Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on the Work of William J. Baumol: Heterodox Inspirations and Neoclassical Models: Volume 40B

Cover of Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on the Work of William J. Baumol: Heterodox Inspirations and Neoclassical Models
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(11 chapters)

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Pages i-xiii
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PART I: A SYMPOSIUM ON THE WORK OF WILLIAM J. BAUMOL: HETERODOX INSPIRATIONS AND NEOCLASSICAL MODELS

Abstract

The Baumol effect follows from simple but deep microeconomic reasoning. All prices are relative prices, so if some goods are getting cheaper, others must be getting more expensive. Simple. But in transferring our attention about the cause of rising prices from stagnating sectors to progressive sectors, the Baumol effect radically changes our understanding of the causes, consequences, and evaluation of rising prices. Even today, the power of the Baumol effect to explain price changes through different time periods and places is underestimated. Throughout his career, Baumol returned to this simple idea many times, making it a key to his thought and his evolving views on long-term economic development.

Abstract

William Baumol famously introduced the “cost disease” according to which the relative price of services vis-á-vis manufactured goods keeps rising because of a negative productivity differential between services and manufacturing industries. Empirical evidence strongly supports the predictions of Baumol’s model of “unbalanced growth” as we show in this article. Baumol was convinced that the cost disease need not have fatal consequences for growing economies as they can afford to earmark ever-higher shares of GDP to pay for services like healthcare and education if the overall “pie” keeps growing. Then, consumption of goods may rise as well even if its share in GDP steadily declines. However, income inequality has surged since the 1980s; and the rising price of vital services means that lower-income strata may be increasingly unable to pay for them. In this article, we develop the nexus between the cost disease and rising income inequality and sketch the ensuing challenges for social policy.

Abstract

Baumol’s impact on the development of managerial theories of the firm is investigated here through the material found in Galbraith’s archives. In 1957, Galbraith published a paper claiming that the impact of macroeconomic policies varies with market structures (competitive versus oligopolistic). That publication prompted Baumol (1958b) to send Galbraith a manuscript dealing extensively with a crucial question of managerial theories of the firm, namely, the trade-off between sales and profits. I argue that Baumol’s critiques and Galbraith’s answers largely explain the way Baumol (1958a, 1959) framed his alternative model of the behavior of corporations. He reasoned in terms of maximization of sales with a profit constraint as their main objective. In return, Business Behavior, Value and Growth fostered the development of Marris’ (1964) and Galbraith’s (1967) theories of the corporation. While Tullock (1978) provides a narrative in which the sales maximization hypothesis has two main branches – Baumol for the one and Galbraith–Marris for the other – the paper demonstrates that these branches are intimately connected.

Abstract

Telecommunications was traditionally considered a natural monopoly. However, in 1982 AT&T was required to give up its control of local telephone services. As economies of scale and scope pervade telecommunications services, the neoclassical perfect competition model could not be applied as a benchmark for regulation. Baumol’s theory of contestable markets was referenced in the design of the new telecommunications regulation regime that followed the AT&T divestiture.

This chapter analyzes from a partially first-hand perspective Baumol’s contributions to the economics of telecommunications. After the AT&T breakup, a key issue to address was the access to the so-called last mile of copper wire owned exclusively by the local monopolies. Baumol together with his colleague Gregory Sidak claimed it was necessary to provide access to interconnection to all qualified applicants. Baumol and Willig proposed a pricing rule, which they argued ensures efficiency in the allocation of bottleneck input resources. The so-called parity-pricing formula is presented and discussed.

The developments in the telecommunications industry that took place during the last 25 years are pointed out, particularly the role played in them by mobile phones. Interconnection was also a vital element for them, and Baumol’s contributions are still a point of reference in this area. The chapter concludes with some reflections on Baumol’s methodological views based on personal correspondence.

Abstract

William Baumol is best-known as an academic. He was a prodigious researcher and publisher of texts on microeconomic theory, and a highly regarded educator with roles as head of the Department of Economics at Princeton University, director of the C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics and director of the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at New York University. Less well-known were his engagements as a corporate consultant, notably for the telecommunications monopoly AT&T. Baumol’s work as an advisor, expert witness and theorist for AT&T spanned three decades from 1966. His relationship with AT&T arguably forms the context within which we can better understand his work on contestability theory, which he developed with a team of economists working for AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1970s. Contestability theory was later deployed as a policy tool to justify industry deregulation and even advocate for monopolies and oligopolies on the ground that they were optimally efficient industry structures if potential competitors faced low barriers of entry. Baumol’s intellectual contribution to contestability theory was arguably influenced by the Chicago school and by AT&T’s drive toward the technological integration of telecommunications. Contestability was a rebellion against economic orthodoxies concerning competition and government regulation, and the status quo within AT&T which opposed market competition on the ground that it threatened the technological integration of the Bell system. The outcome was a revolution in industrial organization that would pave the way for the emergence of platform business models incorporating multi-sided and two-sided markets as exemplified by Amazon and Uber.

Abstract

William J. Baumol was one of the most prolific economists of his generation, analyzing a broad range of central economic issues addressing real problems of the world. In this essay, we present and critically evaluate Baumol’s research contributions in entrepreneurship economics and point to areas for future research. Baumol contributed an impressive number of important insights, increasing our understanding of entrepreneurship from both a macro and a micro perspective. He also devoted a large part of his writings to discussing public policy, linking his theoretical insights with policy issues in practice. His analyses are rooted in contemporary mainstream neoclassical economics, and one of his main objectives was to integrate the entrepreneur into this tradition. Today, Baumol is best known for his tripartite distinction between productive, unproductive, and destructive entrepreneurship and his associated idea that the institutional framework, “the rules of the game,” will determine how entrepreneurs allocate their time and effort across different – productive or unproductive – activities. An institutional environment that encourages productive entrepreneurship and spontaneous experimentation while disincentivizing unproductive activities becomes, through this insightful lens, the driving force of economic growth. As an economist, Baumol was knowledgeable and well acquainted with earlier scholars and their writings about entrepreneurship. Baumol’s writings were greatly inspired by Joseph Schumpeter’s views on entrepreneurship, and he made several attempts to formalize Schumpeter’s concept of the innovative entrepreneur. Baumol was in all senses an innovative contributor to entrepreneurship economics. His work has inspired the research community of entrepreneurship scholars, but like all great scientists, he also encountered criticism. His effort to integrate entrepreneurship into the mainstream theory of the firm was only partly successful.

Abstract

This paper reconstructs the clash between William Baumol’s and Paul Samuelson’s different approaches to the history of economic thought, disguised as a debate on the Marxian transformation problem on the pages of the Journal of Economic Literature in 1974. The published papers were the result of an intense exchange of letters that shows how the debate on the transformation problem is just the surface: the debate originated from the authors’ different approaches to the history of economic thought. Samuelson applied his famous “Whig” history of economics to suggest that Marx had little to nothing to offer to modern theorists, while Baumol was interested in the past authors’ theoretical and moral intentions. Baumol and Samuelson’s Methodenstreit resulted in two different visions of Marx, and there is evidence that they kept their different approaches for their entire career.

PART II: ESSAYS

Abstract

The growing displacement of theory and other forms of wide-ranging knowledge of social phenomena by empirical research methods in economics is widely noted by economists and historians of economic knowledge. Less attention has been devoted, however, to understand the materialization of such changes in the scientific practices. This article studies the recent transformations in the epistemological practices at CEDE, a research center in Colombia. I use a machine learning technique called Topic Modeling, interviews to CEDE researchers, and exegesis of papers to characterize a shift in the production of knowledge in microeconometrics at CEDE during the years 2000 and 2018. I explain this shift by characterizing two sets of epistemological practices that implies a recent tendency to disdain research that cannot make a “strong” causal inference.

Abstract

Starting from Gino Arias’s dictum on the uselessness of international trade theory for fascism, this contribution aims to demonstrate two main points. First, the free trade attitude displayed by fascism immediately before and after the “March on Rome” clashed with its nationalist origins. The nationalist movement had supported a strong protectionist policy starting from a rejection of the main principles of marginalist theory. This explains why some issues raised by Pareto and Barone which could have been used as arguments in favor of protectionism were neglected. In turn, this impasse played a major role in the rejection of Mihail Manoilescu’s theory in the thirties. The second point concerns the possibility of some – at least relatively – free theoretical debate on international trade theory and policy. When the regime set itself a clear objective, like the reduction of trade to begin with, and then autarky, the scope for free discussion narrowed to the point of eventually closing. In this context, refusing to support the regime’s choices in economic policy meant resigning oneself to becoming an outcast. A situation offering one more tessera in the complex mosaic of relations between science and politics in authoritarian regimes.

Cover of Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on the Work of William J. Baumol: Heterodox Inspirations and Neoclassical Models
DOI
10.1108/S0743-4154202240B
Publication date
2022-09-08
Book series
Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-80382-708-7
eISBN
978-1-80382-707-0
Book series ISSN
0743-4154