De Economist

, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 23–58 | Cite as

Transaction Cost Economics: How It Works; Where It is Headed

  • Oliver E. Williamson


This paper begins with a sketch of the New Institutional Economics, with special emphasis on the ‘institutional environment’ (North and others) and the ‘institutions of governance’ (Coase and others). Thereafter the paper mainly emphasizes the applications of transaction cost economics to the study of governance, the object being to effect an economizing alignment between transactions, which differ in their attributes, and governance structures (firms, markets, hybrids, bureaus), which differ in their cost and competence. I raise a series of issues – phenomena of interest, describing human agents, describing firms, purposes served, scaling up – to which any would-be theory of the firm should be expected to speak and indicate how transaction cost economics responds to each. I thereafter describe the mechanisms through which transaction cost economics is implemented and develop some of the core conceptual supports out of which it works. Applications to public bureaus, strategic management, and intractable transactions are sketched.

firms governance econimizing mechanisms institutional economics 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oliver E. Williamson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaBerkeley.

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