Tag Archives: Vernon Smith

Radio Spectrum and the Disruptive Clarity of Ronald Coase

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Coase Conference: Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase, University of Chicago Law School. Thomas W. Hazlett, Professor of Law & Economics, George Mason University School of Law, David Porter, Donna and David Janes Endowed Chair in Experimental Economics, Chapman University, Vernon L. Smith, Professor of Law and Economics and George L. Argyros Endowed Chair in Finance and Economics, Chapman University School of Law.

In the Federal Communications Commission, Ronald Coase exposed deep foundations via normative argument buttressed by astute historical observation. The government controlled scarce frequencies, issuing sharply limited use rights. Spillovers were said to be otherwise endemic. Coase saw that Government limited conflicts by restricting uses; property owners perform an analogous function via the “price system.” The government solution was inefficient unless the net benefits of the alternative property regime were lower. Coase augured that the price system would outperform. His spectrum auction proposal was mocked by communications policy experts, opposed by industry interests, and ridiculed by policy makers. Hence, it took until July 25, 1994 for FCC license sales to commence. Today, some 73 U.S. auctions have been held, 27,484 licenses sold, and $52.6 billion paid. The reform is a textbook example of economic policy success. We examine Coase’s seminal 1959 paper on two levels. First, we note the importance of its analytical symmetry, comparing administrative to market mechanisms under the assumption of positive transaction costs. This fundamental insight has had enormous influence within the economics profession, yet is often lost in current analyses. This analytical insight had its beginning in his acclaimed early article on the firm,6 and continued into his subsequent treatment of social cost.7 Second, we investigate why spectrum policies have stopped well short of the property rights regime that Coase advocated, considering rent-seeking dynamics and the emergence of new theories challenging Coase’s property framework. One conclusion is easily rendered: competitive bidding is now the default tool in wireless license awards. By rule of thumb, about $17 billion in U.S. welfare losses have been averted. Not bad for the first 50 years of this, or any, Article appearing in Volume II of the Journal of Law & Economics.

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Articles from Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase

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The Information Economy Project is proud to present articles that will be published in a special joint issue of the Journal of Law & Economics and Journal of Legal Studies, from the Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase held on December 4-5, 2009:

Conference Articles:

Friday Sessions

The Effect of Allowance Allocation” by Robert W. Hahn & Robert N. Stavins.  We begin with “The Problem of Social Cost” (1960) … The Coase Theorem: Bilateral negotiation between the generator and recipient of an externality leads to the same efficient outcome regardless of the initial assignment of property rights (if no transaction costs, income effects, or third-party impacts).

Coase, Transaction Costs, and the Spread of the Rectangular Survey for Land Demarcation within the British Empire” by Gary D. Libecap, Dean Lueck, Trevor O’Grady.  This paper examines adoption of the rectangular system (RS) of land demarcation within European settlement colonies of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was a time when agricultural land markets were first developing on a widespread scale. These jurisdictions had similar immigrant populations and legal structures, but their land demarcation practices were quite different.

Coase and the New Zealand Spectrum Reforms” by Charles L. Jackson. In 1989, New Zealand’s Parliament enacted a new statute, the Radiocommunications Act 1989, that explicitly used a system of property rights to regulate the use of the radio spectrum. This statute resulted in the first ever spectrum auctions – and New Zealand’s use of auctions has been copied around the globe. New Zealand’s adoption of a property rights regime, a more fundamental change than the introduction of spectrum auctions, has not had the same wide acceptance.

Radio Spectrum and the Disruptive Clarity of Ronald Coase” by Thomas W. Hazlett, David Porter, Vernon Smith. In the Federal Communications Commission,5 Ronald Coase exposed deep foundations via normative argument buttressed by astute historical observation. The government controlled scarce frequencies, issuing sharply limited use rights. Spillovers were said to be otherwise endemic. Coase saw that Government limited conflicts by restricting uses; property owners perform an analogous function via the “price system.” The government solution was inefficient unless the net benefits of the alternative property regime were lower.

Why the Entry Regulation of the China Mobile Phone Manufacturing Industry Collapsed” by Zhimin Liao, Xiaofang Chen. This case study aims to explore an interesting puzzle: why the license regulation in China’s mobile phone production industry, which generated large rents for an once powerful interest group, was suddenly eliminated.

How to Keep a Secret: The Decisive Advantage of Corporations” by Robert Cooter.  In the 1950s socialists around the world built gigantic steel plants like Nowa Huta in Poland. By the 1980s they were losing vast amounts of money and they seemed destined to die a slow death by rust. Lakshmi Mittal, who led the international operation of an Indian steel business built by his father, believed that these industrial dinosaurs could flourish in the age of mammals.

Regulatory Institutions and Economic Performance: Wireless Communications in Middle-Income Developing Nations” by Roger Noll.  Wireless Success Story: Over 4 billion wireless subscribers worldwide in 2009 (compared to 1.3 billion wire lines) Wireless penetration in developing nations around 50% of population, over 100% in some middle income nations (several higher than US = 90%) 2. Generally good1 policies in nations not noted for good economic policies Mostly privatized Multiple firms (3+ in most nations) Permit foreign ownership Narrow, targeted regulation Licenses transferable.

Saturday Sessions

Competence as a Random Variable: One More Tribute to Ronald Coase” by Richard A. Epstein. The work of Ronald Coase is notable for how it introduces the notion of transactions costs to explain both the creation and maintenance of firms and for understanding the larger question of social costs. Nonetheless, it seems improbable that positive transaction costs are the only explanation as to why and how firms are organized.

R.H. Coase and the Neoclassical Model of the Economic System” by Harold Demsetz. It is clear from articles I have written for the New Palgrave Dictionary of Law and Economics and other publications that I have high regard for Coase and his works. Some would say I have published parts of his works more times than has he. True or not, my role in explaining, defending, and extending Ronald’s writings has left me with little to say that is different from what I have already written, so my theme today is not a product of conscious deliberation.

Measuring Coase’s Influence” by William M. Landes and Sonia Lahr-Pastor. Citations measure a scholar’s influence. That Ronald Coase is among the most influential and best-cited economists in the past fifty years is not debatable. Two of his articles, “The Nature of the Firm”, published in 1937, and “The Problem of Social Cost”, published in 1960, are among the most-cited articles in both economics and law and continue to be widely cited.

Regulation and the Nature of the Firm: The Case of U.S. Regional Airlines” by Michael E. Levine. The organization of airline networks, and particularly of the interaction between the less dense parts of the network with the more dense parts, is a particularly good example of the operation of two of Professor Coase’s main points in “The Nature of the Firm” and subsequent articles: first, that the choice of institutions chosen to organize production is a function of economic circumstances, including regulation, technology and contractual arrangements inside the firm and second, that there is no general outcome that economic theory predicts, but rather that the result always depends on the particular circumstances and choices available and that it will change as circumstances change.

Commercial Advertising and the First Amendment” by Geoffrey R. Stone. In his path-breaking 1977 article, Advertising and Free Speech, Ronald Coase challenged the conventional wisdom in an important area of First Amendment law. What especially interested Coase was the sharp divergence between the profound commitment to the free market in the realm of speech and the lack of confidence in the free market in the realm of goods and services. Invoking Justice Holmes’s claim that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” Coase noted that First Amendment doctrine is largely premised on “an extreme faith in the efficiency of competitive markets and a profound distrust of government regulation.” But in the realm of “goods and services,” the same “intellectual community” that celebrates the marketplace of ideas demands ever-more extensive government regulation. Coase suggested that this disparity “calls for an explanation,” but lamented that such an explanation “is not easy to find.”

Keynes and Coase” by Richard A. Posner.  I am sure that Ronald will not like my bracketing him with Keynes, as I am about to do. But if he is patient, he will hear me modify criticisms of his approach to economics that I made in an essay I wrote many years ago – sixteen to be exact – for the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

 

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Coase Conference 2009

Wall Street Journal: Don’t Let Google Freeze the Airwaves, Thomas Hazlett and Vernon Smith, Oct. 3, 2008.

Don't Let Google Freeze the Airwaves - WSJ.com - Mozilla Firefox 3282012 115419 AM

Don’t Let Google Freeze the Airwaves, a scheme to keep precious spectrum underutilized. Google is now pushing a “free the airwaves” campaign, rallying to open TV band frequencies for new wireless services. This is a superb idea, one suggested by South Dakota Republican Sen. Larry Pressler in 1996, just before he was targeted by broadcasters and defeated for re-election.  Full article available at wsj.com.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122299012125700337.html.