Neil Kay's website



My work

Skip to blog

I am Emeritus Professor in the Economics Department, University of Strathclyde, Scotland; Special Professor, Management School, University of Nottingham, England; and was Visiting Professor, Economics Department, University of Queensland, Australia (2005, 2006 and 2007 and 2009).

My research interests are mostly concentrated around issues relating to the determinants of the boundaries of the firm, such as multinational enterprise, innovation, diversification, vertical integration, mergers, joint ventures, and other forms of co-operative behaviour. See my shorter CV for more detail.

Those interested in these areas might like to know that an EC funded project produced by Foss and Foss at Copenhagen Business School recently produced a table of the "Top 20" researchers in my field in Europe, based on citations counts, you can read it here

Selected Recent Papers

(1) Dynamic capabilities as context: the role of decision, system and structure, Industrial and Corporate Change 2010 forthcoming, (Oxford University Press are publishing an advanced copy here)

(2) Reappraising the Nature of the Firm: The Role and Influence of Lexical and Structural Ambiguity Organization Studies, 2008, 29, pp. 1179-96

(3) The Evolution of Co-operation, Pairings and Networks, International Journal of the Economics of Business.2007, 14, pp. 317-349

(4) Penrose and the growth of multinational firms, Managerial and Decision Economics, 2005, 26, pp. 99-112.

Two other unpublished papers are still directly downloadable here (see below). The interest in both has been increasing and by end-May 2010 the paper on Game Theory had been accessed by 1258 visitors in three years (54 per month in the first five months of 2010. By end-May 2010 the paper on Coase has been accessed by 3014 visitors in three years (147 per month in the first five months of 2010). The story of what has been happening is told in When it can be better NOT to publish

The Coase paper explores the foundations of Coase's seminal paper on the nature of the firm and queries his application of marginal analysis, it is at:

The paper on Game Theory argues that the proper basis for judging the contribution of Game Theory to the study of areas such as strategy is to use yardsticks of critical reasoning versus dogma, and that when these standards are applied, much Game Theory can be seen to have the status of dogma and should be treated as such, it is at:.

Also Tim Kastelle has a very nice blog in response to the issues I raise in my musings in all this, see Tim's blog on the issues here

Academic blog

This posted January 19th 2010: The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has replied to the complaint by Professor Hughes Hallet and Scott cited in my blog for 17th Jjanuary. It is remarkable. Short though it is, I had to read the letter more than once to make sure that I had read it properly. See comments here.

This posted January 17th 2010: How do you ambush an academic? You ask him to give evidence as an invited expert to the Scottish Parliament, he or she does so in good faith, then you trammel and traduce their reputation - totally unfairly - to further your political ends. See here and here and here.for how this happened to Professors Scott and Hughes Hallett last week This has happened too often in the short life of the Scottish Parliament and is an affront to democracy and the public interest. See here for my letter of complaint to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament

This posted November 16th 2010: I am writing an article on what a knowledge economy actually look likes for Tim Kastelle's forthcoming Handbook on the Knowledge Economy and am doing it as series of blogs first on Tim's website, here is the latest one and here is the earlier one Any contributions or comments - please post on Tim's blog - very welcome

This posted October 7th 2008: Lost in translation - how German leaders a generation apart may have profoundly influenced history by not speaking clearly enough. See here

This posted September 17th 2008: Still no reply to my e-mail (see blog for 7th September below) to the contact address of the Post Autistic Economics Network at <pae_news@btinternet.com> even though I requested acknowledgment. So have sent it again.

This posted September 10th 2008: Following blogs of 7th, 8th and 9th September below this (best read them first), another colleague whose work is being promoted as "Post-Autistic Economics" on the "Post-Autistic Economics Network" website has e-mailed me to say that they were under the impression that they have changed their name.

The answer is they have not.. The Network's home page is still fully and clearly the "Post-Autistic Economics Network" and its various links (and Google) still generally proclaim the virtues of "Post-Autistic Economics" and the deficiences of "Autistic Economics".

But if you dig, and click the subscribe button, on the site you get a banner proclaiming "real-world economics review / post-autistic economics review". Two different journals? No, just one. The spring 2008 issue is titled "real-world economics review - formerly the post-autistic economics review" though I could find no comment or explanation for the change.

So would it not be a simple and positive exercise for the Network to change the title of the "Post-Autistic Economics Network" to something like "Real-World Economics Network" and make it consistent with the title of the Review?

Let's try to persuade them so.

This posted September 9th 2008: Following on from the blogs of 7th and 8th September immediately below this, if any member of the Network felt they could ignore the potential for their misuse of the term "autistic" to reinforce and further promote prejudice, misunderstanding and intolerance, see the discussion involving "Post-Autistic Economics", especially the post by "Brad" who says "That’s a funny title because Autism means something like impotent and/or harmful, which is totally what it is for the people who suffer from it. That’s what they’re like. I would also suggest “post-retard economics” for an even bigger lefty punch!"

Ironically, there have been headlines today about the use of another term in a pejorative sense. Just put in …

"Russell Brand" +"George Bush" +retard

…into Google and see what I mean. So far 131,000 hits over a remark that happened only a few hours ago. Of course words don't matter…

No acknowledgment yet from the contact email address that the Post-Autistic Economics Network give on their website, even though I requested acknowledgment. There is also no information I could find on the website about who is organising all this, which raises further questions about responsibility and accountability. Remember, all I am asking is that they respect and understand the legitimate concerns here, and seriously consider renaming their Network and Review - something organisations do all the time for far more trivial reasons.

This posted September 8th 2008: A footnote to the blog for September 7th below; the post-autistic (sic) economics network started in France and there are interesting parallels with the case of the French company Ubisoft and its Mindquiz game. That game also originated in France and also caused outrage for the use of the term "spastic" in the game to denote poor or failing performance. When objections were raised, Ubisoft immediately pulled the game off the shelves.

If a French commercial company can respond quickly and sensitively this way, then can we expect a network originally set up by a group of French "post-autistic"students and intellectuals to respect the need for a name change? See Tera Kirks blog for a thoughtful account of the Ubisoft case together which also makes more connections between the misuse and abuse of the words "spastic" and "autistic"

(Postscript added 9th September - and if there is any nationality concerned about the "proper" use of language, then, mon Dieu, it is the French ...)

This posted September 7th 2008: What was in the minds of an international assemblage of able and thoughtful economists when they called themselves the "Post-Autistic Economics Network"? Would any of them they have seen a reason to object if a bunch of international football coaches had called themselves the "Post-Spastic Football Network"?, Did no-one see a problem here? See my letter to the Network. if I get any responses to it, I will post them here

This posted December 13th 2007: Was pleased to receive an invitation to contribute a paper to a conference "Dynamic Capabilities and Beyond" to a conference organised by the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg State University, the paper was to have been delivered last week. My hosts started the process of getting me the official invitation from the relevant ministry in October and I am grateful for the compliment of being invited and the hard work they put in to trying to get me across.

But despite the best efforts of my hosts, and what turned out to be several days of fruitless efforts on my part, the end result was that barriers put in the way of getting a visa meant that I was effectively blocked. The week before I was due to go, the embassy told me that I would require medical certificates that would be impossible to obtain in the time available (this for a two day academic visit). I pointed out this conflicted with their own published laws and guidelines and was just told there was (unspecified) "new laws". They even said that with the invitation I had been issued, I would be refused entry even if was given a visa.

I know other academc and cultural links and exchanges between Russai and the UK have found barriers put in their way recently. And this week the British Council offices (including one in St Petersburg) were ordered to close down, the Russian goverment cited "violations of Russian financial, tax and other laws." The Council claim they had complied with all these laws.

In reality, Russia's foreign minister admitted this was in retaliation for Britain's expulsion of the Russian diplomats in July. Also Britain's demand for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the ex-KGB agent charged with Litvinenko's murder in London has also been a source of tension.

These are the reasons these links are being impeded these days.

In may case, my being blocked from going is disappointing, and my contribution would itself have been no more than a small thing set in a much wider and much more important political context. The real losers from the accumulation of all these developments will be the Russians themselves, who are finding their various contacts with the outside world effectively blocked.

The firsr draft of the paper I was going to deliver is here

This posted June 24th 2007: Back from what is becoming a regular seven weeks each year April and May at the University of Queensland (UQ). Now absolutely convinced that the way that Australian universities make their library and sports facilities open to the public - and positively welcome the local community to use them - is the way that Scotland could and should go.

I already blogged last year (see for August 25th 2006 below) and argued how the public generally are given open access to university libaries such as that at UQ. Much the same is true of sports faclities on campuses such as UQs - the public are welcome to join or pay-as-you-go, with university staff and students enjoying a modest discount over general members of the public. One result is that the university can afford to provide more extensive and better facilities than if university members and the tazpayer alone were paying for them. And the result is that these facilities are made available much more efficiently and fairly than if they were treated as private and exclusive to university members.

The usual response on the part of librarians and sports facility staff at UQ when I discussed the contrast between Scotland and Australia was surprise about the attitude in Scotland, and confirmation that in Australia they treated these university faclilities as community resources.

It may be difficult to disentangle cause and effect - is Australia so good at sport because they take this approach to public universities providing these public goods? Or does the fact that institutions like Australian universities actively and enthusiastically organise and provide these facilities with the public good in mind help make Australia so good at sport? (and not just at sport - see the points about Australian universities and educational excellence in my Extras blog for 31st October 2006, "Sometimes things just connect" - scroll down to the entry). Probably this is a case of a benign feedback loop where causation operates in both directions.

That is not to say that such university facilities are not opened to the public in some cases in Scotland. But when it does happen it tends to be haphazard and often has the appearance of being grudging, badly advertised - and often highly priced compared to terms and conditions offered to university staff and students. Rarely is any of this designed to break down a "them and us" set of psychological and financial barriers between the university and the wider community.

So what could be done in this context in Scotland? As I noted in the context of libraries, despite increases in private funding in recent years, all the Scottish universities are still heavily funded by public money, SHEFC gives £1.5 bill every year. What has happpened is that public money has been used to create private (university-only) assets. Just as with libraries, there is a very real and simple policy initiative that Scottish politiicans could adopt. You want public money to help provide university sports facilities and libraries? And why stop there, what about university theatres, art galleries, and other facilities? Then it will be part-conditional on demonstrating that the public who have paid, reasonable and fairly priced access to that which they have helped pay for as taxpayer. Absolutely no coercion, universities could take it or leave it, it's just a matter of incentives and self-interest, and simple economics - and efficiency, equity, social inclusion, and helping create an educated, healthy and cultured Scottish population into the bargain. Talk about hitting all the right buttons. Now, what reasonable public institution could possibly object to such a reasonable policy? ... he said innocently...

This posted January 30th 2007: Along with other economic colleagues, I gave invited written and oral evidence to the Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament on the Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland seriies. The Official Report (transcript) of discussions is here and my written submission on the Resource Curse is here .

This posted January 1st 2007: Treat youself to a marvellous cornucopia of ideas in The Edges World Question Center

This posted August 25th 2006: Many universities in Scotland put up barriers to the public and scholars from other universities using their resources. The result is that across Scotland we have a wealth of intellectual, educational and cultural material effectively locked up and cut off from the communities whose taxes have largely paid for the creation of these resources. This page outlines the problem and what can be done about it.

This posted August 17th 2006: I was concerned when Nicolai Foss's blog under bloggers beware noted that blogs could be seen by younger academics especially as potentially damaging to their career - see article in Slate and Drezner's blog cited by Nicolai. I was also not surprised when the Guardian reported, August 13th, threats to academic free speeach in the US, the title of the article is "The land of the free - but free speech is a rare commodity". But it is not just in the US where this is happening. The Times Higher Education Supplement reported, 4th August, that an ICM poll found that four in ten UK academics say their academic freedom and right (and obligation) to express controversial or unpopular opinions is under attack.

The threat to academic freedom and free speech is insidious and pervasive. The biggest threat is not direct bans or explicit restraints. It is uncertainty and self-censorship. You may not know if writing that letter will damage your chances of continuing employment (tenure having been effectively abolished in the UK), you may not know if that conclusion to your article will damage your chances of further grant support, you may not know if taking a particular line in your lectures will get complaints from some quarters and damage your promotion prospects. And you may not know if you criticise George Bush (see post for August 16th below) whether or not you will finish up on some list. You may not know - but why take the chance?

So here is a trivial example of the sort of thing that is happening - trivial but indicative."Old(er) Academic Meets the New University Environment" is my reply to an article published in a university newsletter, Summer 2006. It reflects my current interest in the use of language in economic and organization science (see articles above) In the past when university administrators spouted nonsense, academics would not have hesitated to say so. Now they just shrug their shoulders and say "what can you do?". I can't imagine an employed academic at that university criticising such an article in public, or even in committee, but what can they do to me - take my honorary professorship away?

This posted August 16th 2006: as the papers above indicate one of my current academic interests is the use of language in various contexts. It has made me extra aware of the implications of George Bush talking of the "War on Terror" (his repeated comments) and "Islamic fascists" (August 10th). War used to be against a nation state, now it is against a psychological state - with the implication that such a war would be never ending in ways that even Orwell with his never ending World War never dreamt of in Nineteen Eighty Four. How can you terminate a "War on Terror"? Do you downgrade it to a "War on Anxiety" or even to a "War on that Queezy Feeling in the Pit of Your Stomach"? No, its here to stay if they have their way.

As for talk of "Islamic fascists", when I heard I depaired. It is wrong, misleading, downright dangerous and inflammatory. Did the Jewish people describe the Nazis as "Christian fascists"? (after all, the Nazis associated the Jews with the devil and believed that their God would liberate them from that evil). Then just think of the divisiveness and polarisation that could have been engendered by the term "Christian fascists". But the current terrorism is arguably neither Islamic nor fascist - definitions of the latter vary, but usually incorporate elements of nationalism, corporatism and racism. The terrorists may be many things but "Islamic fascists"? Then God, whoever He is, help him, them and us.

What good are academics here? Well, if words are being conscripted and corrupted in this "War", at the very least that is a battlefield we should be involved in.

This posted May 20th 2006: back from six weeks April and May as visiting professor in the Economics Department, University of Queensland. Swapping back my ferry commute, see below ...

Swapped commuting by ferry across the River Clyde ...
...for commuting by ferry up the Brisbane River


Some teaching tools

Oil Price Watch: looking at what is happening the price of a commodity like oil can be an excellent way of seeing supply and demand in action, especially if it is carried out just before the class in question, or concurrently with it. Click on the image below for some basic principles ...

... on how to use the FT and basic economic analysis to try to make sense of what has happened to the price of oil on a weekly basis. A new run of the Watch is being carried out here from April 3rd 2008. Previous runs of the Watch in 2006 and 2007 are archived here as examples of how it can be done. .

"Why" questions: Click on


for potentially interesting "why" questions that could be answered in about 20-50 words using basic microeconomics, and could be useful for illustrating these principles in class

Other useful links

Personal websites

Some personal websites of related interest include:

Tim Kastelle and John Steens Innovation Leadership Network; A remarkable achievement full of really rich material - and I say that not just because they are friends and colleagues!

Nicolai Foss I would rate Nicolai's site as a great stop for anyone interested in the sort of things discussed on this page. Comprehensive but idiosyncratic, educational and entertaining.

Richard Langlois Good coverage of Richard Langlois's contributions in this area. The notes on writing are a useful supplement, not just for students but also for faculty.

Geoff Hodgson Not just a guide to the work of one of the leaders of institutional economics, but also a portal for much of the work going on in this field

Craig Galbraith friend, co-author; man of diverse interests including strategy and entrepreneurship

The Cuthberts: a remarkable team who continue to shed light on the dark recesses of the economics of Scottish devolution, Scotland’s public finances, the Scottish economy, and issues relating to Scottish independence. If it was not for them, the quality of public knowledge would be much impoverished and greatly distorted.

Institutional websites

Some of the places I have a continuing association with are:

Strathclyde University Economic Department where I am emeritus professor:

Nottingham University Business School where I hold a special professorship.

University of Queensland Economics Department where I was visiting professor 2004-05, 2005-06 and also 2006-07.

Judge Business School, University of Cambridge where I am academic associate in the Centre for International Business and Management

Heriot Watt University where I contribute to the MBA programmmes at Edinburgh Business School

Contact me at: