SIOE (ISNIE) 2015: Institutions, Organizations, Economics — Yonathan Arbel

Post by: Yonathan Arbel

As Dan Kelly noted in his last post, this weekend the SIOE (previously known as ISNIE) conference was held at Harvard Law School. The conference was, in my slightly biased judgment (I was assisting the president-elect Henry Smith and Janet Freilich with its organization), very successful, with about 200 paper presentations and about 250 participants. It was also very international, with participants hailing from 29 countries worldwide. The program can be found here; as the program shows, there is a great richness in the topics, methodologies, and institutional affiliations of speakers. This is a by-product of the ambitious goal the society set out for itself of studying the “nature, behavior, and governance of organizations and institutions.”

Henry Smith presents Harold Demsetz with the Elinor Ostrom Lifetime Achievement Award


Let me note a few highlights and themes:

  1. ISNIE -> SIOE: The society changed its name and celebrated a new logo, from ISNIE (The International Society for New Institutional Economics) to SIOE (Society for Institutional & Organizational Economics). Something to keep in mind next time you encounter the name.
  2. Keynote Speakers. There were two keynote speakers and one presidential address, all were multi-disciplinary and inspiring of future work. Michael Whinston presented his work on property rights and the efficiency of bargaining and Martin Nowak described his life work on the evolution of cooperation. The biological paradigm, based in part on game theory, has interesting differences from the economic paradigm, and Nowak’s talk emphasized some of these differences, most notably, the (in)existence of equilibrium in evolutionary processes. SIOE’s presidential address, given by John de Figueiredo, was a call for a research program in the area of public-sector personnel. He offered insight into this under-explored world and invited researchers to join him in understanding what makes the public sector tick.

SIOE President, John de Figueiredo, at his Presidential AddressDSC_0404_1

  1. Emphasis on Empiricism. This is a reflection of the general trend in economics towards greater and greater empirical analysis. It was interesting to see that this trend is not unique to economics and most presenters included some empirical analysis in their presentations.

Danielle Li (HBS) presenting Discretion in Hiring / Photography: Lorin Granger, Communications (HLS)


  1. The Role of Lawyers. Where law professors fit in the Society for Institutional & Organizational Economics may not be self-evident given its name. Much of the work is empirical and a great deal of theory is derived from economic models. However, the conference demonstrated the important role lawyers can and do play in the design and systematic theorization of institutions. Dan Kelly highlighted some of the private law presentations in his earlier post, which is indicative of the role of private law theory. His own presentation at the conference was also demonstrative: he mapped the differential legal attitudes fiduciary law takes towards different classes of relationships and hypothesized on the rationale for the distinction. This is the kind of work that requires a deep understanding of the law and it is hard for me to see non-lawyers being able to survive the deep waters of fiduciary law. Henry Smith’s role as the president-elect of the organization is another important indication. More generally, I am looking forward to seeing how the legal profession adjusts to the change in the scholarly landscape, with the greater emphasis on empiricism.
  2. Demsetz and Barzel. There were many leading researchers and scholars presenting at the event, but it was especially welcome to see the two luminaries of the field, Harold Demsetz and Yoram Barzel, sit side by side.

Harold Demsetz and Yoram Barzel / Photography: Dean LueckYoramBarzel HaroldDemsetz ISNIE 2015

  1. Poster sessions. A poster session was held at the reception, and attendees voted for their favorite poster presentation. The winners were Maria Alejandra Velez, Carlos Trujillo, Lina Moros, and Clemente Forero-Pineda for their poster titled: “Subjective Insecurity and Cooperation: Evidence from Field Experiments”. I believe that poster presentations could be adapted usefully for presentations at legal conferences—where they are rare. This medium has many potential pitfalls, but if executed well, it efficiently communicates ideas and can prove especially useful for presenting the evolution of doctrine, ideas, and laws, besides the more obvious empirical analysis.
  2. Awards. Three awards were granted. The first was the Ronald Coase Dissertation Award that went to Orie Shelef. His work was described as:

Orie’s dissertation provides both a theoretical and empirical analysis of contracting, studying incentives of mutual funds managers and political contributions.

        The Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper Award went to Laurent Frésard, Gerard Hoberg, and Gordon Phillips for “Innovation Activities and the Incentives for Vertical Acquisitions and Integration.” Their paper was described as:

[T]he paper provides a new way to measure vertical integration using textual analysis of regulatory filings, and it also finds an interesting negative relationship between vertical integration and R&D and at the same time a positive relationship between vertical integration and patenting.

       Finally, the Ostrom Lifetime Achievement Award went to Harold Demsetz. There is little need to state the obvious reasons behind this choice, but let me note that his award speech was very moving and inspirational.

Overall, this was a great conference, and I hope that more legal scholars will attend the conference next year in Paris


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