Internalization theory

Internalization theory is a branch of economics that is used to analyse international business behaviour.[1]


Internalization theory focuses on imperfections in intermediate product markets.[2] Two main kinds of intermediate product are distinguished: knowledge flows linking research and development (R&D) to production, and flows of components and raw materials from an upstream production facility to a downstream one. Most applications of the theory focus on knowledge flow.[3] Proprietary knowledge is easier to appropriate when intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks are weak. Even with strong protections firms protect their knowledge through secrecy. Instead of licensing their knowledge to independent local producers, firms exploit it themselves in their own production facilities. In effect, they internalise the market in knowledge within the firm. The theory claims the internalization leads to larger, more multinational enterprises, because knowledge is a public good.[4] Development of a new technology is concentrated within the firm and the knowledge then transferred to other facilities.


Internalization occurs only when firms perceive the benefits to exceed the costs. When internalization leads to foreign investment the firm may incur political and commercial risks due to unfamiliarity with the foreign environment. These are known as ‘costs of doing business abroad’,[5] arising from the ‘liability of foreignness’.[6] When such costs are high a firm may license or outsource production to an independent firm; or it may produce at home and export to the country instead.

Firms without special knowledge may become multinational to internalise supplies of components or raw materials in order to guarantee quality or continuity of supply, or for tax advantages from transfer pricing.


Buckley and Casson (1976)[7] was a seminal work. Two Canadian economists, Stephen Hymer[8] and John McManus, [9] independently noted the relevance of internalization, and their contribution is the subject of debate. Alan M. Rugman [10] linked internalization theory to his earlier work on market imperfections, applying it empirically in a North American context. Jean-Francois Hennart [11] subsequently developed a variant of the theory that emphasised the interplay of headquarters authority and local autonomy within the firm. Internalization theory is also closely related to Stephen Magee’s appropriability theory.[12]


Internalization theory was used by John Harry Dunning as one of the components of his eclectic paradigm or OLI model.[13] Dunning referred to knowledge as an ‘ownership advantage’ and claimed that ownership advantage was necessary for a firm to become a multinational. This was disputed by internalization theorists on the grounds that if quality control and transfer pricing are sufficient, then ownership advantage cannot be necessary. Dunning argued that the firm’s ability to internalise could also be described as an ownership advantage, which led internalization theorists to suggest that his concept of ownership advantage had become tautological.[14] Internalization theory is related to transaction cost theory through common dependence on the seminal work of Ronald Coase.[15] They are not the same however. Internalization theory focuses on links between R&D and production whereas transaction cost theory focuses on links between one production facility and another.[16] Transaction cost theory typically attributes market imperfections to bounded rationality and ‘lock in’, whilst internalization theory emphasises asymmetric information and weaknesses in property rights. Transaction cost theory is typically applied in a domestic context, whereas internalization theory was developed specifically for an international context.[17]

Links to international business theoryEdit

Prior to internalization theory, the study of international business was largely focused on the environment, and in particular the economic, financial, political and cultural dimensions of doing business abroad. Internalization theory provided a theory of the international firm and thus augmented the international business field by demonstrating the interaction between the external environmental and the internal knowledge flows between MNE parent firm and subsidiaries. This interaction between external country-specific advantages (CSAs) and internal MNE firm-specific advantages (FSAs) is the nexus for strategic managerial international business decisions.[18]

Policy implicationsEdit

The view that multinationals transfer technology and not capital provided a major boost to the process of globalisation. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was strongly influenced by internalization theory and the eclectic paradigm.[19] It persuaded political leaders to encourage inward investment as a source of the new technologies required for economic development, thereby reversing their previous attitudes. Multinational profits were increasingly viewed as payments for knowledge and technology rather than as interest paid on capital, and foreign ownership became accepted, in certain cases, as a necessary safeguard for foreign investors’ intellectual property.[20]


  1. ^ Rugman, Alan M.; Collinson, Simon (2012). International Business. Pearson. ISBN 978-0-273-76097-9.
  2. ^ M. Rugman, Alan (1981). Inside the Multinationals: The Economics of Internal Markets. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-05384-6. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Markusen, J. R. (1995). "The Boundaries of Multinational Enterprises and the Theory of International Trade". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 9 (2): 169–189. doi:10.1257/jep.9.2.169.
  4. ^ Buckley, Peter J (2009). "The internalisation theory of the multinational enterprise: A review of the progress of a research agenda after 30 years". Journal of International Business Studies. 40 (9): 1563–1580. doi:10.1057/jibs.2009.49.
  5. ^ Hymer, Stephen H. (1976) The International Operations of National Firms: A Study of Direct Foreign Investment, [MIT PhD dissertation, 1960] Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, xxii + 253pp.; Stephen H.
  6. ^ Zaheer, S. (1995). "Overcoming the Liability of Foreignness". Academy of Management Journal. 38 (2): 341–363. CiteSeerX doi:10.2307/256683. JSTOR 256683.
  7. ^ Buckley, Peter J. and Mark C. Casson (1976) The Future of the Multinational Enterprise, London: Macmillan [Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, 25th Anniversary ed. 2001], 112pp.
  8. ^ Hymer, Stephen H. (1990) The large multinational corporation: An analysis of some motives for the international integration of business, (trans. N. Vacherot, intro. M.C. Casson), in Mark Casson (ed.) Multinational Corporations, Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1990, 3-31 [originally published in French in Revue Economique, 19 (6), 1968, 949-73].
  9. ^ McManus, John (1972). Paquet, Gilles (ed.). The theory of the international firm. The Multinational firm and the nation state. Collier-Macmillan Canada. p. 32-59.
  10. ^ Rugman, A. M. (1986). "New Theories of the Multxnational Enterprise: An Assessment of Internalization Theory". Bulletin of Economic Research. 38 (2): 101–118. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8586.1986.tb00208.x.
  11. ^ Hennart, Jean François (1982). A Theory of Multinational Enterprise. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-10017-0.
  12. ^ Magee, Stephen P. (1977) Multinational corporation, industry technology cycle and development, Journal of World Trade Law, 11, 297-321.
  13. ^ Dunning, John H. (1977). "Trade, location of economic activity and the multinational enterprise: a search for an eclectic approach". In Ohlin, Bertil Gotthard; Hesselborn, Per Ove; Wijkman, Per Magnus (eds.). The International Allocation of Economic Activity: Proceedings of a Nobel Symposium Held at Stockholm. Palgrave Macmillan Limited. pp. 395–418. ISBN 978-0-333-21423-7.
  14. ^ Williams, B. (1997). "Positive Theories of Multinational Banking: Eclectic Theory Versus Internalisation Theory". Journal of Economic Surveys. 11: 71–100. doi:10.1111/1467-6419.00024.
  15. ^ Coase, Ronald H. (1937) The nature of the firm, Economica (New series), 4, 387–405
  16. ^ The Economic Institutions of Capitalism. Simon and Schuster. 1985. ISBN 978-0-684-86374-0.
  17. ^ Buckley, Peter J.; Casson, Mark (15 January 2010). The Multinational Enterprise Revisited: The Essential Buckley and Casson. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-51599-4.
  18. ^ Rugman, A. M.; Verbeke, A. (1992). "A Note on the Transnational Solution and the Transaction Cost Theory of Multinational Strategic Management". Journal of International Business Studies. 23 (4): 761. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8490287. Rugman, Alan M (2003). "Extending the theory of the multinational enterprise: internalization and strategic management perspectives". Journal of International Business Studies. 34 (2): 125–137. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8400012. Rugman, Alan M. (2011). "Fifty Years of International Business Theory and Beyond". Management International Review. 51 (6): 755–786. doi:10.1007/s11575-011-0102-3.
  19. ^ UNCTAD World Investment Report, Geneva: United Nations [annual, various issues]
  20. ^ Dicken, Peter (January 2011). Global Shift: Mapping the Changing Contours of the World Economy. Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-60918-006-5.