The Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Firms, Markets, Relational Contracting

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

See all articles by Oliver E. Williamson

Oliver E. Williamson

University of California, Berkeley - Business & Public Policy Group

Date Written: 1985

Abstract

This study is based on the belief that economic organization is shaped by transaction cost economizing decisions. It sets out the basic principles of transaction cost economics, applies the basic arguments to economic institutions, and develops public policy implications. Any issue that arises, or can be recast as a matter of contracting, is usefully examined in terms of transaction costs. Transaction cost economics maintains that governance of contractual relations is mainly achieved through institutions of private ordering instead of legal centralism. This approach is based on behavioral assumptions of bounded rationalism and opportunism, which reflect actual human nature. These assumptions underlie the problem of economic organization: to create contract and governance structures that economize on bounded rationality while safeguarding transactions against the hazards of opportunism. The book first summarizes the transaction cost economics approach to the study of economic organization. It develops the underlying behavioral assumptions and the types of transactions; alternative approaches to the world of contracts are presented. Assuming that firms are best regarded as a governance structure, a comparative institutional approach to the governance of contractual relations is set out. The evidence, theory, and policy of vertical integration are discussed, on the basis that the decision to integrate is paradigmatic to transaction cost analysis. The incentives and bureaucratic limits of internal organization are presented, including the dilemma of why a large firm can't do everything a collection of small firms can do. The economics of organization in presented in terms of transaction costs, showing that hierarchy also serves efficiency and permits a variety of predictions about the organization of work. Efficient labor organization is explored; on the assumption that an authority relation prevails between workers and managers, what governance structure supports will be made in response to various types of job attributes are discussed, and implications for union organization are developed. Considering antitrust ramifications of transaction cost economics, the book summarizes transaction cost issues that arise in the context of contracting, merger, and strategic behavior, and challenges earlier antitrust preoccupation with monopoly. (TNM)

Keywords: Institutional economics, Capitalism, Contracts & agreements, Organizational structures, Firm governance, Labor force, Economic theory, Transaction costs, Transaction cost economics, Vertical integration

Suggested Citation

Williamson, Oliver E., The Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Firms, Markets, Relational Contracting (1985). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1496720

Oliver E. Williamson (Contact Author)

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

545 Student Services Building
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-642-8697 (Phone)
510-642-4700 (Fax)

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