Organizational Cognition

Over at Unrepentant Generalist, Eric Nehrlich is asking interesting questions about organizational cognition.   His post brings to mind the studies of decision-making by traders in financial markets undertaken in recent years by Donald MacKenzie at Edinburgh University, who argues that the locus of decision-making is usually not an individual trader, nor a group of traders working for a single company, nor even a group of traders working for a single company together with their computer models, but a group of traders working for a single company with their computer models and with their competitors. Information about market events, trends and opportunities is passed from traders at one company to traders from another through informal contacts and personal networks, and this information then informs decision-making by all of them.
It is possible, of course, for traders to pass false or self-serving information to competitors, but in an environment of repeated interactions and of job movements, the negative consequences of such actions will eventually be felt by the perpetrators themselves.  As evolutionary game theory would predict, everyone thus has long-term incentives to behave honourably in the short-term.  Of course, different market participants may evaluate this long-term/short-term tradeoff differently, and so we may still see the creation and diffusion of false rumours, something which financial markets regulators have tried to prevent.
Donald MacKenzie [2009]: Material Markets: How Economic Agents are Constructed.  Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press.

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