Das Konzept der Transaktionskosten ist in der Ökonomie zwischenzeitlich sehr heimisch, vor allem in der Neuen Institutionenökonomie, es ist so heimisch, dass kaum noch jemand genau weiß, was mit Transaktionskosten eigentlich gemeint ist und welche Konsequenzen sich daraus ergeben, wenn Transaktionskosten in Analysen unberücksichtigt bleiben.
Welchen massiven Bruch die Einführung von Transaktionskosten in ökonomischen Modellen mit den neoklassischen Vorgängern bedeutet, kann man sich vergegenwärtigen, wenn die Enführung, die Oliver Williamson zu seiner Diskussion von Transaktionskosten gibt, gelesen wird.
“Kenneth Arrow has defined transaction cost as the ‘cost of running the economic system’ (1969, p.48). Such costs are to be distinguished from production costs, which is the cost category with which neoclassical analysis has been preoccupied. Transaction costs are the economic equivalent to friction in physical systems. The manifold success of physics in ascertaining the attributes of complex systems by assuming the absence of friction scarcely require recounting here. Such a strategy has had obvious appeal to the social sciences. Unsurprisingly, the absence of friction in physical systems is cited to illustrate the analytic power associated with ‘unrealistic’ assumptions (Friedman, 1953, pp.16-19).
But whereas physicists were quickly reminded by their laboratory instruments and the world around them that friction was pervasive and often needed to be taken expressly into account, economists did not have a corresponding appreciation for the costs of running the economic system. There is, for example, no reference whatsoever to transaction costs, much less to transaction costs as the economic counterpart of friction, in Milton Friedman’s famous methodological essay (1953) or in the other postwar treatments of positive economics. Thus although positive economics admitted that frictions were important in principle, it had no language to describe frictions in fact.
The neglect of transaction costs had numerous ramifications, not the least of which was the way in which nonstandard modes of economic organizations were interpreted. Until express provisions for transaction costs was made, the possibility that nonstandard modes of organization – customer and territorial restrictions, tie-ins, block booking, franchising, vertical integration, and the like – operate in the service of transaction cost economizing was little appreciated. Instead, most economists invoked monopoly explanations – be it of the leverage, price discrimination, or entry barriers kinds – when confronted with nonstandard contracting practices (Coase, 1972, p.67). Donald Turner’s views are representative: ‘ I approach customer and territorial restrictions not hospitably in the common law tradition, but inhospitably is the tradition of antitrust’. As discussed below, the research agenda and public policy toward business were massively influenced by that monopoly predisposition. The prevailing view of the firm as production function was centrally implicated in that situation” (Williamson, 1985: 19).