Do Firms Plan?
The late F. A. Hayek is remembered for the argument that the decentralized price system has enormous advantages over planned systems in the critical areas of information transmission and the use of knowledge. In many minds, the recent fall of the Soviet-style economies in Eastern Europe has decisively made that case. But not all are persuaded. The model of central planning that originally impressed Lenin - the modern business corporation - remains in many minds a formidable piece of empirical evidence in favor of the possibility and desirability of centralized administrative control. This paper argues that Hayek's theory of spontaneous order can in fact include the case of such apparently purposive and extra-market forms as the business firm. It picks up a number of suggestions in Hayek's evolutionary theory of social institutions and uses them to draw a picture of the firm that is somewhat different from what one finds on the easel of neoclassical transaction-cost analysis. In the Hayekian picture, firms and markets are both systems of rules of conduct. And both are systems for economizing on knowledge in the face of economic change, albeit quite different kinds of knowledge and change. In the end, I will argue, the firm is not a model for political
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