Using Simulation Experiments to Test Historical Explanations

I wanted to test with a computer simulation the explanations I offered in my book Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Coevolution of Firms, Technology and National Institutions for why German firms overtook their French and British competitors in the Synthetic Dye Industry from 1857-1913. So I partnered with Thomas Brenner who has created a simulation model that can replicate the key stylistic facts we know about firm and industry growth patterns. Our paper is now published online the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.
Conducting Simulation Experiments to Test Historical Explanations: The Development of the German Dye Industry 1857-1913

Abstract: In a simulation experiment, building on the abductive simulation approach of Brenner and Werker (2007), we test historical explanations for why German firms came to surpass British and France firms and to dominate the global synthetic dye industry for three decades before World War 1 while the U.S. never achieved large market share despite large home demand. Murmann and Homburg (2001) and Murmann (2003) argued that German firms came to dominate the global industry because of (1) the high initial number of chemists in Germany at the start of the industry in 1857, (2) the high responsiveness of the German university system and (3) the late (1877) introduction of a patent regime in Germany as well as the more narrow construction of this regime compared to Britain, France and the U.S. We test the validity of these three potential explanations with the help of simulation experiments.  The experiments show that the 2nd explanation—the high responsiveness of the German university system— is the most compelling one because unlike the other two it is true for virtually all plausible historical settings.

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Scaffolding in Economics, Management, and the Design of Technologies

This chapter reviews the ideas that have been developed to describe the emergence and change of structures in three fields: Economics, Management, and Design of Technologies. The chapter focuses on one empirical setting, the economy, and more specifically how firms, industries, and technologies change over time. Today’s industrialized economies are very different from the economies before the industrial revolution. The chapter presents key theoretical ideas from evolutionary economics, management, and technology that try to explain why and how economy has been so dramatically transformed over the past 400 years. You can download a draft of chapter here or find the book in your library or buy it at or MIT Press.

Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of Nelson & Winter (1982)

The 9th Atlanta Competitive Advantage Conference had a panel to celebrate the publication of Nelson and Winter’s 1982 landmark book. The panel included Sid Winter, Connie Helfat, L.G.Thomas III, and myself. As part of my reflections, I offered a citation analysis to demonstrate the influence of the book with data. I went on to explain that there is a tension between the goals of IO economics and strategic management and argued that Nelson & Winter’s focus on firms doing innovations is a way to resolve this tension. Finally, I called for more research that examines the the relative role of population level selection versus firm-level adaptations in industrial change.

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Economics: Is the discipline in crisis?

Drake Bennett of the Boston Globe is reporting on the soul searching that is going on the field of economics and finance after the professions inability to foresee the crisis. 

THE DEEPENING ECONOMIC downturn has been hard on a lot of people, but it has been hard in a particular way for economists. For most of us, pain and apprehension have been mixed with a sense of grim amazement at the complexity of what has unfolded: the dense, invisible lattice connecting house prices to insurance companies to job losses to car sales, the inscrutability of the financial instruments that helped to spread the poison, the sense that the ratings agencies and regulatory bodies were overmatched by events, the wild gyrations of the stock market in the past few months. It’s hard enough to understand what’s happening, and it seems absurd to think we could have seen it coming beforehand. The vast majority of us, after all, are not experts. But academic economists are. And with very few exceptions, they did not predict the crisis, either. Some warned of a housing bubble, but almost none foresaw the resulting cataclysm. An entire field of experts dedicated to studying the behavior of markets failed to anticipate what may prove to be the biggest economic collapse of our lifetime. And, now that we’re in the middle of it, many frankly admit that they’re not sure how to prevent things from getting worse.

Read Full Story “Paradigm lost: Economists missed the brewing crisis. Now many are asking: How can we do better” on

Paulson on the diversity of firm in the financial industry

Trying to imitate high-status Newtonian physics, management scholars over the past fifty hear have tried to formulate general laws about the behavior of organizations.  In his statement after the passing of the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Paulson in my view correctly emphasized that the salient fact about most industries is the diversity and not the sameness of firms within them.


Review of Jared Diamond’s New Book “Collapse”

The author of Guns, Germs, and Steel considers why some societies collapse when faced with environmental or political catastrophe, while others soldier on. Malcom Galdwell has published a useful review of the book in the New Yorker .

Evolutionary Economics—The State of the Science

This is a talk I gave at a conference New Perspectives on Telecommunications and Pharmaceuticals in Europe and the United States: Conference on Evolutionary Economics:
Conference Program

Good morning. Let me give you a quick road map of my presentation. First, I will discuss where we are in terms of evolutionary economics, beginning with Nelson and Winter, 1982, the key book in this literature. Then I’ll provide a quick review of the ideas behind evolutionary accounts, laying out the requirements for a valid evolutionary explanation. I’ll follow this with a discussion of recent trends in the literature over the last six or seven years, addressing what I believe to be some of the key outstanding issues that should be addressed by the evolutionary perspective. Finally, time-permitting I’ll speculate a little bit about how one can make economics more an evolutionary science, and about what can be done to make evolutionary ideas more accepted.