Managerial Economics

Please answer the following questions about the material in Chapters 2 and 3:

  1. Which value is typically larger, accounting profits or economic profits?  When are accounting profits equal to economic profits?
  2. Please refer to the Cadbury income statement in Table 3.1.  Suppose the depreciation and amortization expenses are based on the prices for buildings and other facilities purchased several years ago, and the annualized opportunity cost for these capital assets is approximately 80% higher in the current market.  What is the firm’s economic profit?
  3. The authors explain in Chapter 2 that subsidies are the opposite of taxes.  Recently, the Trump administration announced that US soybean farmers will receive subsidies to offset the tariffs imposed by China on soybeans imported from the US.  Prior to the imposition of tariffs by the US and China, soybeans were selling for about $11 per bushel in the US.  The 25% tariff imposed on US soybean imports to China reduced US soybean prices by about 12.5% (because tariffs or taxes are shared by buyers and sellers and only part of the US soybean crop is exported to China).  To offset this impact, the US federal government will pay US soybean farmers $1.65 per bushel on one-half of their 2018 production.  Does this subsidy completely offset the tariff impact for US soybean farmers?

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    Australia • Brazil • Mexico • Singapore • United Kingdom • United States

    fifth edition

    Managerial economics

    A PRoBLem soLVinG APPRoAch

    luke M. Froeb Vanderbilt University

    Mikhael Shor University of Connecticut

    Brian T. McCann Vanderbilt University

    Michael r. Ward University of Texas, Arlington

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    Managerial Economics, Fifth Edition Luke M. Froeb, Brian T. McCann, Mikhael Shor, Michael R. Ward

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    In loving memory of Lisa, and for our families: Donna, David, Jake, Halley, Scott, Chris, Leslie, Jacob, Eliana, Cindy, Alex, and Chris

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    v

    Preface: Teaching Students to Solve Problems xiii

    SECTION I Problem Solving and Decision Making 1 1 Introduction: What This Book Is About 3 2 The One Lesson of Business 15 3 Benefits, Costs, and Decisions 25 4 Extent (How Much) Decisions 37 5 Investment Decisions: Look Ahead and Reason Back 49

    SECTION II Pricing, Costs, and Profits 65 6 Simple Pricing 67 7 Economies of Scale and Scope 83 8 Understanding Markets and Industry Changes 95 9 Market Structure and Long-Run Equilibrium 113 10 Strategy: The Quest to Keep Profit from Eroding 125 11 Foreign Exchange, Trade, and Bubbles 137

    SECTION III Pricing for Greater Profit 151 12 More Realistic and Complex Pricing 153 13 Direct Price Discrimination 163 14 Indirect Price Discrimination 171

    SECTION IV Strategic Decision Making 183 15 Strategic Games 185 16 Bargaining 205

    SECTION V Uncertainty 215 17 Making Decisions with Uncertainty 217 18 Auctions 233 19 The Problem of Adverse Selection 243 20 The Problem of Moral Hazard 255

    BrieF COnTenTS

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    vi BRIEF CONTENTS

    SECTION VI Organizational Design 267 21 Getting Employees to Work in the Firm’s Best Interests 269 22 Getting Divisions to Work in the Firm’s Best Interests 283 23 Managing Vertical Relationships 295

    SECTION VII Wrapping Up 307 24 Test Yourself 309

    Epilogue: Can Those Who Teach, Do? 315

    Glossary 317

    Index 325

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    vii

    Preface: Teaching Students to Solve Problems xiii

    SECTION I Problem Solving and Decision Making 1

    CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: WHAT THIS BOOk IS ABOUT 3 1.1 Using Economics to Solve Problems 3 1.2 Problem-Solving Principles 4 1.3 Test Yourself 6 1.4 Ethics and Economics 7 1.5 Economics in Job Interviews 9 Summary & Homework Problems 11 End Notes 13

    CHAPTER 2 THE ONE LESSON Of BUSINESS 15 2.1 Capitalism and Wealth 16 2.2 Does the Government Create Wealth? 17 2.3 How Economics Is Useful to Business 18 2.4 Wealth Creation in Organizations 21 Summary & Homework Problems 21 End Notes 23

    CHAPTER 3 BENEfITS, COSTS, AND DECISIONS 25 3.1 Background: Variable, Fixed, and Total Costs 26 3.2 Background: Accounting versus Economic Profit 27 3.3 Costs Are What You Give Up 29 3.4 Sunk-Cost Fallacy 30 3.5 Hidden-Cost Fallacy 32 3.6 A Final Warning 32 Summary & Homework Problems 33 End Notes 36

    CHAPTER 4 ExTENT (HOW MUCH) DECISIONS 37 4.1 Fixed Costs Are Irrelevant to an Extent Decision 38 4.2 Marginal Analysis 39 4.3 Deciding between Two Alternatives 40

    COnTenTS

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    CONTENTSviii

    4.4 Incentive Pay 43 4.5 Tie Pay to Performance Measures That Reflect Effort 44 4.6 Is Incentive Pay Unfair? 45 Summary & Homework Problems 46 End Notes 48

    CHAPTER 5 INVESTMENT DECISIONS: LOOk AHEAD AND REASON BACk 49 5.1 Compounding and Discounting 49 5.2 How to Determine Whether Investments Are Profitable 51 5.3 Break-Even Analysis 53 5.4 Choosing the Right Manufacturing Technology 55 5.5 Shut-Down Decisions and Break-Even Prices 56 5.6 Sunk Costs and Post-Investment Hold-Up 57 Summary & Homework Problems 60 End Notes 62

    SECTION II Pricing, Costs, and Profits 65

    CHAPTER 6 SIMPLE PRICING 67 6.1 Background: Consumer Values and Demand Curves 68 6.2 Marginal Analysis of Pricing 70 6.3 Price Elasticity and Marginal Revenue 72 6.4 What Makes Demand More Elastic? 75 6.5 Forecasting Demand Using Elasticity 76 6.6 Stay-Even Analysis, Pricing, and Elasticity 77 6.7 Cost-Based Pricing 78 Summary & Homework Problems 78 End Notes 81

    CHAPTER 7 ECONOMIES Of SCALE AND SCOPE 83 7.1 Increasing Marginal Cost 84 7.2 Economies of Scale 86 7.3 Learning Curves 87 7.4 Economies of Scope 89 7.5 Diseconomies of Scope 90 Summary & Homework Problems 91 End Notes 94

    CHAPTER 8 UNDERSTANDING MARkETS AND INDUSTRy CHANGES 95 8.1 Which Industry or Market? 95 8.2 Shifts in Demand 96 8.3 Shifts in Supply 98 8.4 Market Equilibrium 99 8.5 Predicting Industry Changes Using Supply and Demand 100 8.6 Explaining Industry Changes Using Supply and Demand 103 8.7 Prices Convey Valuable Information 104 8.8 Market Making 106

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    CONTENTS ix

    Summary & Homework Problems 108 End Notes 111

    CHAPTER 9 MARkET STRUCTURE AND LONG-RUN EqUILIBRIUM 113 9.1 Competitive Industries 114 9.2 The Indifference Principle 116 9.3 Monopoly 120 Summary & Homework Problems 121 End Notes 123

    CHAPTER 10 STRATEGy: THE qUEST TO kEEP PROfIT fROM ERODING 125 10.1 A Simple View of Strategy 126 10.2 Sources of Economic Profit 128 10.3 The Three Basic Strategies 132 Summary & Homework Problems 134 End Notes 136

    CHAPTER 11 fOREIGN ExCHANGE, TRADE, AND BUBBLES 137 11.1 The Market for Foreign Exchange 138 11.2 The Effects of a Currency Devaluation 140 11.3 Bubbles 142 11.4 How Can We Recognize Bubbles? 144 11.5 Purchasing Power Parity 146 Summary & Homework Problems 147 End Notes 149

    SECTION III Pricing for Greater Profit 151

    CHAPTER 12 MORE REALISTIC AND COMPLEx PRICING 153 12.1 Pricing Commonly Owned Products 154 12.2 Revenue or Yield Management 155 12.3 Advertising and Promotional Pricing 157 12.4 Psychological Pricing 158 Summary & Homework Problems 160 End Notes 162

    CHAPTER 13 DIRECT PRICE DISCRIMINATION 163 13.1 Why (Price) Discriminate? 164 13.2 Direct Price Discrimination 166 13.3 Robinson-Patman Act 167 13.4 Implementing Price Discrimination 168 13.5 Only Schmucks Pay Retail 169 Summary & Homework Problems 169 End Notes 170

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    CONTENTSx

    CHAPTER 14 INDIRECT PRICE DISCRIMINATION 171 14.1 Indirect Price Discrimination 172 14.2 Volume Discounts as Discrimination 176 14.3 Bundling Different Goods Together 177 Summary & Homework Problems 178 End Notes 181

    SECTION IV Strategic Decision Making 183

    CHAPTER 15 STRATEGIC GAMES 185 15.1 Sequential-Move Games 186 15.2 Simultaneous-Move Games 188 15.3 Prisoners’ Dilemma 190 15.4 Other Games 195 Summary & Homework Problems 199 End Notes 202

    CHAPTER 16 BARGAINING 205 16.1 Strategic View of Bargaining 206 16.2 Nonstrategic View of Bargaining 208 16.3 Conclusion 210 Summary & Homework Problems 211 End Note 214

    SECTION V Uncertainty 215

    CHAPTER 17 MAkING DECISIONS WITH UNCERTAINTy 217 17.1 Random Variables and Probability 218 17.2 Uncertainty in Pricing 222 17.3 Data-Driven Decision Making 223 17.4 Minimizing Expected Error Costs 226 17.5 Risk versus Uncertainty 227 Summary & Homework Problems 228 End Notes 231

    CHAPTER 18 AUCTIONS 233 18.1 Oral Auctions 234 18.2 Second-Price Auctions 235 18.3 First-Price Auctions 236 18.4 Bid Rigging 236 18.5 Common-Value Auctions 238 Summary & Homework Problems 240 End Notes 242

    CHAPTER 19 THE PROBLEM Of ADVERSE SELECTION 243 19.1 Insurance and Risk 243 19.2 Anticipating Adverse Selection 244

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    CONTENTS xi

    19.3 Screening 246 19.4 Signaling 249 19.5 Adverse Selection and Internet Sales 250 Summary & Homework Problems 251 End Notes 253

    CHAPTER 20 THE PRoblEm of moRAl HAzARd 255 20.1 Introduction 255 20.2 Insurance 256 20.3 Moral Hazard versus Adverse Selection 257 20.4 Shirking 258 20.5 Moral Hazard in Lending 260 20.6 Moral Hazard and the 2008 Financial Crisis 261 Summary & Homework Problems 262 End Notes 265

    SECTIoN VI organizational design 267

    CHAPTER 21 GETTING EmPloyEES To WoRk IN THE fIRm’S bEST INTERESTS 269 21.1 Principal–Agent Relationships 270 21.2 Controlling Incentive Conflict 271 21.3 Marketing versus Sales 273 21.4 Franchising 274 21.5 A Framework for Diagnosing and Solving Problems 275 Summary & Homework Problems 278 End Notes 281

    CHAPTER 22 GETTING dIVISIoNS To WoRk IN THE fIRm’S bEST INTERESTS 283 22.1 Incentive Conflict between Divisions 283 22.2 Transfer Pricing 285 22.3 Organizational Alternatives 287 22.4 Budget Games: Paying People to Lie 289 Summary & Homework Problems 291 End Notes 294

    CHAPTER 23 mANAGING VERTICAl RElATIoNSHIPS 295 23.1 How Vertical Relationships Increase Profit 296 23.2 Double Marginalization 297 23.3 Incentive Conflicts between Retailers and Manufacturers 297 23.4 Price Discrimination 299 23.5 Antitrust Risks 300 23.6 Do Buy a Customer or Supplier Simply Because It Is Profitable 301 Summary & Homework Problems 302 End Notes 304

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    CONTENTSxii

    SECTION VII Wrapping Up 307

    CHAPTER 24 TEST yOURSELf 309 24.1 Should You Keep Frequent Flyer Points for Yourself? 309 24.2 Should You Lay Off Employees in Need? 310 24.3 Manufacturer Hiring 310 24.4 American Airlines 311 24.5 Law Firm Pricing 311 24.6 Should You Give Rejected Food to Hungry Servers? 312 24.7 Managing Interest-Rate Risk at Banks 313 24.8 What You Should Have Learned 313

    Epilogue: Can Those Who Teach, Do? 315

    Glossary 317

    Index 325

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    xiii

    teaching students to solve Problems1 by Luke Froeb

    When I started teaching MBA students, I taught economics as I had learned it, using models and public policy applications. My students complained so much that the dean took me out to the proverbial woodshed and gave me an ultimatum, “improve customer satisfaction or else.” With the help of some disgruntled students who later became teaching assistants, I was able to turn the course around.

    The problem I faced can be easily described using the language of eco- nomics: the supply of business education (professors are trained to provide abstract theory) is not closely matched to demand (students want practical knowledge). This mismatch is found throughout academia, but it is perhaps most acute in a business school. Business students expect a return on a fairly sizable investment and want to learn material with immediate and obvious value.

    One implication of the mismatch is that teaching economics in the usual way—with models and public policy applications—is not likely to satisfy stu- dent demand. In this book, we use what we call a “problem-solving pedagogy” to teach microeconomic principles to business students. We begin each chapter with a business problem, like the fixed-cost fallacy, and then give students just enough analytic structure to understand the cause of the problem and how to fix it.

    Teaching students to solve real business problems, rather than learn models, satisfies student demand in an obvious way. Our approach also allows stu- dents to absorb the lessons of economics without as much of the analytical “overhead” as a model-based pedagogy. This is an advantage, especially in a terminal or stand-alone course, like those typically taught in a business school. To see this, ask yourself which of the following ideas is more likely to stay with a student after the class is over: the fixed-cost fallacy or that the partial derivative of profit with respect to price is independent of fixed costs.

    eleMenTS OF a PrOBleM-SOlving PedagOgy Our problem-solving pedagogy has three elements.

    PreFaCe

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    xiv PREFaCE

    1. Begin with a Business Problem Beginning with a real-world business problem puts the particular ahead of the abstract and motivates the material in a straightforward way. We use narrow, focused problems whose solutions require students to use the analytical tools of interest.

    2. Teach Students to view inefficiency as an Opportunity The second element of our pedagogy turns the traditional focus of benefit– cost analysis on its head. Instead of teaching students to spot and eliminate inefficiency, for example, by changing public policy, we teach them to view each underemployed asset as a money-making opportunity.

    3. Use economics to implement Solutions After you find an underemployed asset, moving it to a higher-valued use is often hard to do, particularly when the inefficiency occurs within an organi- zation. The third element of our pedagogy addresses the problem of incentive alignment: how to design organizations where employees have enough infor- mation to make profitable decisions and the incentive to do so.

    Again, we use the tools of economics to address the problem of implemen- tation. If people act rationally, optimally, and self-interestedly, then mistakes have only one of two causes: either people lack the information necessary to make good decisions or they lack the incentive to do so. This immediately sug- gests a problem-solving algorithm; ask:

    1. Who is making the bad decision? 2. Do they have enough information to make a good decision? 3. Do they have the incentive to do so?

    Answers to these three questions will point to the source of the problem and suggest one of three potential solutions:

    1. Let someone else make the decision, someone with better information or incentives

    2. Give more information to the current decision maker 3. Change the current decision maker’s incentives

    The book begins by showing students how to use this algorithm, and subsequent chapters illustrate its use in a variety of contexts, for example, extent decisions, investments, pricing, bargaining, principal–agent relationships, and uncertain environments.

    USing The BOOk The book is designed to be read cover-to-cover as it is short, concise, and accessible to anyone who can read and think clearly. The pedagogy is built around business problems, so the book is most effective for those with some work experience. Its relatively short length makes it reasonably easy to cus- tomize with ancillary material.

    The authors use the text in full-time MBA programs, executive MBA programs (weekends), healthcare management executive programs (one night

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    xvPREFaCE

    a week), and nondegree executive education. However, some of our biggest customers use the book in online business classes at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

    In the degree programs, we supplement the material in the book with online interactive programs like Cengage’s MindTap. Complete Blackboard courses, including syllabi, quizzes, homework, slides, videos to complement each chapter, and links to supplementary material, can be downloaded from the Cengage website. Our ManagerialEcon.com blog is a good source of new business applications for each of the chapters.

    In this fifth edition, we have updated and improved the presentation and ped- agogy of the book. The biggest substantive change is to Chapter 17, where we present the decomposition of an observed difference between two groups into a treatment effect + selection bias. Michael Ward has been using this in his classes at University of Texas at Arlington, and rewrote the chapter to include it. We are also beginning work to add interactive “activities” to the electronic text in MindTap, Cengage’s new learning platform. These activities help comprehension, especially for weaker students. In addition, we continue to rewrite and update the supple- mentary material: videos, worked video problems, and the test bank. In addition to the other updates throughout the text, Chapter 24 has two new sections.

    We wish to acknowledge numerous classes of MBA, executive MBA, non- degree executive education, and healthcare management students, without whom none of this would have been possible—or necessary. Many of our for- mer students will recognize stories from their companies in the book. Most of the stories in the book are from students and are for teaching purposes only.

    Thanks to everyone who contributed, knowingly or not, to the book. Professor Froeb owes intellectual debts to former colleagues at the U.S. Department of Justice (among them, Cindy Alexander, Tim Brennan, Ken Heyer, Kevin James, Bruce Kobayahsi, and Greg Werden); to former colleagues at the Federal Trade Commission (among them, James Cooper, Pauline Ippolito, Tim Muris, Dan O’Brien, Maureen Ohlhausen, Paul Pautler, Mike Vita, and Steven Tenn); to colleagues at Vanderbilt (among them, Germain Boer, Jim Bradford, Bill Christie, Mark Cohen, Myeong Chang, Craig Lewis, Rick Oliver, David Parsley, David Rados, Steven Tschantz, David Scheffman, and Bart Victor); and to numerous friends and colleagues who offered suggestions, problems, and anecdotes for the book (among them, Lily Alberts, Olafur Arnarson, Raj Asirvatham, Bert Bailey, Justin Bailey, Pat Bajari, Molly Bash, Sarah Berhalter, Roger Brinner, the Honorable Jim Cooper, Matthew Dixon Cowles, Abie Del Favero, Kelsey Duggan, Vince Durnan, Marjorie Eastman, Tony Farwell, Keri Floyd, Josh Gapp, Brock Hardisty, Trent Holbrook, Jeff and Jenny Hubbard, Brad Jenkins, Dan Kessler, Bev Landstreet [B5], Bert Mathews, Christine Milner, Jim Overdahl, Craig Perry, Rich Peoples, Annaji Pervajie, Jason Rawlins, Mike Saint, David Shayne, Jon Shayne, Bill Shughart, Doug Tice, Whitney Tilson, and Susan Woodward). We owe intellectual and pedagogical debts to Armen Alchian and William Allen3; Henry Hazlitt4; Shlomo Maital5; John MacMillan6; Steven Landsburg7; Ivan Png8; Victor Tabbush9; Michael Jensen and William Meckling10; and James Brickley, Clifford Smith, and Jerold Zimmerman.11 Special thanks to everyone who guided us through the publishing process, including Molly Umbarger, Christopher Rader, and Jason Fremder.

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    xvi

    end nOTeS

    PREFaCE

    1. Much of the material is taken from Luke M. Froeb and James C. Ward, “Teaching Managerial Economics with Problems Instead of Models,” in The International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics, eds. Gail Hoyt and KimMarie McGoldrick (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012).

    2. Armen Alchian and William Allen, Exchange and Production, 3rd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1983).

    3. Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (New York: Crown, 1979).

    4. Shlomo Maital, Executive Economics: Ten Essential Tools for Managers (New York: Free Press, 1994).

    5. John McMillan, Games, Strategies, and Managers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

    6. Steven Landsburg, The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life (New York: Free Press, 1993).

    7. Ivan Png, Managerial Economics (Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 1998).

    8. http://www.mbaprimer.com 9. Michael Jensen and William Meckling,

    A Theory of the Firm: Governance, Residual Claims and Organizational Forms (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

    10. James Brickley, Clifford Smith, and Jerold Zimmerman, Managerial Economics and Organizational Architecture (Chicago: Irwin, 1997).

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    1

    1 Introduction: What This Book Is About

    2 The One Lesson of Business

    3 Benefits, Costs, and Decisions

    4 Extent (How Much) Decisions

    5 Investment Decisions: Look Ahead and Reason Back

    Problem Solving and Decision Making

    1Section

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    3

    1

    In 1992, a junior geologist was preparing a bid recommendation for an oil tract in the Gulf of Mexico. She suspected that the tract contained a large accumulation of oil because her company, Oil Ventures International (OVI), had an adjacent tract with several productive wells. Since no competitors had neighboring tracts, none of them suspected a large accumulation of oil. Be- cause of this, she thought that the tract could be won relatively cheaply and recommended a bid of $5 million. Surprisingly, OVI’s senior management ig- nored the recommendation and submitted a bid of $21 million. OVI won the tract over the next-highest bid of $750,000.

    If the board of directors asked you to review the bidding procedures at OVI, how would you proceed? Where would you begin your investigation? What questions would you ask?

    You’d find it difficult to gather information from those closest to the bid- ding. Senior management would be suspicious and uncooperative because no one likes to be singled out for bidding $20 million more than was necessary. Likewise, our junior geologist would be reluctant to criticize her superiors. You might be able to rely on your experience—provided that you had run into a similar problem. But without experience, or when facing novel problems, you would have to rely on your analytic ability.

    This book is designed to show you how to complete an assignment like this.

    1.1 Using Economics to Solve Problems Solving a problem like OVI’s requires two steps: first, figure out what’s caus- ing the problem; and second, how to fix it. In this case, you would want to know whether the $21 million bid was too high at the time it was made, not just in retrospect. If the bid was too aggressive, then you’d have to figure out why the senior managers overbid and how to make sure they don’t do it again.

    Introduction: What This Book Is About

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    SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making 4

    Both steps require that you predict how people behave in different cir- cumstances, and this is where the economic content of the book comes in. The one thing that unites economists is their use of the rational-actor paradigm. Simply put, it says that people act rationally, optimally, and self-interestedly. The paradigm not only helps you figure out why people behave the way they do but also suggests ways to get them to change. To change behavior, you have to change self-interest, and you do that by changing incentives.

    Incentives are created by rewarding good performance with, for exam- ple, a commission on sales or a bonus based on profitability. The performance evaluation metric (revenue, cost, profit, or return on investment, ROI) is sepa- rate from the reward structure (commission, bonus, raise, or promotion), but they work together to create an incentive to behave a certain way.

    To illustrate, let’s go back to OVI’s story and try to find the source of the problem. After her company won the auction, our geologist increased the company’s oil reserves by the amount of oil estimated to be in the tract. But when the company drilled a well, it was essentially “dry,” so the acquisition did little to increase the size of the company’s oil reserves. Using the informa- tion from the newly drilled well, our geologist updated the reservoir map and reduced the estimated reserves to where they was before OVI won the tract.

    Senior management rejected the lower estimate and directed the geologist to “do what she could” to increase the size of the estimated reserves. So, she revised the reservoir map again, adding “additional” (not real) reserves to the company’s asset base. The reason behind this behavior became clear when, several months later, OVI’s senior managers resigned, collecting bonuses tied to the increase in oil reserves that had accumulated during their tenure.

    The incentive created by the bonus plan explains both the overbidding and overestimated reserves as rational, self-interested responses to the incentive created by the bonus. Senior managers overbid because they were rewarded for acquiring reserves, regardless of the price. Their ability to manipulate the reserve estimate made it difficult for shareholders and their representatives on the board of directors to spot the mistake.

    To fix this problem, you would have to find a way to better align manag- ers’ incentives with the company’s goals, perhaps by rewarding management for increasing profitability, not just for acquiring reserves. This is not as easy as it sounds because it is typically hard to measure an employee’s contribution to company profitability. You can do this subjectively, with annual performance reviews, or objectively, using company earnings or stock price appreciation as performance metrics. But each of these performance measures can create problems, as we’ll see in later chapters.

    1.2 Problem-Solving Principles This story illustrates our problem-solving methodology. First, we reduced the problem (overbidding) to a bad decision by someone at the firm (senior man- agement) by asking:

    Q1: Who made the bad decision?

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    ChaPTEr 1 • Introduction: What This Book Is about 5

    Once we know the “who,” we can use economics to figure out the “why.” If people behave rationally, optimally, and self-interestedly, a bad decision oc- curs for one of two reasons: either (i) decision makers do not have enough information to make a good decision or (ii) they lack the incentive to do so. This suggests that we can isolate the source of almost any problem by asking two more questions:

    Q2: Did the decision maker have enough information to make a good decision?

    Q3: Did the decision maker have the incentive to make a good decision?

    Answers to these three questions not only point to the source of the prob- lem but also suggest ways to fix it.

    S1: Let someone else—someone with better information or better incentives— make the decision,

    S2: Give more information to the current decision maker, or S3: Change the current decision makers’ incentives (the performance evalua-

    tion metric or the reward scheme).

    In OVI’s case, we see that (Q1) senior management made the bad decision to overbid; (Q2) they had enough information to make a good bid, but (Q3) they didn’t have the incentive to do so. One potential fix (S3) is to change the incentives of senior management so that they are rewarded for increasing profitability instead of oil reserves.

    When reading about various business mistakes in the chapters that follow, you should ask yourself these three questions to see if you can find the cause of each problem, and a solution. By the time you finish the book, the analysis should become second nature.

    Here are some practical tips that will help you develop problem-solving skills:

    *Think about the problem from the organization’s point of view. Avoid the temptation to think about the problem from the employee’s point of view because you will miss the fundamental problem of goal alignment: how does the organization give employees enough information to make good decisions and the incentive to do so?

    *Think about the organizational design. Once you identify a bad deci- sion, avoid the temptation to solve the problem by simply reversing the decision. Instead, think about why the bad decision was made and how to make sure that similar mistakes won’t be made in the future.

    *What is the trade-off? Your solution may solve the problem you identify, but it may cause other problems. In this case, changing the incentives of senior management by giving them limited stock (that they cannot sell for five years) may solve the overbidding problem, but it may also makes their performance dependent on external factors like the global macro- economy, which are clearly beyond their control. Subject your solution to the same analysis. Ask the same three questions that allowed you to identify the initial problem.

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    SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making 6

    *Don’t define the problem as the lack of your solution. This kind of think- ing may cause you to miss the best solution. For example, if you define a problem as “the lack of centralized purchasing,” then the solution will be “centralized purchasing” regardless of whether that is the best option. Instead, define the problem as “high acquisition cost,” and then examine “centralized purchasing” versus “decentralized purchasing” (or some other alternative) as potential solutions to the problem.

    *Avoid jargon because most people misuse it. Force yourself to spell out what exactly you mean in simple language. It will help you think clearly and communicate precisely. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” In addition, almost every scam is “sold” using jargon. If you use jargon, experienced listeners will instinctively mistrust you and your analysis.

    1.3 Test Yourself In 2006, an investigative news program sent a TV reporter with a perfectly good car into a garage owned by National Auto Repair (NAR). The reporter came out with a new muffler and transmission—and a bill for over $8,000. After the story was aired on national TV, consumers began avoiding NAR, and profit plunged. What is the problem, and how do you fix it?

    Let’s run the problem through our problem-solving algorithm:

    Q1: Who made the bad decision?

    The NAR mechanic recommended unnecessary repairs.

    Q2: Did the decision maker have enough information to make a good decision?

    Yes, in fact, the mechanic is the only one with enough information to know whether repairs are necessary.

    Q3: Did the decision maker have the incentive to make a good decision?

    No, the mechanic receives bonuses or commissions tied to the amount of repair work, which rewards the mechanic for making needless repairs.

    Although answers to the three questions clearly point to the source of the problem, solving it proved much more difficult. NAR tried two different solu- tions, but both failed.

    First, the company reorganized into two divisions: one responsible for rec- ommending repairs and the other responsible for doing them. Those who rec- ommended repairs were paid a flat salary, but those who did the repairs were paid based on the amount of work they did.

    PAUSE HERE AND TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHY THIS CHANGE DID NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

    Mechanics in the two divisions began colluding. In exchange for recom- mending unnecessary repairs, the service mechanic shared his incentive pay with the recommending mechanic. The unnecessary repairs continued.

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    ChaPTEr 1 • Introduction: What This Book Is about 7

    NAR then went back to single mechanic who both recommended and per- formed repairs, but replaced the incentive pay with a flat salary. Although this removed the incentive to do unnecessary repairs, it also removed the incentive to work hard, resulting in what economists call “shirking.” Since mechanics made the same amount of money regardless of whether they recommended and performed repairs, they ignored all but the most obvious problems.

    Figuring out which solution is most profitable involves weighing the trade- offs associated with various solutions. For example, before implementing the two-division solution, NAR management should have asked whether the new decision maker had enough information to make good decisions, as well as the incentive to do so. The answer could have alerted NAR management to the potential for collusion between the recommending mechanic and the repairing mechanic. Similarly, this kind of analysis would have identified shirking by the mechanics as a cost of the flat-salary solution.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I would have suggested a third potential solution: keep the original organizational design, but use an additional per- formance metric, based on reports provided by “secret shoppers” who bring good cars into the garage to test whether the mechanics order unnecessary repairs. If so, fire or penalize the mechanics who recommend unnecessary re- pairs. Secret shoppers are used successfully in other contexts, for example, in restaurants to measure service quality. By measuring and rewarding quality, restaurant chains are able to protect the value of a brand as a signal of quality. Similarly, using secret shoppers may have been able to protect the value of NAR’s brand as a signal of reliable service.

    1.4 Ethics and Economics Using the rational-actor paradigm in this way—to change behavior by chang- ing incentives—makes some students uncomfortable because it seems to deny the altruism, affection, and personal ethics that motivate most people. These students resist learning the rational-actor paradigm because they think it im- plicitly endorses self-interested behavior, as if the primary purpose of econom- ics were to teach students to behave rationally, optimally, and selfishly.

    These students would probably agree with a Washington Post editorial, “When It Comes to Ethics, B-Schools Get an F,”1 which blames business schools in general, and economists in particular, for the ethical lapses at FIFA, Goldman Sachs, and other organizations.

    A subtle but damaging factor in this is the dominance of economists at business schools. Although there is no evidence that economists are personally less ethical than members of other disciplines, approaching the world through the dollar sign does make people more cynical.

    What these students and the author, a former Harvard ethics professor, do not understand is that to control unethical behavior, we first have to un- derstand why it occurs. When we analyze problems like the one at OVI, we’re not encouraging students to behave opportunistically. Rather, we’re teaching

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    SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making 8

    them to anticipate opportunistic behavior and to design organizations that are less susceptible to it. Remember, the rational-actor paradigm is only a tool for analyzing behavior, not advice on how to live your life.

    It is also important to realize that these kinds of debates are often de- bates about value systems. Deontologists judge actions as good or ethical by whether they conform to a set of principles, like the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule. Consequentialists, on the other hand, judge actions by their consequences. If the consequences of an action are good, then the action is deemed to be good or moral. We illustrate these contrasting value systems with a story about price gouging.2

    When Notre Dame entered the 2006 season as one of the top-ranked football teams in the country, demand for local hotels during home games rose dramatically. In response, local hotels raised room rates. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Hampton Inn charged $400 a night on football week- ends for a room that cost only $129 on non football days. Rates climbed even higher for games against top-ranked foes. For the game against the University of Michigan, the South Bend Marriott charged $649 per night—$500 more than its normal weekend rate of $149.

    On a campus founded by priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross, where many students dedicate a year after graduation to working with the underprivileged, these high prices caused alarm. The Wall Street Journal quotes Professor Joe Holt, a former priest who teaches ethics in the school’s executive MBA program, “It is an ‘act of moral abdication’ for businesses to pretend they have no choice but to charge as much as they can based on supply and demand.” The article further reports Mr. Holt’s intention to use the example of rising hotel rates on football weekends for a case study in his class on the integration of business and values.

    Deontologists like Professor Holt would object on principle to the prac- tice of raising prices in times of shortage.3 We might label this the Spider Man Principle: with great power comes great responsibility. The laws of capitalism allow corporations to amass significant power; in turn, society should demand a high level of responsibility from corporations. In this case, while property rights give a hotel the option of increasing prices, possession of these rights does not relieve the hotel of its obligation to be concerned about the conse- quences of its choices. A simple beneficence argument might suggest that keep- ing prices low would be better for consumers.

    Economics, on the other hand, gives us a consequentialist understanding of the practice by comparing high prices to the implied alternative. An econ- omist would show that if prices do not rise, the consequence would be excess demand for hotel rooms. Would-be guests would find their rooms rationed, perhaps on a first-come, first-served basis. More likely, arbitrageurs would set up a black market, by making early reservations, and then “selling” their reser- vations to customers willing to pay the market-clearing price. Not only would consumers end up paying the same price, but these “arbs” would make money that would have otherwise gone to the hotel. Without the ability to earn addi- tional profit during times of scarcity, hotels would have less incentive to build additional rooms, which would make the long-run problems even worse!

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    ChaPTEr 1 • Introduction: What This Book Is about 9

    Versions of this debate—between those who criticize business on ethical grounds and those who are trying to make money—have been going on in this country since its founding. Although a full treatment of the ethical di- mensions of business is beyond the scope of this book, many disagreements are really about whether morality should be defined by deontology or conse- quentialism. Once you realize that a debate is really a debate between value systems, it becomes much easier to understand opposing points of view, and to reach compromise with your adversaries. For example, if the government were considering price-gouging laws that made it illegal to raise prices on football weekends, a solution might involve donation of some of the profits earned on football weekends to a local charity. This might assuage the concerns of those who ascribe to the Spider Man principle.

    As a footnote to this story, when someone offered our former priest $1,500 for his apartment on home-game weekends, he took the offer and now spends his weekends in Chicago. Apparently, his principles became too costly for him.

    1.5 Economics in Job Interviews If this well-reasoned introduction doesn’t motivate you to learn econom- ics, read the following interview questions—all from real interviews of students. These questions should awaken interest in the material for those of you who think economics is merely an obstacle between you and a six-figure salary.

    ——-Original Message——-

    From: “Student A” Sent: Friday, January 2, 2009, 3:57 PM Subject: Economics Interview Questions

    I had an interview a few weeks ago where I was told that the position paid a very low base and was mostly incen- tive compensation. I responded that I understood he was simply “screening out” low productivity candidates

    [NOTE: low productivity candidates would not earn very much under a sys- tem of incentive compensation, and so would be less likely to accept a job with strong incentive compensation].

    I “signaled” back to him that this compensation struc- ture was acceptable to me, as I was confident in my abil- ities to produce value for the company, and for me.

    [Note: “Signaling” and “screening” are both solutions to the problem of adverse selection, the topic of Chapter 19.]

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    SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making 10

    ——-Original Message——-

    From: “Student B” Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2000, 1:22 PM Subject: Economics Interview Questions

    I got a question from Compaq last year for a market- ing internship position that partially dealt with sunk costs. It was a “true” case question where the inter- viewer used the Internet to pull up the actual products as he asked the question, “I am the product manager for the new X type server with these great features. It is to be launched next month at a cost of $5,500. Dell launched its new Y-type server last week; it has the same features (and even a few more) for a cost of $4,500. To date, Com- paq has put over $2.5 million in the development process for this server, and as such my manager is expecting above-normal returns for the investment.

    My question to you is “what advice would you give to me on how to approach the launch of the product, that is, do I go ahead with it at the current price, if at all, even though Dell has a better product out that is less expensive, not forgetting the fact that I have spent all the development money and my boss expects me to report a super return?”

    I laughed at the question because it was the very first thing we spoke about in the interview, catching me off- guard a bit. He wanted to see if I got caught worry- ing about all the development costs in giving advice to scrap the launch or continue ahead as planned. (I’m not an idiot and could see that coming a mile away … thanks to economics, right? ! ! !)

    [NOTE: the interviewer was testing Student B to see whether he would com- mit the “sunk-cost fallacy,” covered in Chapter 3.]

    ——-Original Message——-

    From: “Student C” Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2000, 1:37 PM Subject: Economics Interview Questions

    I got questions regarding transfer price within entities of a company.

    What prices could be used and why.

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    Chapter 1 • Introduction: What this Book Is about 11

    [NOTE: the problem of transfer pricing is one of the most common sources of conflict between divisions and is covered in Chapters 22 and 23.]

    ——-Original Message——-

    From: “Student D” Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2000 1:28 PM Subject: Economics Interview Questions

    You are a basketball coach with five seconds on the clock, and you are losing by two points. You have the ball and can take only one more shot (there is no chance of a rebound). There is a 70% chance of making a two- pointer, which would send the game into overtime with each team having an equal chance of winning. There is only a 40% chance of making a three-pointer (winning if made). Should you shoot the two- or the three-point shot?

    [NOTE: This is an example of decision making under uncertainty, the subject of Chapter 17. For those of you who cannot wait, the answer is take the three- point shot because it results a higher probability of winning, 40%, as opposed to 35% = (70%) × (50%) for a two-point shot.]

    SUMMARY & HOMEWORK PROBLEMS

    Summary of Main Points

    • Problem solving requires two steps: (i) figure out why people are making mis- takes and then (ii) figure out how to pre- vent future ones.

    • The rational-actor paradigm is a model of behavior that which assumes that people act rationally, optimally, and self-interestedly, that is, they respond to incentives.

    • Incentives have two pieces: (i) a way of measuring performance and (ii) a compen- sation scheme to reward good (or punish bad) performance.

    • A well-designed organization is one in which employee incentives are aligned with organizational goals. By this we mean that employees have (i) enough information to

    make good decisions and (ii) the incentive to do so.

    • You can analyze any problem by asking three questions: Q1: Who made the bad decision? Q2: Does the decision maker have enough

    information to make a good decision? Q3: Does the decision maker have the in-

    centive to make a good decision? • Answers to these questions will suggest one

    of three solutions: S1: Let someone else make the decision,

    someone with better information or incentives.

    S2: Give the decision maker more information.

    S3: Change the decision maker’s incentives.

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    SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making 12

    Multiple-Choice Questions

    1. Why might performance compensation caps be bad? a. Different pay rates promote dissent. b. Compensation caps can discourage

    employees from being productive after the cap.

    c. Compensation caps can discourage employees from being productive before the cap.

    d. Both b and c. 2. What is a possible consequence of a perfor-

    mance compensation reward scheme? a. It creates productive incentives. b. It creates harmful incentives. c. Both a and b. d. Neither a nor b.

    3. Which of the following is NOT one of the three problem-solving principles laid out in Chapter 1? a. Under whose jurisdiction is the

    problem? b. Who is making the bad decision? c. Does the decision maker have enough

    information to make a good decision? d. Does the decision maker have the

    incentive to make a good decision? 4. Why might it be bad for hotels to not

    charge higher prices when rooms are in higher demand? a. Arbitrageurs might establish a black

    market by reserving rooms and then selling the reservations to customers.

    b. Rooms may be rationed. c. Without the profit from these high

    demand times, hotels would have less of an incentive to build or expand, making the long-run scarcity problem even worse.

    d. All of the above. 5. The rational-actor paradigm assumes that

    people do NOT a. act rationally. b. use rules of thumb. c. act optimally. d. act self-interestedly.

    6. The problem-solving framework analyzes firm problems a. from the organization’s point of view. b. from the manager’s point of view. c. from the worker’s point of view. d. from society’s point of view.

    7. Why might welfare for low-income households reduce the propensity to work? a. It will not. b. It reduces the incentive to work. c. It is unfair. d. It encourages jealousy.

    8. Why might a “bonus cap” for executives be a bad policy for the company? a. It isn’t. Executives shouldn’t make

    more than a certain amount. b. It would sow discontent. c. It would encourage shirking after the

    executives reached the cap. d. The cap could be set too high, so

    executives may work too hard and not reach it.

    9. What might happen if a car dealership is awarded a bonus by the manufacturer for selling a certain number of its cars monthly, but the dealership is just short of that quota near the end of the month? a. It may sell the remaining cars at huge

    discounts to hit the quota. b. It creates an incentive to sell cars from

    different manufacturers. c. It would ruin the relationship between

    the dealer and the manufacturer. d. Potential buyers will lose buying

    power at the dealer. 10. Why might a supermarket advertise low

    prices on certain high-profile items and sell them at a loss? a. It is a way for companies to be

    charitable. b. The store will sell other groceries

    to the same customers, often at a markup.

    c. It would not. d. This reduces the incentives of trade.

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    ChaPTEr 1 • Introduction: What This Book Is about 13

    Individual Problems

    1-1 Goal Alignment at a Small Manufacturing Concern

    The owners of a small manufacturing concern have hired a vice president to run the company with the expectation that he will buy the com- pany after five years. Compensation of the new vice president is a flat salary plus 75% of the first $150,000 profit, and then 10% of profit over $150,000. Purchase price for the company is set at 4.5 times earnings (profit), computed as average annual profitability over the next five years. a. Plot the annual compensation of the vice

    president as a function of annual profit. b. Assume the company will be worth $10

    million in five years. Plot the profit of buy- ing the company as a function of annual profit.

    1-2 Goal Alignment at a Small Manufacturing Con- cern (cont.)

    Does this contract align the incentives of the new vice president with the profitability goals of the owners?

    1-3 Goal Alignment at a Small Manufacturing Concern (cont.)

    Redesign the contract to better align the incen- tives of the new vice president with the profit- ability goals of the owners.

    1-4 Goal Alignment at New York City Schools

    A total of 1,800 New York City teachers who lost their jobs earlier this year have yet to apply

    for another job despite the fact that there are 1,200 openings. Why not?

    1-5 Goal Alignment between Airlines and Flight Crews

    Planes frequently push back from the gate on time, but then wait 2 feet away from the gate until it is time to queue up for take-off. This increases fuel consumption, and increases the time that passengers must sit in a cramped plane awaiting take-off. Why does this happen?

    1-6 Goal Alignment between Hospitals and the Brit- ish Government

    In 2008, the Labour Party in Britain promised that patients would have to wait for no more than four hours to be seen in an emergency room. The National Health Service started re- warding hospitals that met this goal. What do you think happened? (HINT: It was not good.)

    Group Problems

    G1-1 Goal Alignment with Your Company

    Are your incentives aligned with the goals of your company? If not, identify a problem caused by goal misalignment. Suggest a change that would address the problem. Compute the profit consequences of the change.

    G1-2 Contracts at Your Company

    Identify a contract between your company and a supplier or customer. Does it align the incen- tives of the parties? If not, suggest a change that would address the problem. Compute the profit consequences of the change.

    1. Amitai Etzioni, “When It Comes to Ethics, B-Schools Get an F,” Washington Post, August 4, 2002.

    2. Ilan Brat, “Notre Dame Football Introduces Its Fans to Inflationary Spiral,” Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2006.

    3. We thank Bart Victor for his enumeration of these objections.

    END NOTES

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    15

    2

    In the spring of 2011, Rick Ruzzamenti of Riverside, California, decided to donate his kidney to an organization set up to match donors and recipients. His selfless act set off a domino chain of 60 operations involving 17 hospitals in 11 different states.1 Donors, unable to help their loved ones because of incompatible antibodies, donated kidneys to others who donated to others, and so on, until the chain ended six months later in Chicago.

    The good news is that 30 people received new kidneys and escaped the living hell of dialysis. The bad news is that this complex barter system is the only legal way for Americans to get kidneys.2 It is so inefficient that only 17,000 of the 90,000 people on waiting lists received kidneys last year.

    To understand how complex and cumbersome this process is, imagine trying to use it to find a new apartment. Suppose you wanted to move from Detroit to Nashville. You would first try to find someone moving in the opposite direction, from Nashville to Detroit. Failing that, you might try to find a three-way trade: find someone moving from Nashville to Los Angeles, and another person moving from Los Angeles to Detroit. Then swap the first apartment for the second, the second for the third, and the third for the first. Finding a matched set of trades that have the desired moving times, locations, and types of apartments causes the same kinds of compatibility problems that trading kidneys does.

    There are two common, but very different, reactions to this kind of inefficiency. Economists see it as a threat, and something to be eliminated, for example, by replacing this complex barter system with a simple market.

    Businesspeople, on the other hand, see this kind of inefficiency as an opportunity to make money. In this case, a creative entrepreneur could borrow $100 million at 20% interest, buy a hospital ship, anchor it in international waters, set up a database to match donors to recipients, broker sales, and fly in experienced transplant teams. If she charges $200,000 and earns 10% on each transaction, the break-even quantity is just 1,000 transplants each year. This represents only 1% of the potential demand in the United States alone.

    The One Lesson of Business

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    16 SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making

    The goal of this chapter is to show you how to exploit inefficiency as an opportunity to make money. Students who’ve had some economics training will find that they have a slight head start, but learning how to turn inefficiency into opportunity requires as much creativity and imagination as analytic ability.

    2.1 Capitalism and Wealth To identify money-making opportunities, like those in the kidney market, we first have to understand how wealth is created and destroyed.

    Wealth is created when assets move from lower- to higher-valued uses.

    An individual’s value for a good or a service is measured as the amount of money he or she is willing to pay for it.3 To “value” a good means that you want it and can pay for it.4

    If we adopt the linguistic convention that buyers are male and the sellers are female, we say that a buyer’s “value” for an item is how much he will pay for it, his “top dollar.” Likewise, a seller won’t accept less than her value, “cost,” or “bottom line.”

    The biggest advantage of capitalism is that it creates wealth by letting people follow their self-interest.5 A buyer willingly buys if the price is below his value, and a seller sells for the same selfish reason. Both buyer and seller gain; otherwise, they would not transact.

    Voluntary transactions create wealth.

    Suppose that a buyer values a house at $240,000 and a seller at $200,000. If they can agree on a price—say, $210,000—they both gain. In this case, the seller sells at a price that is $10,000 higher than her bottom line and the buyer buys at a price that is $30,000 below his top dollar.

    Formally, the difference between the agreed-on price and the seller’s value is called seller surplus. Likewise, buyer surplus is the buyer’s value minus the price. The total surplus or gains from trade created by the transaction is the sum of buyer and seller surplus ($40,000), the difference between the buyer’s top dollar and the seller’s bottom line.

    To see how well you understand the wealth-creating process, try to identify the assets moving to higher-valued uses in the following examples:

    • Factory owners purchase labor from workers, borrow capital from in- vestors, and sell manufactured products to consumers. In essence, factory owners are intermediaries who move labor and capital from lower-valued to higher-valued uses, determined by consumers’ willingness to pay for the labor and capital embodied in manufactured products.

    • AIDS patients sometimes sell their life insurance policies to investors at a discount of 50% or more. The transaction allows patients to collect money from investors, who must wait until the patient dies to collect from the insurance company. This transaction moves money across time, from investors (who are willing to wait) to AIDS patients (who want the money now).

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    Chapter 2 • the One Lesson of Business 17

    • Rover.com is an online service to match dog owners to dog walkers, pet sitters, and overnight boarders. Since its founding in 2011, Rover has become the largest marketplace for pet-sitting services, with over 65,000 registered sitters.

    • When consumers purchase insurance, they pay an insurance company to assume risk for them. In this context, you can think of risk as a “bad,” the opposite of a “good,” moving from a consumer who wants to get rid of it to an insurance company willing to assume it for a fee.

    • In video games like Diablo III or World of Warcraft, thousands of people in less-developed countries spend time playing the games to acquire “currency” that can be used to acquire add-ons. These “gold farmers” sell the currency to other players for cash on Web sites outside of the game environment.

    Here’s a final example that is not so obvious. In 2004, a private equity con- sortium purchased Mervyn’s, a department store located in the western United States. It sold off the real estate on which the stores were located, and the new owners set store rents at market rates. As a consequence, rent payments doubled and the 59-year-old retailer went out of business, throwing 30,000 employees out of work.

    PAUSE FOR A MOMENT AND TRY TO FIGURE WHY THIS TRANSACTION CREATED WEALTH.

    The private equity group unbundled Mervyn’s land-owning activity from its retail activity. Once Mervyn’s stores had to pay market rents, it became clear that the retail activity was losing money because its costs were higher than the value it produced. The economy, as a whole, is better off without such money-losing ventures.

    How do you create wealth? Which assets do you move to higher-valued uses?

    We close this section with a warning against the idea that if one person makes money, someone else must be losing out. This mistake is so common that it even has a name, “the zero-sum fallacy.” Policy makers often invoke the fallacy to justify limits on profitability, or prices, or trade. It is a fallacy be- cause the voluntary nature of trade requires that both parties gain; otherwise, the transaction would not occur.

    2.2 Does the Government Create Wealth? Governments play a critical role in the wealth-creating process by enforcing property rights and contracts—legal mechanisms that facilitate voluntary transactions.6 By making sure that buyers and sellers can keep the gains from trade, our legal system makes trade more likely, which contributes to Ameri- ca’s enormous wealth-creating ability.7

    Conversely, the absence of property rights contributes to poverty. The reasons are simple: without private property and contract enforcement, wealth-creating transactions are less likely to occur.8 Ironically, many poor countries survive largely on the wealth created in the so-called underground, or black-market economy, where transactions are hidden from the government.

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    18 SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making

    Secure property rights are also associated with measures of environmen- tal quality and human well-being. In nations where property rights are well protected, more people have access to safe drinking water and sewage treat- ment and they live about 20 years longer.9 If you give people ownership to their property, they have an incentive to take care of it, invest in it, and keep it clean.

    2.3 How Economics Is Useful to Business Economics can be used by business people to spot money-making opportuni- ties (assets in lower-valued uses). To see this, we begin with “efficiency,” one of the most useful ideas in economics.

    An economy is efficient if all assets are employed in their highest-valued uses.

    Economists are obsessed with efficiency. They search for assets in lower- valued uses and then suggest public policies to move them to higher-valued ones. A good policy facilitates the movement of assets to higher-valued uses; and a bad policy prevents assets from moving or, worse, moves assets to lower- valued uses.

    Determining whether a policy is good or bad requires analyzing all of its effects—the unintended as well as the intended effects. Using this idea, Henry Hazlitt reduced all of economics into a single lesson:10

    The one lesson of economics: The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists of tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.11

    For example, recent proposals to prevent lenders from foreclosing on houses helps the delinquent homeowners, but it also hurts lenders. If lenders cannot foreclose on bad loans, this raises the cost of making loans, which, in turn, hurts prospective home buyers.

    Determining whether the policy is good or bad requires that we look not only at the happy faces of the family that gets to stay in a foreclosed home, but also at the sad faces of the family that can no longer afford to buy a house because the cost of borrowing has gone up. The trick to “seeing” these indirect effects is to look at incentives. In this chapter, we apply the rational actor par- adigm to the problem of finding money making opportunities.

    Making money is simple in principle—find an asset employed in lower- valued use, buy it, and sell it to someone who places a higher value on it.

    The one lesson of business: the art of business consists of identifying assets in low-valued uses and devising ways to profitably move them to higher-valued ones.

    In other words, each underemployed asset represents a potential wealth-creating transaction. The art of business is to identify these transac- tions and find ways to profitably consummate them.

    For example, once the government banned kidney sales, it simultaneously created an incentive to try to circumvent the ban. Buying a hospital ship and

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    Chapter 2 • the One Lesson of Business 19

    sailing to international waters is just one solution. According to recent re- search, there is a thriving illegal or “black market” for kidneys in the United States. For about $150,000, organ brokers will connect wealthy buyers with poor foreign donors, who receive a few thousand dollars and the chance to visit an American city. Once there, transplants are performed at “bro- ker-friendly” hospitals with surgeons who are either complicit in the scheme or willing to turn a blind eye. Kidney brokers often hire clergy to accompany their clients into the hospital to ensure that the process goes smoothly.12

    Anything that impedes asset movement destroys potential wealth. We dis- cuss three such impediments: taxes, subsidies, and price controls. These regu- lations create inefficiency which also means opportunity.

    Taxes The government collects taxes out of the total surplus created by a transac- tion. If the tax is larger than the surplus, the transaction will not take place. In our housing example, if a sales tax is 25%, for instance, as in Italy, the tax will be at least $50,000 because the price has to be at least $200,000, the seller’s bottom line. Since the tax is more than the surplus created by the transaction, the buyer and seller cannot find a mutually agreeable price that lets them pay the tax.13

    The one lesson of economics tells us that the intended effect of a tax is to raise revenue for the government, but the unintended consequence of a tax is that it deters some wealth-creating transactions.

    The one lesson of business tells us that these unconsummated transac- tions represent money-making opportunities. For example, in 1983, Sweden imposed a 1% “turnover” (sales) tax on stock sales on the Swedish Stock Ex- change. Before the tax, large institutional investors paid commissions that av- eraged 25 basis points (0.25%). The turnover tax, by itself, was four times the size of the old trading costs, and it fell most heavily on these big institutional investors.

    After the tax was imposed, institutional traders began trading shares on the London and New York Stock Exchanges, and the number of transactions on the Swedish Stock Exchange fell by 40%. Smart brokers recognized this opportunity and profited by moving their trades to London and New York. The Swedish government finally removed the turnover tax in 1990, but the Swedish Stock Exchange has never regained its former vitality.

    Subsidies The opposite of a tax is a subsidy. By encouraging low-value consumers to buy or high-value sellers to sell, subsidies destroy wealth by moving assets from higher- to lower-valued uses—in exactly the wrong direction.

    For example, government policies designed to extend credit to low-in- come Americans increased homeownership from 64% to 69% of the popula- tion. Many of these recipients, like Victor Ramirez, were able to afford houses only due to the subsidies. Mr. Ramirez says. “I was a student making $17,000 a year, my wife was between jobs. In retrospect, how in hell did we qualify?”14

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    20 SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making

    He qualified due to government subsidies. We know that these subsidies destroy wealth because, without them, the money would have been spent dif- ferently. A simple test will tell us whether the subsidy is inefficient: offer each potential homeowner a payment equal to the amount of the subsidy. If they would rather spend the money on something other than a home, then there is a higher-valued use for the money.

    The same logic can be used to identify ways to profit from inefficiency. To see this, let’s look at health insurance that fully subsidizes visits to the doctor. If you get a cold, you go to the doctor, who charges the insurance company $200 for your care. This subsidy destroys wealth if you would rather self- medicate and keep the $200.

    Employers who recognize this are starting to offer insurance that requires a large deductible or copayment. These fees stop low-value doctor visits and dramatically reduce the cost of insurance. Employers can either keep the money or use it to raise workers’ wages (by the amount they save on insur- ance) to attract better workers. These high-deductible policies are becoming more popular with companies like Whole Foods Market that have recognized the inefficiency.

    Price Controls A price control is a regulation that allows trade only at certain prices.

    There are two types of price controls: price ceilings, which outlaw trade at prices above the ceiling, and price floors, which outlaw trade at prices below the floor. The prohibition on buying and selling kidneys is a form of price ceiling. Americans are allowed to buy and sell kidneys—but only at a price of zero.

    Price floors above the buyer’s top dollar or price ceilings below a seller’s bottom line deter wealth-creating transactions.15 In our kidney example, potential kidney sellers are deterred from selling because they can do so only at a price of zero.

    To see how to profit from this kind of inefficiency, we turn to the case of taxis, which are regulated with a fixed price. This functions like a price ceiling when you need to get you to the outer reaches of your metropolitan area because the fixed fares won’t let taxis recover the cost of return trip. In addition, taxis are often poorly maintained because regulated fares don’t allow taxis to charge for better quality. Finally, taxis have a well-deserved reputation for recklessness because there is no way for taxis to increase earnings except by increasing volume, which they do by driving from place to place as fast as possible.

    Uber is an alternative to taxis that makes money, in part, by exploiting these regulatory inefficiencies. Flexible pricing and consumer ratings give Uber drivers an incentive to go to distant destinations, to clean their cars, and to drive safely.16

    Beyond avoiding the inefficiency created by taxi regulation, Uber’s suc- cess is also due to: (i) a more efficient driver–passenger matching technology; (ii) larger scale, which supports faster matches; and (iii) surge pricing, which

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    Chapter 2 • the One Lesson of Business 21

    allows it to more closely match supply with demand throughout the day. The surge pricing can be thought of as a way around inefficiency of fixed fares mandated by regulation.17

    2.4 Wealth Creation in Organizations Companies can be thought of as collections of transactions, from buying raw materials like capital and labor to selling finished goods and services. In a suc- cessful company, these transactions move assets to higher-valued uses and thus make money for the company.

    As we saw from the story of the oil company in the introductory chapter, a firm’s organizational design influences decision making within the firm. Some designs encourage profitable decision making; others do not. A poorly designed company will consummate unprofitable transactions or fail to consummate profitable ones.

    The reasons for this are analogous to the wealth-destroying effects of government policies: organizations impose “taxes,” “subsidies,” and “price controls” within their companies that either deter profitable transactions or encourage unprofitable ones. For example, overbidding at the oil company was caused by a “subsidy” paid to management for acquiring oil reserves. Senior management responded to the subsidy by acquiring reserves, regardless of the price. One solution to the problem was to eliminate the subsidy.

    The analogy between the market-level problems created by taxes, subsi- dies, and price controls and the organization-level problems of goal alignment suggests is that we are using the same economic tools to analyze both types of problems. The target of the analysis changes—from markets to organizations— but the principles are the same.

    SUMMARY & HOMEWORK PROBLEMS

    Summary of Main Points

    • Voluntary transactions create wealth by moving assets from lower- to higher-valued uses.

    • Anything that impedes the movement of assets to higher-valued uses, like taxes, sub- sidies, or price controls, destroys wealth.

    • Efficiency means that each asset is employed in its highest-valued use. Each inefficiency implies a money-making opportunity.

    • The art of business consists of finding an asset in lower-valued use and devising ways to profitably move it to higher-valued one.

    • A company can be thought of as a series of transactions. A well-designed organization rewards employees who identify and con- summate profitable transactions or who stop unprofitable ones.

    Multiple-Choice Questions

    1. An individual’s value for a good or service is a. the amount of money he or she used to

    pay for a good. b. the amount of money he or she is will-

    ing to pay for it. c. the amount of money he or she has to

    spend on goods. d. None of the above.

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    22 SECTION I • Problem Solving and Decision Making

    2. The biggest advantage of capitalism is that a. it allows the market to self-regulate. b. it allows a person to follow his

 
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