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Coordination, Specialization and Incentives: An Equilibrium Model of Firm Boundaries

Author

Listed:
  • Frank Mathewson
  • Ignatius J. Horstmann

Abstract

This paper derives firm boundaries as the outcome of an equilibrium coordination mechanism. The analysis is premised on the notion that efficient production and distribution are achieved through a mechanism that coordinates three basic activities: i) input acquisition, ii) production, iii) identification of customers/distribution of output to customers. In a perfectly competitive setting, this coordination activity is accomplished via a price mechanism that coordinates the decisions of individual input suppliers with individual input demanders and the decisions of individual output producers with individual output demanders. In worlds in which there are trading frictions, asymmetric information or small numbers of agents, other mechanisms are required to achieve efficient coordination. We seek to explain the observation of firms and other contractual arrangements as efficient coordination mechanisms, arising in response to these environmental elements. In particular, we seek to identify conditions on trading technologies, information and numbers of agents that generate various coordination mechanisms -- firms, contracts or markets -- as efficient responses to the particular environment. Since efficiency may involve specialization of tasks, efficient coordination must take into account the need of the mechanism to provide incentives for multiple agents to undertake efficient levels of the separate activities. The ability of various mechanisms to provide incentives and the way that this ability is affected by information and agent numbers will determine both which mechanism arises in a given environment and how much specialization takes place. This latter point is important. One insight that we provide is that the degree of specialization is not just limited by the extent of the market -- Stigler's perspective -- but also by the ability of the coordination mechanism to provide incentives for efficient activity levels as specialization occurs

Suggested Citation

  • Frank Mathewson & Ignatius J. Horstmann, 2004. "Coordination, Specialization and Incentives: An Equilibrium Model of Firm Boundaries," Econometric Society 2004 North American Winter Meetings 266, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:nawm04:266
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Alchian, Armen A & Demsetz, Harold, 1972. "Production , Information Costs, and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 777-795, December.
    2. Hart, Oliver & Moore, John, 1990. "Property Rights and the Nature of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1119-1158, December.
    3. Freeland, Robert F, 2000. "Creating Holdup through Vertical Integration: Fisher Body Revisited," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 43(1), pages 33-66, April.
    4. Klein, Benjamin & Crawford, Robert G & Alchian, Armen A, 1978. "Vertical Integration, Appropriable Rents, and the Competitive Contracting Process," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 297-326, October.
    5. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver D, 1986. "The Costs and Benefits of Ownership: A Theory of Vertical and Lateral Integration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(4), pages 691-719, August.
    6. Jack A. Nickerson & Brian S. Silverman, 2003. "Why aren't all Truck Drivers Owner-Operators? Asset Ownership and the Employment Relation in Interstate for-hire Trucking," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 12(1), pages 91-118, March.
    7. Muris, Timothy J & Scheffman, David T & Spiller, Pablo T, 1992. "Strategy and Transaction Costs: The Organization of Distribution in the Carbonated Soft Drink Industry," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 83-128, Spring.
    8. Casadesus-Masanell, Ramon & Spulber, Daniel F, 2000. "The Fable of Fisher Body," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 43(1), pages 67-104, April.
    9. George J. Stigler, 1951. "The Division of Labor is Limited by the Extent of the Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59, pages 185-185.
    10. George P. Baker & Thomas N. Hubbard, 2003. "Make Versus Buy in Trucking: Asset Ownership, Job Design, and Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 551-572, June.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Coordination; Firm Boundaries; Incentives; Specialization;

    JEL classification:

    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure
    • L14 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation

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