Remembering Klepper

This week I am headed to an event at Carnegie Mellon University titled "Celebrating the Work of Steven Klepper." (A PDF flyer for the event is here.)

 Steven Klepper, 1949-2013

Steven Klepper, 1949-2013

Klepper, who earned his PhD in economics from Cornell in 1975, was a member of CMU's Department of Social and Decision Sciences. He died too young, robbing of us of the chance to learn more from his insightful, often surprising way of working out problems, a personal method that came to be known as "Kleppernomics." To fulfill his quest of better understanding the dynamics of technology, business, and "innovation," he did the hard work of building fascinating databases. (One, if I recall correctly, used catalogs for lasers to track changes in industry organization over time.) Klepper was a happy model-builder, but his use of math had a graceful, parsimonious quality often lacking in today's mainstream economics.

He also had an abiding love of history and approached many of his topics in a historical, evolutionary fashion. Two of his most highly-cited pieces are "Entry, Exit, Growth, and Innovation over the Product Life Cycle" and, with Wes Cohen, "A Reprise on Size and R&D" (both behind paywalls). Klepper was deeply interested in questions of industrial dynamics, like how industries emerge and shakeout to form oligopolies, but he tied these issues to others that deeply interest me, such as production of knowledge, where new technological ideas come from, and how ideas and technologies diffuse. 

In addition to being an incisive thinker, Klepper was a passionate mentor and program builder. He played a crucial role in developing the CCC Doctoral Conference, an important institution in the training of PhD's in strategy, technology management, innovation, etc. At CMU, he helped found the program known as SETCHANGE (which I believe originally stood for Structure, Entrepreneurship, and Technical Change). My favorite memories of Klepper are from SETCHANGE seminars. His mind and questions were always probing but in ways that aimed to support, help, and calm the individuals being questioned. And he had a wonderful sense of humor. I know that many people miss him. 

I believe that a Festschrift-like special issue on Klepper's thought is coming out soon in a major journal (perhaps Industrial and Corporate Change), and there is rumor that a textbook Klepper was working on will eventually be released to introduce his thinking to the wider world.

As I have argued elsewhere, I believe that, if we can more actively bring together contemporary trends in the history of science and technology, organizational theory, and other fields with the kinds of Schumpeterian and evolutionary economics that Klepper embodied, we can take the (historical) study of technology into whole new domains.