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Concatenate Coordination and Mutual Coordination

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  • Klein, Daniel B.

    ()
    (George Mason University)

  • Orsborn, Aaron

    ()
    (George Mason University)

Abstract

We tell of the evolving meaning of the term coordination as used by economists. The paper is based on systematic electronic searches (on “coord,” etc.) of major works and leading journals. The term coordination first emerged in professional economics around 1880, to describe the directed productive concatenation of factors or activities within a firm. Also, transportation economists used the term to describe the concatenation of routes and trips of a transportation system. These usages represent what we term concatenate coordination. The next major development came in the 1930s from several LSE economists (Hayek, Plant, Hutt, and Coase), who extended that concept beyond the eye of any actual coordinator. That is, they wrote of the concatenate coordination of a system of polycentric or spontaneous activities. These various applications of concatenate coordination prevailed until the next major development, namely, Thomas Schelling and game models. Here coordination referred to a mutual meshing of actions. Game theorists developed crisp ideas of coordination games (like “battle of the sexes”), coordination equilibria, convention, and path dependence. This “coordination” was not a refashioning, but rather a distinct concept, one we distinguish as mutual coordination. As game models became more familiar to economists, it was mutual coordination that economists increasingly had in mind when they spoke of “coordination.” Economists switched, so to speak, to a new semantic equilibrium. Now, mutual coordination overshadows the older notion of concatenate coordination. The two senses of coordination are conceptually distinct and correspond neatly to the two dictionary definitions of the verb to coordinate. Both are crucial to economics. We suggest that distinguishing between the two senses can help to clarify “coordination” talk. Also, compared to talk of “efficiency” and “optimality,” concatenate coordination allows for a richer, more humanistic, and more openly aesthetic discussion of social affairs. The narrative is backed up by Excel worksheets that report on systematic content searches of the writings of economics using the worldwide web and, using JSTOR, of Quarterly Journal of Economics, Economic Journal, Journal of Political Economy, American Economic Review, and Economica.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by The Ratio Institute in its series Ratio Working Papers with number 116.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: 03 Jan 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2009, pages 176-187.
Handle: RePEc:hhs:ratioi:0116

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Keywords: coordination; concatenation; planning; coordination equilibrium; focal point;

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  1. Cooper, Russell & John, Andrew, 1988. "Coordinating Coordination Failures in Keynesian Models," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 103(3), pages 441-63, August.
  2. Diamond, Peter A, 1982. "Aggregate Demand Management in Search Equilibrium," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(5), pages 881-94, October.
  3. Ball, Laurence & Romer, David, 1991. "Sticky Prices as Coordination Failure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(3), pages 539-52, June.
  4. Sugden, Robert, 1989. "Spontaneous Order," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 85-97, Fall.
  5. Coase, R H, 1988. "The Nature of the Firm: Meaning," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 19-32, Spring.
  6. Spencer, Herbert, 1862. "First Principles," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number spencer1862.
  7. Coase, R H, 1988. "The Nature of the Firm: Origin," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 3-17, Spring.
  8. Klein, Daniel B. & Briggeman, Jason, 2008. "Israel Kirzner on Coordination and Discovery," Ratio Working Papers 127, The Ratio Institute.
  9. Daniel Klein, 1997. "Convention, Social Order, and the Two Coordinations," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 8(4), pages 319-335, December.
  10. Smith, Adam, 1759. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1759.
  11. Coase, R H, 1988. "The Nature of the Firm: Influence," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 33-47, Spring.
  12. H. Peyton Young, 1996. "The Economics of Convention," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(2), pages 105-122, Spring.
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Cited by:
  1. Boettke, Peter, 2010. "Corridors, Coordination and the Entrepreneurial Theory of the Market Process," MPRA Paper 33597, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Harper, David A., 2013. "Property rights, entrepreneurship and coordination," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 62-77.

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