progress in economics

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at
Wed Mar 24 07:48:29 PST 1999

At 08:18 PM 3/23/99 -0800, Michael Perelman wrote:
>Profit maximizing firms, such as the National Geographic Society and the
>Royal Geographical Society, obviously have a keener eye for the bottom
>line than do government operations. The government was, I assume the
>military, which is usually supposed to be immune to the typical defects
>of government agencies.

A point well taken indeed. It appears from the Karpoff's text that most, if not all, publicly funded ventures were military expeditions.

In fact, the reasons of failure Karpoff identifies are linked to military organization amd command structure. Among them are:

clothing - "British arctic explorers... wore tight-fitting woolen UNIFORMS" (emphasis added) whereas "priovate explorers.. were more likely to adopt Native clothing."

shelter - private expeditions used Inuit snow shelters, whereas private expeditions used canvass tents and sleeping bags.

modes of travel - private learned how to use doglseds from the Natives, whereas the publicy funded used manufactured equipment like skis and snowshoes.

and most importantly (quoted verbatim):

"Private expedition leaders appear to have adopted nojn-hierarchical organizations more frequently that public expedition leaders. rae, kennedy, Nanses and Amundsen, for example, all solicited and used information from their crew, delegated some decision authority to their men, and participated in menial tasks. This is in contrast to the strict hierarchical structures maintained on many government expeditions..."

In that light Professor Karpoff appears to argue spurious causality - the "most people die in hospitals, therefore modern medicine is bad for health" kind of logic. There is no intrinsic connection between the mode of funding and the causes of failure he identifies, unless one apriori believes the "private is beautiful" mantra. In other words, there is nothing that prevents public funding to be utilised in a more flexible and less authoritarian manner - except the leadership style of the men entrusted with those funds, who are for the most part military officers.

A more appropriate title of his paper should have been "Military versus Civilian Initiative in Arctic Exploration..."` or perhaps "The Effects of Military Arrogance on the Effectiveness of Arctic Exploration."


Wojtek Sokolowski

>Doug Henwood wrote:
>> >"Public Versus Private Initiative in Arctic Exploration: The
>> > Effects of Incentives and Organizational Form"
>> >
>> > University of Washington
>> >
>> >Document: Available from the SSRN Electronic Paper Collection:
>> >
>> >
>> > Date: February 26, 1999
>> >
>> > Email: Mailto:karpoff at
>> > Postal: University of Washington
>> > School of Business
>> > 115 Lewis Hall
>> > Box 353200
>> > Seattle, WA 98195-3200 USA
>> > Phone: (206)685-4954
>> > Fax: (206)685-9392
>> >
>> > From 1818 to 1909, 35 government and 56 privately-funded
>> > expeditions sought to locate and navigate a Northwest Passage,
>> > discover the North Pole, and make other significant discoveries
>> > in arctic regions. Most major arctic discoveries were made by
>> > private expeditions. Most tragedies were publicly funded. By
>> > other measures as well, publicly-funded expeditions performed
>> > poorly. On average, 5.9 or 8.9% of their crew members died per
>> > outing, compared to 0.9 or 6.2% for private expeditions. Among
>> > expeditions based on ships, those that were publicly funded used
>> > an average of 1.63 ships and lost 0.53 of them. Private
>> > ship-based expeditions, in contrast, used 1.15 ships and lost
>> > 0.24 of them. Of public expeditions that lasted longer than one
>> > year, 46.7% were debilitated by scurvy, compared to 10.5% for
>> > private expeditions.
>> >
>> > Multivariate tests indicate that these differences are not due
>> > to differences in the exploratory objectives sought, country of
>> > origin, the leader's previous arctic experience, or the decade
>> > in which the expedition occurred. Rather, they are due to
>> > systematic differences in the ways public and private
>> > expeditions were organized. In particular, compared to private
>> > expeditions, public expeditions: (1) employed leaders that were
>> > relatively unmotivated and unprepared for arctic exploration;
>> > (2) separated the initiation and implementation functions of
>> > executive leadership; and (3) adapted slowly to new information
>> > about modes of arctic travel, clothing, diet, shelter,
>> > leadership structure, and optimal party size.
>> >
>> >
>> >JEL Classification: G39, H11, L29, L33, N40
>Michael Perelman
>Economics Department
>California State University
>michael at
>Chico, CA 95929
>fax 530-898-5901

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