Strategy Forum / Panelist

Joel Waldfogel

Carlson School of Management

University of Minnesota

United States

Professor Waldfogel’s main research interests are industrial organization and law and economics, and he has conducted empirical studies of price advertising, media markets, the operation of differentiated product markets, and issues related to digital products, including piracy, pricing, and revenue sharing. He was previously the Ehrenkranz Family Professor of Business and Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Voting History

Statement Response
The use of generative AI will restore competition in search. Agree “Bing may well go from a nonentity to a product that many people use. The promise of the new Bing is a reminder that new technology often unseats today’s winners more quickly than regulatory intervention.”
Artificial intelligence is reducing wasteful holiday giving (i.e., deadweight loss) by helping online retailers to better match people to presents. Neither agree nor disagree “It's not clear that AI, per se, is magic here. The key would be getting relevant data, in particular on the choices and wishes of the recipient. It would help a lot to see all of the recipient’s retail browsing behavior. But that requires either opting in by the recipient or seeming breaches of privacy.”
Online education and specialized degrees will supplant the traditional two-year full-time MBA.  Disagree “There is obvious growth in specialized degrees and a decline in demand for the MBA, so to some extent this is correct. But I wouldn’t go all the way to “supplant.” The generalist MBA degree serves a different student than the specialized and more technical degrees. The specialized degrees tend to serve students with less work experience who seek to start their careers in specialized functions. I expect that the MBA will continue to serve students with more generalist aspirations.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how companies should think about business strategy. Neither agree nor disagree “Many things have changed permanently — for example, people’s willingness to work at home or to travel, or firms’ perceived need for expensive office space or face-to-face interaction. But these may be better understood as features of the environment, not aspects of strategy. As online interaction (e.g., Zoom) replaces more costly alternatives, entry may become easier, so we may see more new products and firms. In some sense, the pandemic has just nudged us into the future that has been “inevitable” since the arrival of the internet and digitization. Prediction is hard, though. Twenty years ago, some expected a highly competitive world of frictionless commerce, and instead, we got platform giants. So maybe our post-pandemic adjustments will give us startups for Google and Amazon to buy.”
U.S. regulations have been rolled back in a number of areas, including emissions standards and clean water. Companies will decide to voluntarily adhere to rules that closely resemble the original standards. Agree “Consumer-facing firms will increasingly comply with standards voluntarily. Consumers — especially younger consumers — are deeply concerned about the environment. Protest movements across the globe, not to mention the popularity of the Impossible Burger, show a willingness to pay more for environmentally sustainable products.”
The Business Roundtable’s new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation indicates a shift away from shareholder value maximization as the sole purpose of the corporation and toward a broader view of value creation.
This shift will have material impact on the well-being of U.S. workers.
“In the generation since Friedman admonished companies to worry only about their shareholders, median incomes have stagnated, inequality has grown — to the point that corporations don't want to be passive conduits of discontent. Policy makers are currently AWOL in regulating markets. It's remarkable that major firms are making a statement like this. Still, I'm not confident of rapid effects.”
A hard Brexit will have a significant negative impact on many businesses, even if they do not have a U.K. or European presence. Disagree “It seems reasonable to expect short-term disruption and a longer-term negative effect on the U.K. These by themselves suggest only small impacts for firms outside of the EU or U.K. The larger impact is the 2016 surprise — in the U.K. as in the U.S. — that the electorates are so willing to break beneficial international arrangements that have long promoted peace and prosperity.”
In the next five years, the blockchain will have a transformative effect on finance in emerging markets. Agree “I expect that the technology will have a bigger proportionate impact on financial markets in emerging [rather] than advanced markets. But I suspect that other factors, such as political instability, will constrain its ability to transform.”
In the absence of a carbon tax, industry self-regulation can help mitigate the worst fallout from climate change. Disagree “Carbon emissions are a global issue, so the solution to this problem requires participation of companies around the world. Even if reputable firms in rich countries were to voluntarily curb emissions, firms in still-emerging economies would likely not voluntarily increase their costs, nor would their consumers be willing to pay extra for clean production.”
Amazon’s new $15 per hour minimum wage will force other companies to follow suit. Agree “Amazon is one of the GAFAM ‘internet monopolies’ with an enormous market valuation and pays its skilled employees well. They are viewed as a big source of income inequality, so visibly paying a high minimum wage is both virtuous and good PR. I would expect similarly situated companies — GAFAMs and companies with respected consumer brands — to follow suit.”