Concatenate Coordination and Mutual Coordination

Concatenate Coordination and Mutual Coordination

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Daniel Klein, Aaron Orsborn | Oct 2009

This paper investigates the evolving meaning of the term coordination as used by economists. The paper is based on systematic electronic searches (on "coord," etc.) of major works and leading journals.

The term coordination first emerged in professional economics around 1880, to describe the directed productive concatenation of factors or activities within a firm. Also, transportation economists used the term to describe the concatenation of routes and trips of a transportation system. These usages represent what we term concatenate coordination. The next major development came in the 1930s from several LSE economists (Hayek, Plant, Hutt, and Coase), who extended that concept beyond the eye of any actual coordinator. That is, they wrote of the concatenate coordination of a system of polycentric or spontaneous activities.

These various applications of concatenate coordination prevailed until the next major development, namely, Thomas Schelling and game models. Here coordination referred to a mutual meshing of actions. Game theorists developed crisp ideas of coordination games (like "battle of the sexes"), coordination equilibria, convention, and path dependence. This "coordination" was not a refashioning, but rather a distinct concept, one we distinguish as mutual coordination. As game models became more familiar to economists, it was mutual coordination that economists increasingly had in mind when they spoke of "coordination." Economists switched, so to speak, to a new semantic equilibrium.

Now, mutual coordination overshadows the older notion of concatenate coordination. The two senses of coordination are conceptually distinct and correspond neatly to the two dictionary definitions of the verb to coordinate. Both are crucial to economics. We suggest that distinguishing between the two senses can help to clarify "coordination" talk. Also, compared to talk of "efficiency" and "optimality," concatenate coordination allows for a richer, more humanistic, and more openly aesthetic discussion of social affairs.

 

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Citation (Chicago Style)

Klein, Daniel and Aaron Orsborn. "Concatenate Coordination and Mutual Coordination." Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Vol. 72, no. 1. 2009.

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