The Austrian School's conventional theory of the firm is based on an attempt to synthesize Coase's concept of the firm as a centrally planned hierarchy with the Austrian theory of entrepreneurship and monetary calculation. This paper is a critique of that program as well as an attempt to outline the alternative theory of the firm, one based on the synthesis of the contractual agency theory of the firm (Alchian-Demsetz, Jensen-Meckling) with the same Austrian arguments about entrepreneurship and calculation. The firm in this paper is defined as a nexus of various markets for goods as well as for labor and managerial services rather than as a hierarchy or “organization.” Both the neoclassical and Austrian critiques of the latter concept are utilized to prove that a clear distinction between the market and the firm cannot be established. That distinction is based on the misunderstanding of the firm's dynamics as exclusively tied to the managing/transaction costs ratio as well as on the mischaracterization of inter-firm relations as commanding ones (Demsetz-Alchian, Jensen, Meckling, Fama, Cheung). On the other hand, the central planning view of the firm is equally at odds with the key Mises's argument that rational economic planning is impossible in the absence of market prices (Mises, 1990). If this is so, the firm, as understood in a Coasian paradigm, would not have any reason to exist, or any reason to contribute positively to economic efficiency, because it would simply represent a centrally planned “island of incalculability” in a wider market setting (Rothbard, 2004). Since the firm is a nexus of various markets, its operation is contrary to the Coaseian assumptions led by the price signals. Only insofar as the internal firm's operation is driven by the price signals can the firm be efficient.The idea that there is no distinction between the market and the firm has been tried before and has not been widely accepted. For me the Rothbard argument would hold but only when when the firm came to dominate the market since this would mean doing away with input prices which would make economic calculation impossible. This puts an upper limit on the size of the firm rather than saying hierarchical organisation can not exist.
Monday, 11 October 2010
Firm as a Nexus of Markets is a new paper by Ivan Jankovic. The abstract reads: