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Economic Institutions and the Boundaries of the Firm: The Case of Business Groups

Richard Langlois ()

No 2009-23, Working papers from University of Connecticut, Department of Economics

Abstract: Business groups in all of their manifestations are informational mechanisms for coordinating complementary activities -- for "gap filling." This is well known in the literature on business groups outside the Anglo-American sphere. Especially in developing economies, where markets are thin and institutions (including both political institutions and what I call market-supporting institutions) are weak or non-existent, coordination is often more cheaply undertaken within the boundaries of business groups organized as financial pyramids, typically under family control. These organizations are intimately linked to the coalition of territorial rulers that North and his coauthors (2009) call a natural state; and, indeed, such business groups are arguably themselves examples of a natural state, in that they represent a self-enforcing coalition with its own rules, norms, and mechanisms of enforcement. But even in developed economies, novelty and change create the sorts of gaps that call for business groups in the widest sense, including less-formal sets of "intermediate" relationships, as, for example, in industrial districts. In this sense, the economics of organization generally has perhaps more to learn from the literature on business groups than the other way around.

Keywords: business groups; vertical integration; transaction costs; institutional economics; business history. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: L2 L63 N62 O33 O34 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 38 pages
Date: 2009-07
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cbe and nep-his
Note: Paper presented at the Kyoto International Conference "Evolutionary Dynamics of Business Groups in Emerging Economies," November 26-28, 2007, Kyoto University and Doshisha University
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Forthcoming in Asli M. Colpan, Takashi Hikino, and James R. Lincoln, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Business Groups. Oxford: Oxford University Press, in preparation.

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