Markets and Hierarchies: Analysis and Antitrust Implications: A Study in the Economics of Internal Organization

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

See all articles by Oliver E. Williamson

Oliver E. Williamson

University of California, Berkeley - Business & Public Policy Group

Date Written: 1975


This study analyzes organization of economic activity within and between markets and hierarchies. It considers the transaction to be the ultimate unit of microeconomic analysis, and defines hierarchical transactions as ones for which a single administrative entity spans both sides of the transaction, some form of subordination prevails and, typically, consolidated ownership obtains. Discusses the advantages of the transactional approach by examining three issues: price discrimination, insurance, and vertical integration. Develops the concept of the organizational failure framework, and demonstrates why it is always the combination of human with environmental factors, not either taken by itself, that causes transactional problems. The study also describes each of the transactional relations of interest, and presents the advantages of internal organization with respect to the transactional condition. The analysis explains why primary work groups of the peer group and simple hierarchy types arise. The same transactional factor which impede autonomous contracting between individuals also impede market exchange between technologically separable work groups. Peer groups can be understood as an internal organizational response to the frictions of intermediate product markets, while conglomerate organization can be seen as a response to failures in the capital market. In both contexts, the same human factors, such as bounded rationality and opportunism, occur. Examines the reasons for and properties of the employment relation, which is commonly associated with voluntary subordination. The analysis attempts better to assess the employment relation in circumstances where workers acquire, during the course of the employment, significant job-specific skills and knowledge. The study compares alternative labor-contracting modes and demonstrates that collective organization is helpful in enhancing the acquisition of idiosyncratic knowledge and skills by the work force. The study then examines more complex structures -- the movement from simple hierarchies to the vertical integration of firms, then multidivisional structures, conglomerates, monopolies and oligopolies. Discusses the market structure in relation to technical and organizational innovation. The study proposes a systems approach to the innovation process. Its purpose is to permit the realization of the distinctive advantages of both small and large firms which apply at different stages of the innovation process. The analysis also examines the relation of organizational innovation to technological innovation. (AT)

Keywords: Peer groups, Market structures, Uncertainty, Vertical integration, Labor markets, Financial markets, Public policies, Innovation process, Monopolies, Oligopolies, Organizational structures, Environment, Transaction costs, Technology innovation

Suggested Citation

Williamson, Oliver E., Markets and Hierarchies: Analysis and Antitrust Implications: A Study in the Economics of Internal Organization (1975). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:

Oliver E. Williamson (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Business & Public Policy Group ( email )

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