Monthly Archives: March 2013

Knowing the Who: Identifying the effect of entrepreneurs on firms

Do entrepreneurs matter?

Sascha O. Becker (, CAGE University of Warwick

Hans K. Hvide (, University of Bergen, CEPR and University of Aberdeen


Within the broad literature on firm performance, economists have given little attention to entrepreneurs. We use deaths of more than 500 entrepreneurs as a source of exogenous variation, and ask whether this variation can explain shifts in firm performance. Using longitudinal data, we …find large and sustained effects of entrepreneurs at all levels of the performance distribution. Entrepreneurs strongly affect firm growth patterns of both very young firms and for firms that have begun to mature. We do not find significant differences between small and larger firms, family and non-family firms, nor between firms located in urban and rural areas, but we do find stronger effects for founders with high human capital. Overall, the results suggest that an often overlooked factor –individual entrepreneurs plays a large role in affecting firm performance.

Review by Beatriz Rodriguez-Satizabal

Promoting entrepreneurship has been fashionable since the 1980s and there are no signs of it going away. Messages about the importance of becoming your own boss, giving something back to the society, and be an active agent of the economy are there to be seen everywhere on a daily basis. Governments around the world are constantly discussing new ways to increase the number of entrepreneurs and we also see on a regular basis articles within broadsheet newspapers and the popular media trying to identify and challenge those who see themselves grow by creating firms and markets.

In this paper, distributed by NEP-HIS on 2013-01-28, Hvide and Becker question the outcomes of investments to promote entrepreneurship during the last 20 years: Do the entrepreneurs really deliver technological change? Is it sustainable for an emerging country to allow a growing number of entrepreneurs? Is the longevity of the firm related to the characteristics of the founder? Should entrepreneurs be employees in their firms?

The idea of the entrepreneur as an important agent is not entirely new. But studying the role of the entrepreneur within the firm and its effect over its performance has been neglected. In this regard evidence documented in this paper is a step towards a better understanding of the effect of the entrepreneur over the performance of the firm.


Based on the assumption that the death of an entrepreneur has an immediate effect on the firm due to the changes in corporate governance that it implies, Becker and Hvide constructed a database of Norwegian firms consisting of incorporated, limited liability companies for the period 1999 to 2007. The authors identified a total of 500 firms where the founding entrepreneurs died, providing an opportunity to quantify whether entrepreneurs have a causal effect on firm performance or not.

As a result of a thorough statistical analysis, the authors find that the effects are large and strong. The entrepreneur shapes the firm and affects its growth patterns. Entrepreneurs matter because of the loss of human capital (but, interestingly, the effect could be also negative as higher performance takes place after death of the founder). Surprisingly, Becker and Hvide do not find any difference between small and large firms, family and non-family owned, nor between firms located in rural or urban areas. This last result is certainly, in my view, an open call to bring the individual characteristics of the entrepreneur to the study of the firm, which is a unit that needs the human capital factor to success.

This paper is a valuable contribution to those studying entrepreneurship because it positions the role of the individual deep into the nature of firm performance rather than having it as a separate unit. It calls our attention over the widely spread assumption that entrepreneurs also innovate within the organization (Schumpeter) and have effects in and out of it (Baumol). If entrepreneurs matter, then knowing the who, why and how must be part of the discussion on public policy to promote entrepreneurship. Moreover, when in emergent countries the close relationship between the successful entrepreneurs and the government still persists.

“If they couldn’t guarantee the property rights of the land they gave away, how could they possibly sell it?”. Land Privatization and Property Rights in the Nineteenth Century Neo-Europes

The Political Economy of Land Privatization in Argentina and Australia, 1810-1850: A Puzzle

Alan Dye (, Barnard College, Columbia University

Sumner La Croix (, University of Hawai’i-Mānoa


Abstract: This paper compares public land privatization in New South Wales and the Province of Buenos Aires,in the early nineteenth century. Both claimed frontier lands as public lands for raising revenue. New South Wales failed to enforce its claim. Property rights originated as de facto squatters’ claims, which government subsequently accommodated and enforced as de jure property rights. In Buenos Aires, by contrast, original transfers of public lands were specified de jure by government. The paper develops a model that explains these differences as a consequence of violence and the relative cost of enforcement of government claims to public land.

Review by Manuel Bautista Gonzalez

The U.S. economy has racked up an enviable record of two centuries of sustained economic growth —an achievement, it has often been asserted, that was predicated on the establishment of institutions guaranteeing the security of property rights. My aim in this article has been to qualify this assertion by reminding scholars that economic development also requires that societies be able flexibly to reallocate property rights in response to new technological and other developments. If such reallocations could always occur smoothly—either through market transactions or a consensus effort on the part of society to capture the resulting gains in efficiency—there would be nothing mysterious about this qualification. As I have shown, however, reallocations in the United States have often been involuntary, and losers have not always received adequate (or any) compensation. Owners whose property has been taken from them have routinely charged that property rights are in fact not secure, but aside from some relatively brief episodes when broader protest movements have taken up their cause, these kinds of complaints have never become general. Hence the mystery. Despite the many involuntary reallocations of property that have occurred repeatedly since the formation of the republic, Americans still strongly believe that their property rights are secure and they act in their economic lives accordingly. – Lamoreaux (2011), emphasis added.

This paper was first distributed by NEP-HIS on 2012-05-15. The paper reviewed in this post was a more recent version from January 4, 2013, made available by the authors.

Alan Dye

Alan Dye

Sumner La Croix

Sumner La Croix

Dye and La Croix’s paper is an illuminating exploration of the history of land property rights in the province of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the colony of New South Wales (Australia) in the first half of the nineteenth century. Whereas Australian squatters acquired de facto claims over lands outside the official settlement areas defined by colonial authorities and some of them managed to transform their claims into de jure property rights, porteño landholders often relied on the will of the authorities of the nascent republic to enforce de jure property rights, with mixed results. Why did authorities honor or not existing claims over land when governments stood to lose revenues from their sale or lease?

In their answer, the authors refute the presentist bias of popular institutionalist and factor-endowment accounts: contrary to the belief, developed countries have not always had a better record of securing and enforcing property rights over land than developing countries. Why?

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Fiscal Policy during high unemployment periods: still a bad idea?

Are Government Spending Multipliers Greater During Periods of Slack? Evidence from 20th Century Historical Data

Michael T. Owyang, Valerie A. Ramey, Sarah Zubairy


A key question that has arisen during recent debates is whether government spending multipliers are larger during times when resources are idle. This paper seeks to shed light on this question by analyzing new quarterly historical data covering multiple large wars and depressions in the U.S. and Canada. Using an extension of Ramey’s (2011) military news series and Jordà’s (2005) method for estimating impulse responses, we find no evidence that multipliers are greater during periods of high unemployment in the U.S. In every case, the estimated multipliers are below unity. We do find some evidence of higher multipliers during periods of slack in Canada, with some multipliers above unity.


Review by Sebastian Fleitas

For a very long time the size of the expenditure multipliers has been one of the most vivid economic debates. For instance as recently as 2009, when the Obama administration proposed a fiscal stimulus package, there was a heated discussion regarding the relative size of the expenditure and tax multipliers. The reason fuelling this narrative is perhaps clear: ascertaining the potential impact of a particular proposed measure is key when designing the fiscal policy.

The paper by Owyang, Ramey and Zubairy, which was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2013-02-08 tries to answer this question: Are government spending multipliers greater during periods of slack for the US and Canada when we look at the historical data? The argument behind it is to consider that the expenditure multipliers will be greater in times of crisis, that is, during periods without full employment of labor and capital in the economy. This argument follows the idea that to wake up animal instincts, you need to have something in the forest when guys go out to hunt.

Image in Barro's comment on expenditure multipliers debate on 2009 in Stanford blog.

Image in Barro’s comment on expenditure multipliers debate in 2009 in Hoover Institution Stanford University’s blog (

The answer that the authors offer is counterintuitive, which makes the paper very interesting. They find that the expenditure multipliers were higher in periods with high unemployment in Canada but they were the same for both periods in the US. To arrive to this conclusion the authors first construct high frequency (quarterly) historical data for the US and Canada. The procedure they follow to build the database is documented in an online available annex of the paper (here). After this process they have data on GPD, GDP deflator, government spending and the unemployment rate for the period 1890q1 to 2010q4 for the US and from 1921q1 to 2011q4 for Canada. The other key variable is the “news” variable, which reflects the changes in expected present value of government spending in response to military events as in Ramey (2011), which in turns directs to Ramey (2009).


Regarding the econometric approach, the authors use Jorda’s (2005) local projection technique to calculate impulse responses. The idea in Jorda (2005) is that, in contrast to VAR approaches which  linearly approximate the data generating process to produce optimal one period forecasts, when we are looking at impulse response analysis we should care about the estimation of longer horizons. In this context, it is a better approach to estimate the impulse responses consistently by a sequence of projections of the endogenous variables shifted forward in time onto their lags using ordinary least squares (OLS) with standard errors addressing heterogeneity and serial correlation. The authors estimate a set of OLS regressions of different number of leads of the log of per capita government expenditure and GDP, over their lags and the variable news for periods with high and low unemployment and a quadratic trend. The coefficient for the variable “news” is the impulse response at that certain number of lags.

Finally, the paper made me think of three comments. First of all, the paper shows a very interesting and creative way to proceed when the data needed for the study is actually not available for that historical period. Besides combining sources of information, the authors constructed quarterly series of the variables. Since the paper was prepared for the American Economic Review Paper and Proceedings, it is a very short paper and the procedure to construct the variables is explained not in the paper but in the Annex. Given the lack of data, assumptions about the data generating process must be made. However, and besides the obvious limitation of space, the reader could miss an explanation about the assumptions that are made in the methods used and, also, what implications these assumptions have for the results, in particular about what is the source of variation that allows the identification of the coefficients. Maybe a section in the paper or in the appendix discussing these issues can shed light about what are the potential problems of different assumptions.

The last two comments are related to what is exactly the interpretation of the results. The first one directly follows from the last sentence of the paper. The authors state that they do not adjust for the fact that taxes often rise at the same time as government spending, which turns these multipliers not equal to pure deficit financed multipliers. However, it seems plausible that the effect of the multiplier on the GPD depends on whether this increase in the government was financed by taxes or by debt. If that is the case, and if the episodes when the former and the latter happen are mixed in a non-random way between the periods of high and low unemployment, then it is possible that the value of the coefficients can reflect not only the effect of the exogenous shock but also the effect of different ways to finance it.

A joke?

A joke?

The last comment relates to the consistent estimation of the parameters of the model. In the paper the “news” about military expenditure is taken as the only source of exogenous shock in this economy during the period of two years, four years and the time of the peak of each response. This “news” variable reflects exogenous innovations to the expenditure from a military source. However, it would be relevant for the paper to discuss the existence of other (non-military) sources of exogenous shocks to the expenditure. The relevance of this issue is because, given that the estimation of the parameters of interest is done by OLS, the consistency of the estimates requires zero covariance between the ¨news” and the error term of the equation, and this assumption can be violated if there exist this kind of non-military shocks and they are correlated to military “news”.

Overall I think this is a very interesting paper because of the results they find and also because of the construction of historical data. I found the results very puzzling and therefore a big motivation to continue trying to understand the relationship between GDP and public expenditure.