Beyond Markets and Hierarchies: Toward a New Synthesis of American Business History
65 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2002 Last revised: 5 Mar 2022
Date Written: June 2002
We sketch a new synthesis of American business history to replace (and subsume) that put forward by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., most famously in his book The Visible Hand (1977). We see the broader subject as the history of the institutions of coordination in the economy, with the management of information and the addressing of problems of informational asymmetries representing central problems for firm- and relationship design. Our analysis emphasizes the endogenous adoption of coordination mechanisms in the context of evolving but specific operating conditions and opportunities. This naturally gives rise both to change and to heterogeneity in the population of coordination mechanisms to be observed in use at any moment in time. In discussing the changes in the population of mechanisms over time, we seek to avoid the tendency, exemplified by Chandler's work but characteristic of the field, to see history of adoption in teleological rather than evolutionary perspective. We see a richer set of mechanisms in play than is conventional and a more complex historical process at work, in particular a process in which hierarchical institutions have both risen and, more recently, declined in significance.
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