22 October 2009

The Invigorating Sight Of New Non-Green Shoots Of Unhope

Poll: US belief in global warming is cooling (Dina Cappiello, AP, 10/21/09)
Americans seem to be cooling toward global warming.

Just 57 percent think there is solid evidence the world is getting warmer, down 20 points in just three years, a new poll says. And the share of people who believe pollution caused by humans is causing temperatures to rise has also taken a dip, even as the U.S. and world forums gear up for possible action against climate change.
I could get all wigged out about the AP's ignorance of the scientific consensus that "pollution" causes global cooling and part of whatever warming happened in the latter half of the 20th century was due to cleaning up the air. But why spoil this moment.

Dr. Duess

(WARNING: The following is not in any way nuanced, satirical or sophisticated. It is not an allegory for our times. There is no hidden meaning or moral, and those searching for one will be shot. The Proprietor)

Giants come,
Witches come,
Rumbling, bumbling giants come.
Slithering, dithering witches come.
How they run!
How they come!
They come to the house of Johnny Rum.

Johnny Rum is home in bed.
Johnny Rum with a cold in his head.
Laying in bed, cold in his head,
Johnny hears the giants run.
Mom is gone.
Dad is gone.
Billy and Jilly and Tilly are gone.

Johnny Rum grabs the phone,
Johnny Rum, home alone.
Johnny Rum calls 911.
"Witches, you say?"
"Giants, you say?"
"Please check your number and dial again,"

The Queen of the witches comes to the door,
The Queen of the witches chills to the core.
The biggest giant comes to the door,
The biggest giant, with the head of a boar.
Knock, goes the door,
Knock, goes the door.
"Who's there?," goes Johnny Rum.

A giant rumble comes to Johnny,
A witchy shrill grabs for Johnny,
"We've come for you," rumble the giants.
"We've come for you," shrill the witches.
"Abandon hope, Johnny Rum."

Johnny Rum knows the score.
Johnny Rum has learned the lore.
Johnny Rum opens the door.

A bucket of water pelts the Queen.
A bucket of water melts the Queen.
Melt, Queen.

The largest giant snorts and steams.
Johnny runs.
Johnny dashes.
The largest giant bends and bashes.
Johnny grabs his big shoe laces.

Johnny ties and knots and splices.
Johnny joins and knits the laces.
Johnny runs, the giant follows,
Down he goes into a hollow.
The earth shakes.
The ground quakes.
Bones break.
Mountains flake.
Thunder wakes.
In the mountains, a dam breaks, a lake quakes, a flood wakes.

All the witches scream in horror,
All the giants run in fright.
The ground shakes; the ground quakes.
A flood comes.
A rushing, gushing, shaking, quaking, moaning, groaning, frowning, drowning flood comes.

In the swirling waters, all the witches start to melt.
In the twirling waters, all the giants start to fall.
Giants run,
Witches run,
Rumbling, bumbling giants run.
Slithering, dithering witches run.
They run from the house of Johnny Rum.

Mom is home.
Dad is home.
Billy and Jilly and Tilly are home.
Johnny Rum is in his bed.
Johnny Rum, with a cold in the head.

12 October 2009

Coase Gets His Second Nobel

Donna this morning mentioned that she heard on NPR that some American had been awarded the Nobel for his work on the boundaries of the firm. After making the mandatory Barrack Obama joke, I said that it must be Oliver Williamson, and I was right.

As it happens, I just spent a measurable portion of my summer reading Williamson and about Williamson. (I've pulled three of his books from the shelf, The Mechanisms of Goverance, The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, and The Nature of the Firm, and I highly recommend them. Williamson is an accessible writer and if you're interested in why some functions necessary to produce a product are in the firm and others aren't (and who isn't), Williamson makes for a good read.) The old saw is that an economist is anyone who calls himself an economist, but I think of Williamson as an organizational theorist. Org theory is a name more than a discipline -- psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and economists all write org theory -- and the line between org theory and strategy (my field) is whisper-thin. If you look at organizing, you're an org theorist, unless you look at whether different ways of organizing effect performance, in which case you're in strategy.

As Prof. Williamson would be the first to admit, his work owes much to Ronald Coase. Coase first asked why organizational boundaries exist where they do? This is a more subtle question, and a more fundamental question, that first appears. The question really is why, if the market is so great at delivering the right product at the right price, does so much economic activity take place within the firm, where decisions are made bureaucratically by a hierarchy. Why have an HR department when the market could deliver the right worker for the right price? Why did Ford try to control the entire supply chain from mining the iron ore through selling the completed car, but buy it's tires from Firestone?

Coase's answer was that it must cost less to do it that way, at least in the long run. As Williamson says, "What is one to do with a 'gift' that is patently right, eludes analysis, and upsets foundations?" Essentially what org theory (and economics) did was ignore it for 50 years until Williamson based his career on building on Coase's analysis. His first book, and in some ways his best book, is Markets and Hierarchies (1975) which does a great job of combining work on information theory, organizational innovation, transaction costs and the behavioral theory of the firm.

Overall, Williamson's work allows us to make predictions about broad trends in org theory. Recent advances in information management and the collapsing costs of communicating across distances led to a predictable (and predicted) increase in outsourcing and vertical dis-integration. In other words, we're now in a period in which we should expect to see market mechanisms substituting for hierarchical/bureaucratic command and control mechanisms. Which is just another reason that the move to nationalize healthcare is a bad idea.

In fact, the work of both of this year's economic laureates suggests that nationalizing healthcare is a bad idea. (Elinor Ostrom's work suggests that the revealed preferences of local consumers does a better job of allocating scarce resources than diktats from national hierarchies.) Predictably this will be ignored by the very people who expect us to defer to the wisdom of the Peace Prize committee.

09 October 2009

Next To The Nobel Committee Wearing Sashes Announcing "We're Racist Dupes And Hypocrits"

This news couldn't be any better.

I've been thinking over why I find this news so amusing and so gratifying. It comes down to a line from Deep Space Nine: "A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness."

What we really want is for our intellectual opponents to come to us one day and admit that we were right all along to believe that they couldn't really believe the bilge that they were speaking. We were right; they were wrong; and they knew it at the time.

Of course, in real life that never happens, making this the next best thing.

08 October 2009

I'm Sure I'm Against It ...

It is university policy to provide equal employment opportunity to all employees and applicants for employment regardless of their race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, military service, veteran status, or any other category protected by law
Rutgers University web site

But what the heck does it mean?

02 October 2009

Should'a Put A Ring On It

Does Single Ladies even have any competition yet for best pop song of the century?

And The Olympics Goes To Rio

Heh. Heh, heh. Heh.

01 October 2009

Step Away From The Google

Not to hijack the, "There's too much internet" meme, but this thread is the poster child for "too much internet."

Being intelligent and yet socially awkward =/= Asperger's Syndrome.

Why Did GM Fail?

There's a bit of a discussion in the comments to the next post down about why GM failed. Since that's what I'm studying (except not GM, I'm just studying generally why some firms outperform other firms), I probably ought to have an opinion. And I do.

It was management's fault. It's always management's fault. It's in the job description. But that's not a particularly satisfying or interesting answer.

I'm not sure why GM died, but there's one explanation (or rather one set of explanations) that's worth looking at. I think that it's fair to say that most strategic management scholars (and I) think that strategy matters. That organizations can effect their own performance by choosing strategies that fit their environment. The sub-field I'm working in, strategy process, is the study of how organizations monitor their environment, move information to the places in the organization best able to act upon it, and then develop strategies to fit the current environment. This side of strategy assumes strategic choice.

But there is a another side of strategy called, not entirely appropriately, determinism. These theories basically assume that strategy doesn't make a difference; that individual organizations don't really have much control over their own performance. Michael Porter, who some of you have probably heard of, started strategy by more or less teaching that what industry a business is in makes all the difference -- all companies can do to help performance is choose the right industry and then work with their competitors to shape the industry by, for example, getting the government to restrict entry. Other scholars think that organizations are subject to the laws of population ecology; or that corporate routines are like genes, immutable in the organization but mutable as new organizations are created. Other scholars think that young organizations can be entrepreneurial, but then bounded rationality, risk and loss aversion, satisficing, etc., embed the existing strategy which cannot thereafter by changed. My off-the-cuff reaction is that this last description fits GM.

Miles and Snow (1978) -- a great book I recommend to lay business people and Harry -- divides up corporate functions between the entrepreneurial, the engineering and the administrative. Different companies emphasize different functions, and the result is four types of companies: prospectors, analyzers, defenders and reactors. Any of the first three can be fine, depending on the environment. Being a reactor is fatal. GM was founded to concentrate on the administrative function. Toyota and Honda focus on the engineering function, with some attention paid to the entrepreneurial function. GM never could shake its focus on the administrative function; they always thought that they could manage themselves out of the predicament. Over time, they slid from analyzer to defender to reactor, and then they died. This makes it sound as if GM could have saved itself if it had become entrepreneurial, or if its unions had allowed it some engineering slack. But GM was what it was. There's no sense telling the lobster that it could save itself from the pot if it would only sprout wings.

Of course, that suggests that the government bailout was exactly the wrong thing to do.