He stuck firmly to a small number of clear goals - reducing the size of government, restoring America's power and pride, and facing down Communism - and then delegated implementation to the "fellas." He did not so much do things as persuade others to do them for him. But his preference for delegation should not be confused with passivity. He insisted on using the phrase "tear down this wall" against the advice of his underlings, for example.

Wooldridge describes Reagan as, in part:

. . . the man who championed "creative destruction" . . .


The review is:

ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE. "The Great Delegator." The New York Times, Section 7 (Sunday, January 29, 2006): 11.


The book being reviewed is:

Richard Reeves. PRESIDENT REAGAN: The Triumph of Imagination. Simon & Schuster, 2005, 571 pp. $30. ISBN: 0743230221




January 26, 2006

West Wing President Bartlet Endorses Creative Destruction

From Episode #519 of The West Wing, which was written by Eli Attie, directed by Richard Schiff, and first aired on NBC on Wednesday, April 21, 2004, during the fifth season:

Josh has negotiated a trade deal. The President is enthused about the agreement and he and Leo are looking now at getting it through Congress. But when C.J. asks what he is going to say to those who say the agreement is going to export jobs, Bartlet makes a joke about economists recommending filing for unemployment. So, Josh asks,
"Sir, have you read the talking points?"
"I'm an economist. Some would say half-decent. I don't need a primer on this."
"Due respect,sir," Charlie says as a lead-in to, "your answers on economics can be a bit---" When he hesitates for a fraction of a second, Bartlet offers a word.
"Polysyllabic?"
"Academic," C.J. counters.
"I was going to go with incomprehensible," says Leo.
"Hey listen: Any economic advancement involves what Schumpeter called 'creative destruction'."
"...Not a good answer," C.J. tells him. "...'Cause that word 'destruction will really mollify our critics...."
"Global economic forces are unstoppable just like technology itself," Bartlet insists.
But C.J. and Josh counter that the answers to everything must be, "Free trade produces better, higher paying jobs. It's got to be that simple."


The source of the transcription of the above dialogue is: http://westwing.bewarne.com/fifth/519points.html

(I appreciate Matt Hunter alerting me to this mention of Schumpeter, and providing me with the above link.)




January 23, 2006

Good Rules Encourage Entrepreneurship, Resulting in Vibrant Economy



Some useful observations from the 2004 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Edward Prescott:

Good tax rates, . . . , need be high enough to generate sufficient revenues, but not so high that they choke off growth and, perversely, decrease tax revenues.  This, of course, is the tricky part, and brings us to the task at hand:  Should Congress extend the 15% rate on capital gains and dividends?  Wrong question.  Should Congress make the 15% rate permanent?  Yes.  (This assumes that a lower rate is politically impossible.)

These taxes are particularly cumbersome because they hit a market economy right in its collective heart, which is its entrepreneurial and risk-taking spirit.  What makes this country's economy so vibrant is its participants' willingness to take chances, innovate, acquire financing, hire new people and break old molds.  Every increase in capital gains taxes and dividends is a direct tax on this vitality.

Americans aren't risk-takers by nature any more than Germans are intrinsically less willing to work than Americans.  The reason the U.S. economy is so much more vibrant than Germany's is that people in each country are playing by different rules.  But we shouldn't take our vibrancy for granted.  Tax rates matter.  A shift back to higher rates will have negative consequences.

And this isn't about giving tax breaks to the rich.  The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, who noted that "nearly 60% of those paying capital gains taxes earn less than $50,000 a year, and 85% of capital gains taxpayers earn less than $100,000."  In addition, he wrote that lower tax rates on savings and investment benefited 24 million families to the tune of about $950 on their 2004 taxes.

Do wealthier citizens realize greater savings?  Of course -- this is true by definition.  But that doesn't make it wrong.  Let's look at two examples:    First, there are those entrepreneurs who have been working their tails off for years with little or no compensation and who, if they are lucky, finally realize a relatively big gain.  What kind of Scrooge would snatch away this entrepreneurial carrot?  As mentioned earlier, under a good system you have to provide for these rewards or you will discourage the risk taking that is the lifeblood of our economy.  Additionally, those entrepreneurs create huge social surpluses in the form of new jobs and spin-off businesses.   Entrepreneurs capture a small portion of the social surpluses that they create, but a small percentage of something big is, well, big.

Congratulations, I say.  Another group of wealthier individuals includes those who, for a variety of reasons, earn more money than the rest of us.  Again, I tip my hat.  Does it make sense to try to capture more of those folks' money by raising rates on everyone?  To persecute the few, should we punish the many?  We need to remember that many so-called wealthy families are those with two wage-earners who are doing nothing more than trying to raise their children and pursue their careers.  Research has shown that much of America's economic growth in recent decades is owing to this phenomenon -- we should encourage this dynamic, not squelch it.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT. "'Stop Messing With Federal Tax Rates'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 20, 2005): A14.





January 22, 2006

Leading Clinton Economist Advocates a Schumpeterian "Dynamism"



Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0743237536/104-0088216-5679944

Today's review of the new Gene Sperling economic policy book in the New York Times Book Review, begins by emphasizing Sperling's importance in the Clinton administration:


(p. 16) If you were inclined to identify Clintonism with a single person other than the big man himself, that person might well be Gene Sperling - a top campaign adviser in 1992; a tireless advocate of fiscal discipline during the first term; an inveterate policy wonk throughout all eight years of the administration.  So it's little surprise that this book-length vision for a Democratic economic strategy can best be described as Clintonism 2.0.


NOAM SCHEIBER. "Clintonism 2.0." The New York Times Book Review, Section 7 (Sun., January 22, 2006): 16.


Here is the opening paragrpah of Sperling's chapter one, which is entitled " Growing Together in the Dynamism Economy."


In the 1990s, a new economic era was created when a period of intense globalization collided with an information technology revolution.  Yet precisely defining a "new" economy is less important than understanding the nature of the change.  I believe a more descriptive label is the "dynamism" economy.  Of course, dynamic change in market economies is hardly new.  The mid-twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter identified the process of "creative destruction," positing that a healthy market economy is continually moving forward, replacing old capital, old industries -- and existing jobs -- with more productive alternatives.  Yet, what feels most "new" for average citizens is the breakneck speed at which the increased globalization, rapid technological advance, and the explosion of the Internet are putting fierce competitive pressures on the economy and accelerating change not only in products and services, but also in entire job categories and industries.

Part of the first chapter is viewable at Amazon.com. The book citiation is: Sperling, Gene. The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity. Simon & Schuster, 2005.


"Dynamism" as a descriptor for the good society also appeals to libertarian economics columnist Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies and webmaster of dynamist.com.






January 10, 2006

Theory Uncomplemented by History, "Is Worse than no Theory at All"

I have been primarily a theorist all my life and feel quite uncomfortable in having to preach the historian's faith. Yet I have arrived at the conclusion that theoretical equipment, if uncomplemented by a thorough grounding in the history of the economic process, is worse than no theory at all.

Excerpted from a letter from Schumpeter to Miss Edna Lonegan, dated February 16, 1942, stored in the Schumpeter archives at Harvard, and reprinted in:

Swedberg, Richard. Schumpeter: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991, pp. 229-230.




January 9, 2006

Beware of the "Sparkling Error"

PixarFish.jpg


Schumpeter once wrote that "We all of us like a sparkling error better than a trivial truth."

This image reminds me of the prudence of adopting a healthy scepticism toward the "sparkling error."


I believe that the image from Finding Nemo is by computer graphics artist Randy Berrett. The source of the image is the online version of Joe Morgenstern. "MORGENSTERN ON MOVIES: Finding Pixar; A new exhibit examines a studio that can't stop examining itself." The Wall Street Journal (Sun., January 7, 2006): P11.

The "sparkling error" Schumpeter quote is from Schumpeter's diary, and is quoted in: Swedberg, Richard. Schumpeter: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991, aphorism 86, on page 205.





January 6, 2006

Schumpeter: "let us begin"

David Rockefeller remembers Schumpeter's arrival to teach a graduate level class:

(p. 79) Arriving in class with an air of being in a great hurry, he would throw his overcoat on a chair, whip his handkerchief' from his pocket, flip it out toward the room, then fold it and carefully mop his brow and the top of his balding head before saying, in his heavy German accent, "Ladies and gentlemen, let us begin."

Rockefeller, David. Memoirs. New York: Random House, 2002.




January 4, 2006

Economic Growth Achieved by Entrepreneurs Taking Prudent Risks

(p. 489) Nor should anyone feel guilty about taking prudent risks.This is a fundamental truth that I learned from Joseph Schumpeter, who believed that without entrepreneurs willing to bring new products and ideas to the market and investors ready to finance them, it would be impossible to achieve real economic growth.The alternative, as we have learned to our sorrow in the twentieth century, is government control of the factors of production with results that can be seen in the devastated landscapes and abandoned factories of Russia and Eastern Europe, and the scarred lives of billions of human beings throughout Asia. South America, and Africa.

Rockefeller, David. Memoirs. New York: Random House, 2002.




December 26, 2005

The Innovator's Dilemma at the Movies?

Sounds like a possible example of Clayton Christensen's where the incumbent (movie theaters) move up-market in response to the threat from the disruptive technology (increasingly high quality home entertainment systems):

It was Saturday night at the Palace 20, a huge megaplex here designed in an ornate, Mediterranean style and suggesting the ambience of a Las Vegas hotel. Moviegoers by the hundreds were keeping the valet parkers busy, pulling into the porte-cochere beneath the enormous chandelier-style lamps. Entering the capacious lobby, some of them dropped off their small children in a supervised playroom and proceeded to a vast concession stand for a quick meal of pizza or popcorn shrimp before the show.

Others, who had arrived early for their screening of, say, ''Wedding Crashers'' or ''The Dukes of Hazzard'' -- their reserved-seat tickets, ordered online and printed out at home, in hand -- entered through a separate door. They paid $18 -- twice the regular ticket price (though it included free popcorn and valet service) -- and took an escalator upstairs to the bar and restaurant, where the monkfish was excellent and no one under 21 was allowed.

Those who didn't want a whole dinner, or arrived too late for a sit-down meal, lined up at the special concession stand, where the menu included shrimp cocktail and sushi and half bottles of white zinfandel and pinot noir. As it got close to curtain time, they took their food and drink into one of the adjoining six theater balconies, all with plush wide seats and small tables with sunken cup holders. During the film, the most irritating sound was the clink of ice in real glasses.

Not your image of moviegoing? Pretty soon it might be. At a time when movie attendance is flagging, when home entertainment is offering increasing competition and when the largest theater chains -- Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment (which has recently announced a merger with Loews Cineplex) and Cinemark -- are focused on shifting from film to digital projection, a handful of smaller companies with names like Muvico Theaters, Rave Motion Pictures and National Amusements are busy rethinking what it means to go to the movie theater. (B1)

BRUCE WEBER. "Liked the Movie, Loved the Megaplex; Smaller Theater Chains Lure Adults With Bars, Dinner and Luxury." The New York Times (Wednesday, August 17, 2005): B1 & B7.




December 25, 2005

With Flat Tax, Estonia Has 11% Growth




"Prime Minister Andrus Ansip of Estonia in the cabinet room, which is equipped with a computer for each minister." Source of caption and photo: online version of NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) TALLINN, Estonia - Estonia, one realizes after a few days in the abiding twilight of a Baltic winter, is not like other European countries.

The first tip-off is the government's cabinet room, outfitted less like a ceremonial chamber than a control center. Each minister has a flat-screen computer to transmit votes during debates. Then there is Estonia's idea of an intellectual hero: Steve Forbes, the American publishing scion, two-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and tireless evangelist for the flat tax.

Fired with a free-market fervor and hurtling into the high-tech future, Estonia feels more like a Baltic outpost of Silicon Valley than of Europe. Nineteen months after it achieved its cherished goal of joining the European Union, one might even characterize Estonia as the un-Europe.

"I must say Steve Forbes was a genius," Prime Minister Andrus Ansip declared during an interview in his hilltop office. "I'm sure he still is," he added hastily.

The subject was the flat tax, which Mr. Forbes never succeeded in selling in the United States. Here in the polar reaches of Europe it is an article of faith. Estonia became the first country to adopt it in 1994, as part of a broader strategy to transform itself from an obscure Soviet republic into a plugged-in member of the global information economy.

By all accounts, the plan is working. Estonia's economic growth was nearly 11 percent in the last quarter - the second fastest in Europe, after Latvia, and an increase more reminiscent of China or India than Germany or France.

People call this place E-stonia, and the cyber-intoxication is palpable in Tallinn's cafes and bars, which are universally equipped with wireless connections, and in local success stories like Skype, designed by Estonian developers and now offering free calls over the Internet to millions.

. . .

Germans showed how allergic they were to the idea when Angela Merkel chose a flat tax advocate as her economic adviser. Antipathy toward him was so intense that political analysts say it probably cost Chancellor Merkel's party a clear majority in the German Parliament.

Yet the concept has caught on in this part of Europe. Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia all have a flat tax, while the Czech Republic and Slovenia have considered one. Tax policy, not support for the American-led war in Iraq, is the bright line that separates the so-called old Europe from the new.



For the full article, see:

MARK LANDLER. "Letter From Estonia: A Land of Northern Lights, Cybercafes and the Flat Tax." The New York Times (Weds., December 21, 2005): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 24, 2005

Broad Increases in Income and Wealth

UpwardMobility.gif Graph source: online version of WSJ article cited below. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113513427028228173.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

New reports by the Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board on the economic well-being of the typical American family reveal that over the past three decades, the vast majority of families have experienced a rapid growth in their income and wealth. Now that nearly six out of 10 households own stock and two out of three own their own homes, the average family -- for the first time ever -- has net worth (assets minus liabilities) of more than $100,000. Median family income has climbed to more than $54,000 a year.

Almost no one in the national media has taken notice of this good news, which has been camouflaged by a barrage of misleading and gloomy stories on "stagnant wages," "the growing income gap between rich and poor," "the disappearing middle class" and "rising poverty in America." The reality is that if the economic growth, employment and family-finances numbers get any better, the media will soon have to start calling this the "Clinton economy."

What the reports tell us is that the vast majority of Americans have not bumped into income glass-ceilings, but rather are experiencing an astonishing pace of upward income mobility. The Census data from 1967 to 2004 provides the percentage of families that fall within various income ranges, starting at $0 to $5,000, $5,000 to $10,000, and so on, up to over $100,000 (all numbers here are adjusted for inflation). These data show, for example, that in 1967 only one in 25 families earned an income of $100,000 or more in real income, whereas now, one in six do. The percentage of families that have an income of more than $75,000 a year has tripled from 9% to 27%.

But it's not just the rich that are getting richer. Virtually every income group has been lifted by the tide of growth in recent decades. The percentage of families with real incomes between $5,000 and $50,000 has been falling as more families move into higher income categories -- the figure has dropped by 19 percentage points since 1967. This huge move out of lower incomes and into middle- and higher-income categories shows that upward mobility is the rule, not the exception, in America today.

For the full story, see:

STEPHEN MOORE and LINCOLN ANDERSON. "Great American Dream Machine." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 21, 2005): A18.




December 22, 2005

Disruptive Innovation Threatens Boeing and Lockheed?

SpaceXHeavyLifters.gif Source of table: online version of WSJ article cited below.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk, who says he is prepared to spend nearly $200 million of his personal fortune creating a family of low-cost, reusable rockets, recently landed an unexpected customer: the U.S. intelligence community.

Mr. Musk and his fledgling company, closely held Space Exploration Technologies Corp., for years worked on advanced technologies and less-expensive manufacturing concepts to build small rockets capable of launching commercial or government satellites weighing around 1,000 pounds.

But the new contract for a single, classified launch -- shrouded in such secrecy that neither the spy agency nor specific type of satellite was identified -- envisions construction of a massive rocket by Mr. Musk's company, known as SpaceX. The launch vehicle is slated to be comparable to the largest, most powerful models built by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., but costing a fraction of the prices charged by the rocket-industry leaders

. . .

Mr. Musk doesn't minimize the challenge of trying to win more government business while criticizing government procurement practices. "I think it's extremely risky," he says of his overall strategy, "but we've got to fight for our right to win customers." If development of simpler, less-costly rocket alternatives is left to major defense contractors, he argues, "I can assure you it will never, never happen."

. . .

In spite of skepticism and criticism of SpaceX, industry leaders are keeping a wary eye on Mr. Musk, with some vowing stepped-up competition against the industry newcomer.

Tom Marsh, a senior Lockheed Martin space official, told a space conference last month that his company "absolutely intends to pursue, and to pursue vigorously" the market for smaller rockets initially targeted by SpaceX.

ANDY PASZTOR. "For Rocket Start-Up, Sky's the Limit; Surprise Contract Boosts SpaceX as It Competes With Boeing, Lockheed." THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Thurs., September 15, 2005): B6.




December 19, 2005

Wal-Mart Benefits Rural Poor

 

Our research shows that Wal-Mart operates two-and-a-half times as much selling space per inhabitant in the poorest third of states as in the richest third. And within that poorest third of states, 80 percent of Wal-Mart's square footage is in the 25 percent of ZIP codes with the greatest number of poor households. Without the much-maligned Wal-Mart, the rural poor, in particular, would pay several percentage points more for the food and other merchandise that after housing is their largest household expense.

 

Source:

PANKAJ GHEMAWAT AND KEN A. MARK. "The Price Is Right." The New York Times (Weds., August 3, 2005): A23.

 




December 12, 2005

"Fierce" Competition Even When One Firm has Half the Market

 

   Graph source: page C6 of article cited below.

 

(C1) YOKKAICHI, Japan - Nestled in a valley in central Japan, surrounded by forested hills and terraced rice paddies, is one of the world's most sophisticated - and secretive - semiconductor plants. Inside the windowless plant, built by the Japanese electronics maker Toshiba, tiny cranelike robots shuffle along automated production lines, moving stacks of silicon wafers the size of dinner plates. Masked technicians watch as rows of tall machines grind the wafers, etch circuits on their surfaces and cut them into tiny rectangular computer chips. Inside, visitors are allowed to peek through windows at only a small part of the factory floor. Toshiba is anxious to guard the secrets beyond because it needs them to wage one of the most ferocious battles in today's electronics industry, for control of the fast-growing market for the advanced memory chips at the heart of portable music devices like the Apple iPod Nano. The fight pits Toshiba and its partner, SanDisk of Sunnyvale, Calif., a maker of memory cards, against Samsung Electronics of South Korea. Both camps are spending billions to build new factory lines, hire engineers and develop more powerful chips in a bid to gain supremacy. The chips, called NAND flash memory chips, differ from earlier computer memory chips in that data on them can be easily erased and replaced and they can store data even after the power is turned off. That makes them like miniature hard-disk drives, only much more durable because they lack moving parts. The newest flash memory chips are the size of a fingernail and can store two gigabytes, the equivalent of every word and image printed in nine years of a newspaper. While Toshiba invented the chips more than a decade ago, Samsung has seized the lead with bigger production volumes and lower prices. In the three months that ended in September, Samsung had a market share of 50.2 percent of the $2.97 billion in total global NAND sales, ac- (C6) cording to iSuppli, a market research firm based in El Segundo, Calif. Toshiba's share was 22.8 percent. SanDisk is not included in iSuppli's figures because it does not sell its chips, but instead uses them all in its own memory products. . . . At Toshiba's Yokkaichi plant, there is a palpable determination to catch up with the larger Korean rival. Engineers work in shifts around the clock to speed up development and production of new chips. Noriyoshi Tozawa, the plant's manager, said he kept workers on their toes with little reminders of darker times. One is an elevator that has been kept out of use since 2001; a sign on the doors says that it was turned off after a crash in computer chip prices almost forced the closure of the plant, which used to produce DRAM, another type of memory chip. "You have to always be at the leading edge to stay alive in this industry," Mr. Tozawa. "We know what it's like to lose."

To read full article, see: MARTIN FACKLER. "Among Makers of Memory Chips for Gadgets, Fierce Scrum Takes Shape." The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): C1 & C6.

scrum: "a rugby play in which the forwards of each side come together in a tight formation and struggle to gain possession of the ball when it is tossed in among them" Definition source: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=scrum&x=6&y=21

 




December 3, 2005

Drucker Predicted "Universities Won't Survive"

Mr. Drucker also told us to expect enormous changes that will come in higher education, thanks to the rise of satellites and the Internet. "Thirty years from now big universities will be relics. Universities won't survive. It is as large a change as when we first got the printed book." He believed "High school graduates should work for at least five years before going on to college." It will be news to most college presidents and a lot of alumni that "higher education is in deep crisis. Colleges won't survive as residential institutions. Today's buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded." All this from a life-long academic.

. . .

How higher education is managed did not impress Mr. Drucker; but what did is our continuing education system, whether in community colleges or by computers. Also: "Our most important education system is in the employees' own organization." That is where most Americans learn the most.

STEVE FORBES. "A Tribute to Peter Drucker." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 15, 2005): A22.




November 30, 2005

Forbes on Schumpeter and Drucker

From Steve Forbes' excellent tribute to Peter Drucker:

No surprise that the economist fellow-Austrian (at least by birth) Joseph Schumpeter was Mr. Drucker's hero. In 1983, at the centennial of both Schumpeter and the then-legendary John Maynard Keynes, Mr. Drucker wrote in Forbes that Schumpeter's centenary birthday would hardly be noticed. Yet "Schumpeter it is who will shape the thinking and inform the questions on economic theory and economy policy for the rest of this century, if not for the next 30 or 50 years." Today Schumpeter's emphasis on the crucial importance of entrepreneurship and "creative destruction" are now commonplaces.


As Mr. Drucker wrote over two decades ago, "The economy is forever going to change and is biological rather than mechanistic in nature. The innovator is the true subject of economics. Entrepreneurs that move resources from old and obsolescent to new and more productive employments are the very essence of economics and certainly of a modern economy. Innovation makes obsolete yesterday's capital earnings and capital investment. The more an economy progresses the more capital formation -- profits -- will it therefore need." These two men saw profits as a moral imperative, a genuine "cost" in the cost of staying in business because "Nothing is predictable except that today's profitable business will become tomorrow's white elephant."

For the full tribute, see:

STEVE FORBES. "A Tribute to Peter Drucker." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 15, 2005): A22.




November 21, 2005

Tom Cruise as Joseph Schumpeter?

After the film "A Beautiful MInd" on economist John Nash, The Economist suggests that there might be a market for movies about Keynes and Schumpeter. Here are there comments on the Schumpeter project:

Joseph Schumpeter. He said he wanted to be the world's “greatest horseman, greatest lover and greatest economist”, and later claimed two of three—he and horses just didn't get along. A perfect role, surely, for Tom Cruise, who was first choice to play Mr Nash. Schumpeter's best-known theory even sounds like a Hollywood thriller: “Creative Destruction”. Now how would they merchandise that?

"Economists on film: Keynes the movie?" (Dec. 20th 2001), downloaded online from: http://www.economist.com/finance/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=917413




November 20, 2005

Creative Destruction in "The Man in the White Suit"

Source: Amason.com


From David Thomson's Amazon.com review of the movie "The Man in the White Suit":

The Man in the White Suit focusses on the destructive aspects of all new inventions. Although Joseph Schumpeter's name is never mentioned, his creative destruction concept pervades the story line. Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness ) a non-credentialled and eccentric scientist who creates a new cloth that apparently will not wear out nor get dirty. The overall human community will enormously benefit---but what about those people who earn a living in the impacted industry?

Read the whole review, and others, at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006FMAV/104-8533764-5015948?v=glance&n=130&n=507846&s=dvd&v=glance




November 19, 2005

Some Evidence Patents Matter


Apparently the evidence is mixed on the importance of patents as an incentive to innovation, though it always seemed intuitive to me that patents should matter. Petra Moser has just published research from his dissertation, that seems to add evidence on the side of patents mattering:

How Do Patent Laws Influence Innovation? Evidence from Nineteenth-Century World's Fairs

Petra Moser

Abstract: Studies of innovation have focused on the effects of patent laws on the number of innovations, but have ignored effects on the direction of technological change. This paper introduces a new dataset of close to fifteen thousand innovations at the Crystal Palace World's Fair in 1851 and at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 to examine the effects of patent laws on the direction of innovation. The paper tests the following argument: if innovative activity is motivated by expected profits, and if the effectiveness of patent protection varies across industries, then innovation in countries without patent laws should focus on industries where alternative mechanisms to protect intellectual property are effective. Analyses of exhibition data for 12 countries in 1851 and 10 countries in 1876 indicate that inventors in countries without patent laws focused on a small set of industries where patents were less important, while innovation in countries with patent laws appears to be much more diversified. These findings suggest that patents help to determine the direction of technical change and that the adoption of patent laws in countries without such laws may alter existing patterns of comparative advantage across countries. (JEL D2, K11, L51, N0, O14)



Source:

Moser, Petra. "How Do Patent Laws Influence Innovation? Evidence from Nineteenth-Century World Fairs." The American Economic Review 95, no. 4 (2005): 1214-1236.




November 17, 2005

Massive Firings Get Reported; Massive Hirings Do Not

The media have a tendency to cover massive layoffs and firm failures but rarely mention when firms hire a large number of people or when a surprisingly large number of new firms are being formed in particular months. From an evolutionary point of view, firm bankruptcies are undesirable only if they are not brought about by other firms that provide better products and services. Joseph Schumpeter's (1942) characterization of capitalism as a process of creative destruction underlines the evolutionary view that better economic structures can only be achieved by allowing underperforming entities to be replaced by organizations that can make better use of their resources. (p. 225; italics in original)
Murmann, Johann Peter. Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Coevolution of Firms, Technology, and National Institutions, Cambridge Studies in the Emergence of Global Enterprise: Cambridge University Press, 2003.



November 15, 2005

It's Hard to Be Consistent

After Alfred Kahn succeeded in leading the effort to deregulate the airline industry, he apparently received some complaints about some of the results of deregulation:

When Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate and author of the bestselling Conscience of a Conservative, wrote him to complain about unpleasant conditions aboard now-packed flights, Kahn replied that this was the inevitable consequence of breaking up a "cartel-like regime." He added, "When you have further doubts about the efficiency of a free market system, please do not hesitate to convey them to me. I also warmly recommend some earlier speeches and writings of one Senator Barry Goldwater." (p. 382)

Yergin, Daniel, and Joseph Stanislaw. The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.


The results of the free market combine the preferences and actions of all of the participants in the market. So even the most fervent advocate of the process, will inevitably find some of the results distasteful or unpleasant. But the advocate should try to be consistent for two reasons. Primarily, because the free market embodies free choice, and free choice is morally good. Secondarily, because the free market produces more good results than any other process.




November 12, 2005

Peter Drucker Saw the Importance of Creative Destruction



12drucker_184.jpg1999 photo of Drucker from NYT online article cited below.



Peter F. Drucker, the political economist and author, whose view that big business and nonprofit enterprises were the defining innovation of the 20th century led him to pioneering social and management theories, died yesterday at his home in Claremont, Calif. He was 95.


For the full obituary, see:

BARNABY J. FEDER. "Peter F. Drucker, a Pioneer in Social and Management Theory, Is Dead at 95." The New York Times ( November 12, 2005) online version dowloaded from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/12/business/12drucker.html?pagewanted=1


Peter Drucker is sometimes given credit for helping keep the ideas of Schumpeter alive, and helping spur their revival in the 1980s. See Drucker's article:

Drucker, Peter F. "Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?" Reprinted as Ch. 12 in The Frontiers of Management. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1986, pp. 104-115 (originally published as: "Schumpeter and Keynes." Forbes (May 23, 1983): 124-128).





November 10, 2005

Rioting Caused by Economy Closed to Creative Destruction


FrenchRiots11-2005.jpg Source of photo: WSJ online version of article quoted and cited below.

The French rioters face very high unemployment. French restrictions on the labor market, and the economy more generally, cause the high unemployment. For example, the French make it hard for firms to fire employees, so as a result, firms are more reluctant to hire workers in the first place, resulting in higher unemployment. Although they do not know it, the rioters are rioting because France is closed to creative destruction. The following commentary is on point:

(p. A16) Like other Americans, immigrants often dramatically improve their quality of life and economic prospects by moving out to less dense, faster growing areas. They can also take advantage of more business-friendly government. Perhaps the most extreme case is Houston, a low-cost, low-tax haven where immigrant entrepreneurship has exploded in recent decades. Much of this has taken place in the city itself. Looser regulations and a lack of zoning lower land and rental costs, providing opportunities to build businesses and acquire property.

It is almost inconceivable to see such flowerings of ethnic entrepreneurship in Continental Europe. Economic and regulatory policy plays a central role in stifling enterprise. Heavy-handed central planning tends to make property markets expensive and difficult to penetrate. Add to this an overall regulatory regime that makes it hard for small business to start or expand, and you have a recipe for economic stagnation and social turmoil. What would help France most now would be to stimulate economic growth and lessen onerous regulation. Most critically, this would also open up entrepreneurial and employment opportunity for those now suffering more of a nightmare of closed options than anything resembling a European dream.



For the full commentary, see:

Joel Kotkin. "Our Immigrants, Their Immigrants." The Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2005): A16.




November 5, 2005

Gradualism Doomed to Failure


Perhaps these observations are relevant to the claim by what I call the "left Schumpeterians" (e.g., Tom Friedman) that a substantial labor safety net is necessary for creative destruction to work.

(p. 271) In Warsaw, from 1978 onward, he had directed what became known as "the Balcerowicz group," a long-running study group that was devoted to analyzing the "problems" of socialism and the question of how to reform the Polish economy. It focused on such basic questions as property rights, the proper role of the state in the economy, inflation, and what was increasingly becoming the true hallmark of socialism-shortages. All of this convinced Balcerowicz that "gradualism" was doomed to failure. Unless enough changes were combined and applied rapidly, the necessary "critical mass" would not be reached. Unlike many economists, he also dabbled in social psychology. He was particularly impressed by the theory of cognitive dissonance. As Balcerowicz summed up its significance for economic reform: "People are more likely to change their attitudes and their behavior if they are faced with radical changes in their environment, which they consider irreversible, than if those changes are only gradual."

Source:

Yergin, Daniel, and Joseph Stanislaw. The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace that is Remaking the Modern World.. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.




October 13, 2005

Just Throwing Money at R&D Does Not Work?

R&Denigma.gif
(Source: downloaded graphic from online version of WSJ see below, p. A13)


Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a consulting firm, analyzed six years of financial results by 1,000 publicly traded companies responsible for the bulk of R&D spending globally. The firm found the companies that spent proportionately greater sums than their industry peers didn't enjoy greater revenue gains or better profits.

The finding flies in the face of academic studies and accepted wisdom on the value of corporate research. It also comes as researchers warn that U.S. companies need to increase spending or risk falling behind rivals in China and India, which are rapidly industrializing.

Booz Allen concluded that once a minimum level of research and development spending is achieved, better oversight and culture were more significant factors in determining financial results. The study calculated the percentage of a company's revenue spent on R&D and compared it with sales growth, gross profit, operating profit, market capitalization and total shareholder result.

McWilliams, Gary. "In R&D, Brains Beat Spending In Boosting Profit." The Wall Street Journal
(Weds., October 11, 2005): A2 & A13.

Ah, so maybe the entrepreneur or R&D manager, can make a difference after all? (This is not a surprise, if you believe, as I do, that Clayton Christensen is on to something important.) Or, though less interesting, the results might just be due to diminishing returns to R&D.




October 12, 2005

Greenspan on Creative Destruction

This morning, Alan Greenspan delivered an excellent speech on "Economic Flexibility" at Georgetown before the National Italian American Foundation, Washington, D.C. Here is the part of the speech most directly relevant to the process of creative destruction:

Starting in the 1970s, U.S. Presidents, supported by bipartisan majorities in the Congress, responded to the growing recognition of the distortions created by regulation, by deregulating large segments of the transportation, communications, energy, and financial services industries. The stated purpose of this deregulation was to enhance competition, which had come to be seen as a significant spur to productivity growth and elevated standards of living. Assisting in the dismantling of economic restraints was the persistent, albeit slow, lowering of barriers to cross-border trade and finance.

As a consequence, the United States, then widely seen as a once-great economic power that had lost its way, gradually moved back to the forefront of what Joseph Schumpeter, the renowned Harvard professor, had called "creative destruction"--the continual scrapping of old technologies to make way for the innovative. In that paradigm, standards of living rise because depreciation and other cash flows of industries employing older, increasingly obsolescent technologies are marshaled, along with new savings, to finance the production of capital assets that almost always embody cutting-edge technologies. Workers, of necessity, migrate with the capital.

Through this process, wealth is created, incremental step by incremental step, as high levels of productivity associated with innovative technologies displace less-efficient productive capacity. The model presupposes the continuous churning of a flexible competitive economy in which the new displaces the old.

As the 1980s progressed, the success of that strategy confirmed the earlier views that a loosening of regulatory restraint on business would improve the flexibility of our economy. No specific program encompassed and coordinated initiatives to enhance flexibility, but there was a growing recognition that a market economy could best withstand and recover from shocks when provided maximum flexibility.


The full speech is available at the Federal Reserve web site at: http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/2005/20051012/default.htm




October 4, 2005

Sewing Machine Benefitted Laborers

Speaking of the invention of a practical, affordable sewing machine:

It was a democratizing influence. James Parton was exaggerating only a little when he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 1867 that it was "one of the means by which the industrious laborer is as well clad as any millionaire." (p. 84)

Evans, Harold. They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators from the Steam Engine to the Search Engine. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004.




September 29, 2005

When People Change


(p. 462) People don't change when you tell them they should. They change when they tell themselves they must. Or as Johns Hopkins foreign affairs professor Michael Mandelbaum puts it, "People don't change when you tell them there is a better option. They change when they conclude that they have no other option."

Source:

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.


Thomas Friedman's claim here is plausible, but I find it surprising, given his strong push for a worker safety net when the worker loses a job to creative destruction. The safety net Friedman proposes, in this book anyway, is one that does incorporate some incentives to find a job, but sounds like it could be 'gamed' to delay the tough decisions that might need to be made. Hayek had some useful observations on this issue way back in his Road to Serfdom.




September 28, 2005

Yes to Growth, No to Change

Apparently a perq of being a columnist for the New York Times, is that you get access to pretty high quality economics tutors. Tom Friedman tells us:

My economics tutor Paul Romer is fond of saying, "Everyone wants economic growth, but nobody wants change." Unfortunately, you cannot have one without the other, especially when the playing field shifts as dramatically as it has since the year 2000. (p. 339)

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.




September 8, 2005

Higher Return to R&D in U.S than in Japan and Europe

 

The following may be further support for Martin Neil Baily's claim that the U.S. is more productive than Europe and Japan because the U.S. is more open to creative destruction.

 

<615> . . ., most reserachers conclude that the rates of return to R&D are comparable magnitudes in different countries. This is confirmed by our <616> meta-analysis. However, the elasticities are significantly lower in Europe and Japan, as compared with the USA. (pp. 615-616)

 

Source:  Wieser, Robert. "Research and Development Productivity and Spillovers: Empirical Evidence at the Firm Level." Journal of Economic Surveys 19, no. 4 (2005): 587-621.

Also see: Baily, Martin Neil. "Macroeconomic Implications of the New Economy." Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of the Kansas City (2001): 201-268. (Especially see graph on p. 220) Martin Feldstein's Jackson Hole presentation, was also supportive of the Baily claim.

 




September 7, 2005

"Era of Creative Destruction on Steroids"

We are entering an era of creative destruction on steroids. (p. 280)

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.




September 5, 2005

Brozen and Demsetz: Modern-Day Schumpeterians

The dominant view among economists in the field of industrial organization in the 1960s was that industries with a few firms were monopolistic and that this explained why profit rates were higher in concentrated industries than in unconcentrated ones. Harold Demsetz, a former Chicago colleague who moved to UCLA in 1971, dubbed this the "market concentration doctrine." Brozen, with Demsetz, was a modern-day Schumpeterian who saw a dynamic competitive process at work. In industries in which a few companies had a large market share, they believed, concentration didn't cause high profits. Rather, concentration and high profits were caused by successful competition. In his 1982 book, Concentration, Mergers, and Public Policy (Macmillan), Brozen weaves together evidence from Demsetz and other economists, along with his own findings, to drive home that point.

Henderson, David R. "In Memoriam: Yale Brozen." The Freeman 48, no. 6 (June 1998). Posted online at: http://www.libertyhaven.com/thinkers/yalebrozen/memoriam.html




Software Industry Exemplifies Creative Destruction

(p. 4)  In our view, Microsoft's dominant share in operating systems evolved legitimately from a free-market competitive process. The PC software industry was legally open and contained many talented players (Sun, Netscape, Novell, Oracle, Apple, IBM), some larger than Microsoft, some smaller. The market process in this industry has always been characterized by intense innovation, rapid growth, sharply falling prices, and bitter rivalry (and occasional cooperation) between rivals. The industry exemplifies Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter's vision of competition as a process of creative destruction. Microsoft achieved its market position by aggressively innovating and promoting an open, standardized operating system platform . . . 

 

Source: 

Armentano, Dominick T. Antitrust: The Case for Repeal. 2nd ed: Mises, 1999.

 




September 1, 2005

The Impossible Dream?

In Locked in the Cabinet, Robert Reich's amusing allegory about life in Washington, Reich laments that the Democratic Party -- and in particular the labor constituents in the party -- did not support his vision of education and training as a means of enabling the labor force to adapt to and flourish in a time of rapid economic change and dislocation. Instead, they constituted what Reich called the "Save the Jobs Party," which wanted to preserve the industry, the companies and the jobs that exist today.

I think there is a similar phenomenon in antitrust. Antitrust is about process, and a particularly arduous one at that. We are proud that antitrust "protects competition, not competitors". We say that the market has winners and losers and that that is good.

Unfortunately, process is less attractive, in the concrete world in which real disputes arise and real grievances are formed, than is a comforting end-state. And political actors, I fear, are generally more zealous in guarding the latter than in seeking the former.

So, I can imagine constituents and lobbyists and public interest groups demanding the intervention of antitrust authorities to prevent the BA/NYNEX merger, to open up Korea for more car exports, or to restrict the imports of Japanese television sets into the United States. And I can imagine constituents urging that competition authorities in the EC should leave the Boeing/McDonnell Douglas merger alone or that the antitrust agencies here should stop meddling with hospital mergers in Michigan. But it's hard to imagine tens of thousands of people gathered on the Mall, carrying placards with pictures of Joseph Schumpeter, and demanding that the government give them more "creative destruction."

 

Source:

A. DOUGLAS MELAMED. "International Antitrust in an Age of International Deregulation." Address Before George Mason Law Review Symposium: Antitrust in the Global Economy, Washington, D.C., October 10, 1997.

(Note: At the time, Melamed was Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice. Bold emphasis was added by Diamond.)

 




August 29, 2005

The Creative Destruction of New York City


. . . the eyes of the city are focused firmly on its future, not on its history, and as a result, it subscribes to what the economist Joseph Schumpeter has called "creative destruction." New York is constantly remaking and reinventing itself, both in its physical structures and in its population.


From the preface of:

Kenneth Jackson and David Dunbar. Empire City: New York Through the Centuries. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




August 27, 2005

Infinite Jobs to Be Done

Marc Andreesen was the cofounder of Netscape.

"If you believe human wants and needs are infinite," said Andreeseen (sic), "then there are infinite industries to be created, infinite businesses to be started, and infinite jobs to be done, and the only limiting factor is human imagination. The world is flattening and rising at the same time. And I think the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: If you look over the sweep of history, every time we had more trade, more communications, we had a big upswing in economic activity and standard of living." (p. 231)

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.




August 22, 2005

Bill Clinton's Brief Presentation on Schumpeter



(p. 173) We read all the books, but each week a student would lead off the discussion with a ten-minute pesentation about the book of the week. You could do what you wanted with the ten minutes--summarize the book, talk about its central idea, or discuss an aspect of particular interest--but you had to do it in these ten minutes. Sharabi believed that if you couldn't, you didn't understand the book, and he strictly enforced the limit. He did make one exception, for a philosophy major, the first person I ever heard use the word "ontological"--for all I knew, it was a medical specialty. He ran on well past the ten-minute limit, and when he finally ran out of gas, Sharabi stared at him with his big, expressive eyes and said, "If I had a gun, I would shoot you." Ouch. I made my presentation on Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. I'm not sure how good it was, but I used simple words and, believe it or not, finished in just over nine minutes.


Source:

Bill Clinton. My Life. Random House Large Print Edition, 2004.





August 18, 2005

No Known Upper Bound for Economic Growth

Given the limited state of our knowledge of the process of technological change, we have no way to estimate what the upper bound on the feasible rate of growth for an economy might be. If economists had tried to make a judgment at the end of the 19th century, they would have been correct to argue that there was no historical precedent that could justify the possibility of an increase in the trend rate of growth of income per capita to 1.8% per year. Yet this increase is what we achieved in the 20th century. (p. 226)

Romer, Paul M. "Should the Government Subsidize Supply or Demand in the Market for Scientists and Engineers?" In Innovation Policy and the Economy, vol. 1, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001, pp. 221-252.




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