Physical Capital, Knowledge Capital and the Choice Between FDI and Outsourcing

Yongmin Chen, Ignatius J. Horstmann, James R. Markusen

NBER Working Paper No. 14515
Issued in December 2008
NBER Program(s):   IO   ITI

There exist two approaches in the literature concerning the multinational firm's mode choice for foreign production between an owned subsidiary and a licensing contract. One approach considers environments where the firm is transferring primarily knowledge-based assets. An important assumption there is that the relevant knowledge is absorbed by the local manager or licensee over the course of time: knowledge is non-excludable. More recently, a number of influential papers have adopted a property-right view of the firm, assuming the application abroad of physical capital, the owner of which retains full and exclusive rights to the capital should a relationship break down. In this paper we combine both forms of capital assets in a single model. The model predicts that foreign direct investment (owned subsidiaries) is more likely than licensing when the ratio of knowledge capital to physical capital is high, or when market value is high relative to the book value of capital (high Tobin's-Q).

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14515

Published: Yongmin Chen & Ignatius J. Horstmann & James R. Markusen, 2012. "Physical capital, knowledge capital, and the choice between FDI and outsourcing," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 45(1), pages 1-15, February. citation courtesy of

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