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Use and Abuse of Authority: A Behavioral Foundation of the Employment Relation

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  • Bartling, Björn
  • Fehr, Ernst
  • Schmidt, Klaus M.

Abstract

Employment contracts give a principal the authority to decide flexibly which task his agent should execute. However, there is a tradeoff, first pointed out by Simon (1951), between flexibility and employer moral hazard. An employment contract allows the principal to adjust the task quickly to the realization of the state of the world, but he may also abuse this flexibility to exploit the agent. We capture this tradeoff in an experimental design and show that principals exhibit a strong preference for the employment contract. However, selfish principals exploit agents in one-shot interactions, inducing them to resist entering into employment contracts. This resistance to employment contracts vanishes if fairness preferences in combination with reputation opportunities keep principals from abusing their power, leading to the widespread, endogenous formation of efficient long-run employment relations. Our results inform the theory of the firm by showing how behavioral forces shape an important transaction cost of integration – the abuse of authority – and by providing an empirical basis for assessing differences between the Marxian and the Coasian view of the firm, as well as Alchian and Demsetz’s (1972) critique of the Coasian approach.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 9231.

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Date of creation: Nov 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9231

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Related research

Keywords: authority; employment relation; fairness; power abuse; reputation; theory of the firm; transaction cost economics;

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References

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  1. Casey Ichniowski & Kathryn Shaw, 2003. "Beyond Incentive Pay: Insiders' Estimates of the Value of Complementary Human Resource Management Practices," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(1), pages 155-180, Winter.
  2. Kirk Monteverde & David J. Teece, 1982. "Supplier Switching Costs and Vertical Integration in the Automobile Industry," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(1), pages 206-213, Spring.
  3. Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2011. "Contracts as Reference Points--Experimental Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 493-525, April.
  4. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2008. "Contracts as Reference Points," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(1), pages 1-48, 02.
  5. Bartling, Björn & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2012. "Reference Points in Renegotiations: The Role of Contracts and Competition," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 385, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
  6. Robert Gibbons, 2010. "Transaction-Cost Economics: Past, Present, and Future?," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 112(2), pages 263-288, 06.
  7. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
  8. Martin Brown & Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr, 2012. "Competition And Relational Contracts: The Role Of Unemployment As A Disciplinary Device," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 887-907, 08.
  9. Stefan Grosse & Louis Putterman & Bettina Rockenbach, 2011. "Monitoring In Teams: Using Laboratory Experiments To Study A Theory Of The Firm," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 785-816, 08.
  10. Masten, Scott E, 1984. "The Organization of Production: Evidence from the Aerospace Industry," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 403-17, October.
  11. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
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Cited by:
  1. Carpenter, Jeffrey P. & Dolifka, David, 2013. "Exploitation Aversion: When Financial Incentives Fail to Motivate Agents," IZA Discussion Papers 7499, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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