Transaction-Cost Economics: Past, Present, and Future?


  • Robert Gibbons

    1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
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      I am very grateful to Richard Holden, Jon Levin, Hongyi Li, Scott Masten, Mike Powell, John Roberts, Scott Stern, Steve Tadelis, Tommy Wang, and Birger Wernerfelt for helpful comments, as well as to the Program on Innovation in Markets and Organizations at MIT's Sloan School for financial support.


Oliver Williamson is the founder and chief developer of transaction-cost economics (TCE). In this brief essay, on the occasion of his Nobel Memorial Prize, I offer a partial discussion of Williamson's contributions by first summarizing some of the accomplishments of TCE-past and then sketching some of the opportunities for TCE-future. Most of the topics in both sections (TCE-past and TCE-future) start with a quotation from Williamson's early work that I think still speaks volumes today. That is, while fellow travelers and successors have acted on one set of Williamson's insights, helping to produce the accomplishments of TCE-past, another collection of Williamson's insights has gone relatively unremarked, creating some of the opportunities for TCE-future.