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莫志宏

北京工业大学副教授,九鼎公共事务研究所研究员,华人哈耶克学会会员,从事宪政经济学和制度经济学研究。

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Coase’s question, his realistic picture of the market and the latent entrepreneur-coordinator’s perspective  

2011-02-09 13:43:47|  分类: 科斯与新古典思维 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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In his 1937 paper “The nature of the firm” Coase addresses what I call the “why question”: why are there firms if the market (i.e. the price mechanism) works by itself . His answer is, because there is “a cost of using the price mechanism” (1937, p. 390). Since then, the cost of using the price mechanism has become the formal reason that “explains” the existence of the firm, laying the ground for authors like e.g. Williamson (1979, 1985) to use the term “transaction costs” as an empirically-rich account for the existence of the firm in reality.

Set against the theoretical background of neoclassical economics, Coase’s original intention in asking the “why-question” is easily understandable: neoclassical economics leaves no room for deliberate means of coordination, the economic picture it presents is that of extreme decentralization. So, when Coase sets out to account for the existence of the firm, he seeks to account for the existence of deliberate means of coordination neglected by neoclassical economics. The entrepreneur’s role of coordination within the firm is simply an exemplary case of deliberate coordination.[1]   

On the surface, Coase’s why-question has two consequences: first, it draws attention to the firm, or, more generally, to the deliberate means of coordination; second, along with the former and almost as its natural extension, a realistic picture of the market which comprises not only the “price mechanism” but also non-price means of coordination, or, non-market means of coordination becomes the new orthodoxy. Since it is by now widely recognized that the study of deliberate means of coordination should not be excluded from economics, the first consequence is generally viewed favorably. As for the second consequence, because the unrealistic nature of neoclassical economics has been acutely realized by so many people, and because the new market scenario introduced by Coase is as plausible as it could be, it has also been embraced without reservation by the profession.  .

My focus here is on Coase’s realistic market scenario. As I shall argue, the Coasean market is not the result of unbiased observation, but stems from a presupposed perspective, a perspective which in itself is not without problem, but should instead be critically scrutinized. Let me explain.

From the start Coase’s outlook at the “market” is from the perspective of entrepreneurial decision-making.[2] From this perspective the “market” is not what economists normally have in mind in expounding its efficiency properties or in formulating economic policy, but is about concrete market prices which, as perceived by the entrepreneur, are relevant for the achievement of his ends. In economics, as James Buchanan (1987, p. 29) suggests, the term “market” refers to “the institutional embodiment of the voluntary exchange processes that are entered into by individuals in their several capacities.” The market, so understood, is “not a means toward the accomplishment of anything” (ibid.). Since for the entrepreneur all is about the achievement of given ends, the market is in his eyes simply one of the means available to him. Consequently he would naturally take a pragmatic view of the market, seeing the so-called market and non-market means of coordination side by side as alternative options. Indeed, when Coase alerts us to the fact that there exist these two alternative means of coordination and to the fact that our world is one with positive transaction costs, Coase tacitly endorses an entrepreneur’s perspective to which a pragmatic view of the market (i.e. seeing it as a tool for achieving given ends) is nothing but natural. 

Once it is made explicit that the Coasean market is essentially the market from the entrepreneur’s perspective it is obvious that it should not be taken as a purely neutral concept, but as one that makes sense only in reference to the entrepreneur-coordinator.

Since the Coasean market is not the market that economists normally are concerned with, it is misleading to confuse the two and to deduce policy implications from the former. For example, it is not as straightforward as some may think to treat issues of government policy on the one side and entrepreneurial decision-making on the other in a parallel way by invoking the transaction costs concept. This is, however, exactly what Coase explicitly intends to do.   

 

P.S. 这是本人未发表的论文的一部分。请勿转载和引用。





[1] From this perspective, one can easily understand why Coase does not agree with those of his followers, e.g. Demsetz and Alchain (1972), Cheung (1983), Klein (1983) who see the firm simply as a nexus of contracts.    


[2] Coase (1937, p. 405) explicitly makes a distinction between “initiative or enterprise and management”. His understanding of the role of the entrepreneur is not substantially different from Austrian economics in that he recognizes that an entrepreneur not “merely reacts to prices changes” but also forecasts and enters into new contracts. Of course, he sees this fact as “an obvious result of the marketing costs”, not as most Austrians do, as simply the ontological assumption that human beings, as Mises (1949, p. 13) says, always strive for the improvement of their condition, or are eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory.

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