The Working Group on Comparative Economics presents "Organizations Past, Present, and Future: A View from Organizational Economics," the first program of the Autumn Quarter series, ‘New Approaches in the Theory of the Firm’
Robert Gibbons (MIT)
with shorter presentations given by Cam Hawkins (University of Chicago)
Gary Herrigel (University of Chicago)
I will begin with brief descriptions of the footprint of organizational economics (i.e., what topics does it study?) and its wellsprings (i.e., what questions animate the field, who posed them, and what basic answers have been analyzed?). The overarching perspective will follow Arrow's (1974: 26-33) views that (a) "organizations are a means of achieving the benefits of collective action in situations where the price system fails" (thus including not only firms but also unions, legislatures, agencies, schools, churches, and social movements) and that (b) organizations thus share "the need for collective action and the allocation of resources through nonmarket methods" (where the latter include dictatorship, coalitions, committees, and much more).
The presentation will then largely skip 50 years of work by about 500 researchers to focus instead on my decade-long obsession with the question "What can an economist do to help a fixed set of people perform better together?" A sober treatment for economists can be found in my survey with Rebecca Henderson, "What Do Managers Do? Exploring Persistent Peformance Differences among Seemingly Similar Enterprises" (Chapter 17 in the Handbook of Organizational Economics, Princeton University Press, 2013). I hope to engage the group in a broader discussion of what we might mean by "culture," how it can affect organizational performance, and whether it can be changed or managed.
Robert Gibbons is Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management in MIT's Sloan School and Professor in MIT's Economics Department. His research and teaching concern organizational economics -- i.e., "the use of economic logic and methods to understand the existence, nature, design, and performance of organizations, especially managed ones" (Gibbons and Roberts, 2013: 1). In particular, Gibbons studies how "relational contracts" (informal agreements so rooted in the parties' circumstances that they cannot be adjudicated by courts) affect the performance of firms, of relationships between firms, and of organizations besides firms.
In 2003, Gibbons launched the doctoral course in organizational economics in MIT's Economics Department, which became a two-semester course sequence in 2009. At the National Bureau of Economic Research, he is founder and director of the working group in organizational economics. In 2013, he and John Roberts co-edited the Handbook of Organizational Economics (Princeton University Press).
For economists interested in organizational economics, Gibbons has written "Four Formal(izable) Theories of the Firm?" (J. Econ. Beh. & Orgzn., 2005), "Inside Organizations: Pricing, Politics, and Path Dependence" (Ann. Rev. Econ., 2010), and "Transaction-Cost Economics: Past, Present, and Future?" (Scand. J. Econ., 2010). For broader audiences, his writings include "Taking Coase Seriously" (Admin. Sci. Quart., 1999), "Team Theory, Garbage Cans, and Real Organizations" (Ind. & Corp. Change, 2003), and "What Is Economic Sociology and Should Any Economists Care?" (J. Econ. Persp., 2005).
Gibbons is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Econometric Society, and the Society of Labor Economists. He is a former board member at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and the Citicorp Behavioral Science Research Council.