Friday, September 14, 2018

Bratton on Means on Administered Prices

William W. Bratton, University of Pennsylvania Law School, has posted The Modern Corporation and Private Property Revisited: Gardiner Means and the Administered Price:
This essay views The Modern Corporation and Private Property from the perspective of its junior coauthor, Gardiner Means. Means generated the book’s statistical showings of deepening corporate concentration and widening separation of ownership and control, studies also included in a Ph.D. dissertation Means successfully submitted to the Harvard economics department a year after the book’s publication. The dissertation also included a chapter, never published and rejected by the dissertation committee, that set out a theory administered prices. The theory lays out the statistical results’ implications for public policy. In Means’s view, Adam Smith’s picture of supply, demand, and automatic market correction had been partially eclipsed by inflexible pricing administered by corporate managers. Growing corporate concentration exacerbated these “administrated” prices’ distortionary effects. The theory explained the Great Depression’s persistence and yielded a detailed list of problems to be addressed by a new regulatory state. The chapter, only alluded to in the book, provides essential explication of its excursuses on corporate power and social welfare, for the it explains in hard economic terms just what Berle and Means thought that “neutral technocrats” in the corporate sector could do to make the economy work better. The essay goes on to describe Means’s later articulations of the theory and to compare his later career path to that of Berle.