Chapter 8: New technologies, organizational change and the skill bias: what do we know?
Eve Caroli1 INTRODUCTION Until recently, economists have known very little about the relations between technology, organization and skills. The current state of knowledge could be as shown in Figure 8.1 and could be summarized by: ‘Better live on your feet than die on your knees’. Stated in a more academic way, a ﬁrm’s performance (in terms of productivity and competitiveness) was to be improved by a high skill level of its workforce, a frontier technology and a ﬂexible organization – with the concept of ﬂexibility to be deﬁned. The question of the relations between technology, organization and skills was not tackled and therefore set up a black triangle carefully avoided by scholars. One reason for our poor understanding of this topic is that organizational issues have long been disregarded by economic theory. As underlined by Mowery (1990), standard neoclassical theory is a theory of markets. Its main focus has traditionally been on price formation rather than on the organization of production units. The ﬁrm is seen as a black box in which inputs are transformed into outputs according to a production function. Moreover, competition is assumed to ensure that all surviving enterprises use the same technology and face similar cost curves. Hence the internal structure is the same for all ﬁrms and the black box approach is thereby justiﬁed. The study of organizations has thus been neglected by economists and left to other disciplines. Major advances have been made in sociology (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Woodward, 1965) as well...
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