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A Tribute To Oliver Williamson Essay

4619 words - 19 pages


Institutions, Politics, and Non-Market Strategy

Rui J. P. de Figueiredo, Jr.

liver Williamson is best known for his contributions to economics, and particularly to our understanding of how private firms are defined, operate, and change. Williamson’s primary application addressed the question of why some economic transactions were organized within a private firm, while others took place outside of a firm, in the market. Despite this focus, Williamson’s reach and impact has extended far beyond the domain of private firms and markets. Certainly suitable for a scholar who has been so vocally interdisciplinary in his approach to the study of institutions and ...view middle of the document...

The recognition of the broad reach of Williamson’s insights has led to application in other fields. Perhaps one of the most well developed is the realm of public organization—what has come to be known as transaction cost politics. As Dixit notes, “Transaction-cost politics views . . . policy-making as a political process constrained by asymmetric information and limited commitment possibilities.”1 Many of the ideas, concepts, and frameworks developed by Williamson are directly applicable to the study of policy-making and policy-executing organizations. As with applications to economics, transaction cost logic applied to politics also focuses on (bilateral) dependencies between actors engaged in political transactions—whether they be governments or firms.2 In a political world where third-party enforcement of agreements is not always possible (consider how nations may enforce international agreements) and where organizational Rui J. P. de Figueiredo, Jr. is an Associate Profesoptions may be constrained (consider the sor at the Haas School of Business and in the Department of Political Science at the University types of financial incentives that may be of California at Berkeley. provided to civil servants versus employees of private companies), problems of incomplete contracting (the inability to write down and enforce completely specified agreements to govern transactions, economic or political) and credible commitments (the importance of institutions that limit post-agreement renegotiation and opportunism) become both severe and unique. This in turn suggests that political organization may be governed by the same principles outlined by transaction cost logic, but with broader implications than for private firms. Notably, Williamson’s approach for understanding political organization goes beyond normative and positive questions of public policy and the design of public institutions. In the realm of economics, Williamson’s approach has had foundational contributions to the study of firm, which in turn has provided important prescriptions in the field of strategy, for scholars and practitioners alike. As Salomon notes, “Transaction cost economics is a central theory in the field of strategy. It addresses questions about why firms exist in the first place . . . , how firms define their boundaries, and how they ought to govern operations.”3 In the same way, Williamson’s contributions to the study of public organization also have important implications and guidelines for scholars and executives attempting to gain traction on questions of non-market strategy. In contrast to voluntary economic exchange, which characterizes the market environment of firms, the non-market environment encompasses the political, social, and legal context in which the firm operates.4 In many settings, how firms influence and interact with their non-market environment—their non-market strategy—can have substantial implications for both the effectiveness of their market strategy and the...

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