Markets, Information, and the Spreading of Risks: The Economic Meltdown and Organizational Theory


Date and Time

April 1, 2010 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Reuben W. Hills Conference Room

FSI Contact

Justin C. Liszanckie

Social science interpretations of the meltdown emphasize system characteristics such as complexity and coupling, and/or culture as in neo-institutional theories.  Examining regulatory changes, regulatory agents, elected representatives, firms and the many warnings, I argue that the role of human agents has been greatly neglected. Building on earlier work on "executive failure" I offer an agentic interpretation that is missing from both of the social science interpretations. Structure (systems) and culture (neo institutional theory) are valuable but incomplete.

Charles Perrow is an emeritus professor of sociology at Yale University and a visiting professor at CISAC in the winter and spring terms. Among his award-winning research is Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of American Capitalism (Princeton, 2002), and Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies (Princeton, 1999). His recent articles include "Modeling Firms in the Global Economy," Theory and Society, 2009, v 38:3, May, 217-243, "Organizations and Global Warming," in Constance Lever-Tracy, ed. Handbook of Society and Climate change (Routledge, forthcoming, 2010), "Complexity, Catastrophe, and Modularity," Sociological Inquiry 78:2, May 2008 162-73; "Conservative Radicalism," Organization 15:2 2008 271-77; "Disasters Evermore? Reducing our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters," Social Research 75:3 Fall, 2008. His recent membership on a National Academy of Science panel on the possibilities of certifying software led to his current work on cyber security. He is also writing on the economic meltdown, but his major interest now is the institutional/organizational aspects of global warming. He received his BA, MA, and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, all in sociology.

Kenneth Arrow is the Joan Kenney Professor of Economics and Professor of Operations Research, emeritus; a CHP/PCOR fellow; and an FSI senior fellow by courtesy. He is a Nobel Prize-winning economist whose work has been primarily in economic theory and operations, focusing on areas including social choice theory, risk bearing, medical economics, general equilibrium analysis, inventory theory, and the economics of information and innovation. He was one of the first economists to note the existence of a learning curve, and he also showed that under certain conditions an economy reaches a general equilibrium. In 1972, together with Sir John Hicks, he won the Nobel Prize in economics, for his pioneering contributions to general equilibrium theory and welfare theory.

Arrow has served on the economics faculties of the University of Chicago, Harvard and Stanford. Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Corps (1942-46), and a research associate at the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics (1947-49). In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has received the American Economic Association's John Bates Clark Medal. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. He received a BS from City College, an MA and PhD from Columbia University, and holds approximately 20 honorary degrees.