July 28, 2006

What do North Pole expeditions tell us about the private vs. public debate

While working today I found this paper by Jonathan Karpoff. In it he looks at publicly funded versus privately funded expeditions to the North Pole to glean information about the ways the two forms of funding impact the end result. It is a little old, from 2001, but here is the abstract:

From 1818 to 1909, 35 government and 57 privately funded expeditions sought to locate and navigate a Northwest Passage, discover the North Pole, and make other significant discoveries in Arctic regions. Most major Arctic discoveries were made by private expeditions. Most tragedies were publicly funded. Public expeditions were better funded than their private counterparts yet lost more ships, experienced poorer crew health, and had more men die. Public expeditions’ poor performance is not attributable to differences in objectives, available technologies, or country of origin. Rather, it reflects a tendency toward poor leadership structures, slow adaptation to new information, and perverse incentives.
I don't think this paper proves anything about anything, it is just a really interesting way of looking at a very important aspect of organizational differences.