My research

Here’s a walk through of some of my academic publications, with a few words of explanation. Links in most cases will lead you to Birkbeck’s research repository, where you can put in a request to be given a free copy (assuming you don’t have access to the pay-walled journals they mostly appear in). I’ve organized them by subject area.

Digital technology and the divide between rich and poor places

This  is current research, with Maryann Feldman (UNC Chapel Hill), Simona Iammarino (LSE) and Carolin Ioramashvili (LSE).

Our initial argument: agglomeration economies (the factors which make it worthwhile to live or locate a business in an expensive city) are created not only by productivity, but by monopoly rents; monopoly practices of rich tech clusters hold other places back; asset stripping from more competitive – hence, less profitable – sectors to finance growing monopoly sectors, further bleeds left-behind places. See Feldman, Guy & Iammarino, Regional Income Disparities, Monopoly and Finance Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society (2020)

One claim of that first paper is the market for the acquisition of start-ups contributes to the agglomeration economies of tech clusters. We provide evidence in Feldman, Guy, Iammarino & Ioramashvili Gathering round Big Tech: how the market for acquisitions reinforces regional inequalities in the US, to be presented at Assn of American Geographers April 2021, and submitted to Journal of Economic Geography.

Digital technologies are also technologies of surveillance, and have contributed to the power of big business at the expense of both small business and workers – an effect felt most strongly in rural and ex-industrial places. We (Guy, Iammarino & Ioramashvili) are working on Left-behind places: technologies of surveillance and the devaluation of social capital, for submission to the 2022 re-launch of ZFW – Advances in Economic Geography.

The unending growth of big cities is often celebrated – especially so for the major control centres sometimes called “world cities”. In this short paper, I ask why: Who Wants Their City to Become a World City? Journal of International Business Policy (2020)

Clusters, and problems of knowledge and skill

Among the reasons firms in the same industry often thrive when clustered close together are that knowledge – of production methods, of markets for the product – is shared, and that there are better opportunities for skilled workers and job opportunities to match up. Sound easy? Not so fast:

In Knowledge in the air and cooperation among firms: Traditions of secrecy and the reluctant emergence of specialization in the ceramic manufacturing district of Lampang, Thailand Environment and Planning A (2012), Weeranan Kamnungwut and I studied the Lampang ceramic tableware cluster in Thailand (the data was from Kamnungwut’s PhD research – I never got to go there; she’s now at Srinakharinwirot University). The Thai government and international development agencies have made efforts to “upgrade” this cluster, in the direction of higher quality and  design. That  program was hindered by the nature of the supply of skilled labour, which comes mostly from in-house training at a few large ceramics manufacturers. Those manufacturers use mass production methods, and train workers narrowly to fill particular roles, not suited to the needs of smaller firms if the latter want high quality, design-led production. Oh, and the owners of the firms generally don’t trust each other, which hinders knowledge sharing (hence the paper’s title).

Local knowledge spillovers can occur between firms, and they can occur between firms and universities. Pablo D’Este (Spanish National Research Council & Universitat Politècnica de València), Simona Iammarino and I wondered whether the importance of proximity for industry-university research partnerships was greater within clusters of technologically sophisticated firms (often famous for their fertile relationships with nearby universities – so you would think, maybe, that proximity was quite important), or for firms remote from such clusters. We found the latter. This is evidence that a broad geographical distribution of university research is an important factor in any economic “leveling up” between rich and poor places. Shaping the formation of university-industry research collaborations: what type of proximity does really matter? Journal of Economic Geography (2013)

Andrea Filippetti (Italian National Research Council), Simona Iammarino and I . We investigate the effect of training (while employed) on subsequent employment in different regions of Italy. We found the effect – a positive one – much stronger in the poorer South; we’re not quite sure why this is, but suspect that it’s because in the South there tend to be larger plants and fewer mobility opportunities. Regional disparities in the effect of training on employment Regional Studies (2018)

Unemployment insurance, diversity, and innovation

Andrea Filippetti and I have studied how unemployment insurance and job security affect innovation. Our theory is that if you know that there is good unemployment insurance, you will be more willing to take chances in what your study and learn; as a result, good unemployment insurance leads to more diversity of knowledge in the workforce, and this leads to more innovation. To study the effects of unemployment insurance and of job security, we compare across a number of countries, and over time. The relationship between knowledge diversity and innovation, however, has been established in a number of studies comparing different firms within one country; see the first paper below for a review of those studies (as well as our own results).

Labor Market Regulation, the Diversity of Knowledge and Skill, and National Innovation Performance Research Policy (2020)

Skills and social insurance: evidence from the relative persistence of innovation during the financial crisis in Europe Science and Public Policy (2015)

How do technologies of surveillance affect wages?

The answer is, better/cheaper surveillance depresses wages. Peter Skott (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) and I have written several papers on this topic, which we call “power-biased technological change”. In technical terms, these are efficiency wage models. A short, highly technical version of this is in A model of power-biased technological change Economics Letters (2006). For more words and less math, see Information and communications technologies, coordination and control, and the distribution of income Journal of Income Distribution (2008); Technological change, bargaining power, and wages in Westlake, Stian (ed.) Our Work Here is Done: Visions of a Robot Economy (2014); and Power, productivity, and profits In: Braham, M. and Steffen, F. (eds.) Power, Freedom, and Voting (2008).

Conflict between high-performance work practices and profitability

High-performance work practices (HPWPs) encourage employee involvement in problem solving, customer relations, and quality management. They are often seen as a win-win solution for employers and employees. Yet, strangely, this win-win solution is often not adopted, or is adopted and then falls into disuse. Why?

A problem for employers is that HPWPs can enhance employee bargaining power, and thus raise labour costs. In High Involvement Work Practices and Employee Bargaining Power Employee Relations (2003), I show how such practices at a supermarket chain created a bond between employees and customers, and that this contributed to the bargaining power of workers when they went on strike (Miller & Watson use this insight in their 2013 Econometrica paper.) In Contested resources: unions, employers, and the adoption of new work practices in US and UK telecommunications, British Journal of Industrial Relations (2007), Matias Ramirez (University of Sussex), David Beale (University of Manchester) & I develop the theory further, and apply it to cases of technology and work methods choices in telecommunications.

Globalization or regionalization?

Economic reforms and infrastructure development within both China and India should be seen as cases of regional economic integration, much like that between countries in the European Union. The creation of such vast regional markets is politically fraught, and takes much longer than the institutionally minimalist WTO global liberalization of the 1990s. Global integration is the hare, regional integration is the tortoise. See Globalization, Regionalization, and Technological Change in The Handbook of Global Science, Technology, and Innovation, Filippetti and Archibugi eds (2015). Threads of this argument can also be found in Strategic bundling: information products, market power, and the future of globalization Review of International Political Economy (2007).

How superstores drive up prices in small, walking-accessible shops

Low prices in superstores turns small shops into high priced convenience stores. We all subsidize superstores (and, thus, help them lower their prices) by putting up with the traffic and pollution they generate. If we ended that subsidy (e.g. by taxing customer parking), superstore costs would go up while smaller walking-accessible shops would actually lower their prices. It’s a spatial monopolistic competition model, but most of the paper is in English. Small, local and cheap? Walkable and car-oriented retail in competition Spatial Economic Analysis (2013)

And the book. The Global Environment of Business Oxford University Press (2009) offers a unique synthetic treatment of political economy, organization theory, innovation theory, and economic history. It was reviewed in Journal of International Business Studies, Economic Geography, Journal of Economics, International Review of Applied Economics, and Global Policy. In the words of more than one reviewer, “this is not a textbook” (and, as Michael H Best said in his review, “will not be popular in the party schools”.) It has nonetheless been used as a set (required) text in university courses as various as Economic Geography (U of California, Berkeley), Political Economy (London School of Economics), International Business (U of Essex), and the Economics of Innovation (Turin Politicnic).