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Naughty or nice? Punishment and the interaction of formal and informal incentives in long-term contractual relationships

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  • Schieffer, Jack
  • Wu, Steven Y.

Abstract

The paper develops a model of repeated interaction between a buyer and a seller, which is then tested via laboratory experiments. The model allows for both formal and informal incentives in the contractual relationship between the parties. Formal incentives are explicit, performance-conditioned obligations enforced by third parties, such as a binding bonus paid for meeting an objectively measurable criterion. Informal incentives are non-binding promises to reward good performance. Although they are not enforced by external institutions, parties engaged in long-term interactions have incentives to “keep their words” about these promises and such payments can provide motivation for desirable performance. The current literature posits that these two types of incentives can function either as complements, so that joint use leads to better outcomes than either alone, or as substitutes, so that the availability of formal incentives may actually undermine the effectiveness of informal incentives. This study uses laboratory experiments to provide a rigorous test of hypotheses about the interaction of these incentives. The observed results suggest that the complementarity effect occurs in certain situations, but that the substitution effect does not occur as predicted, possibly because people do not punish transgressions in the manner that the theoretical model assumes.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 20891.

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Date of creation: 22 Feb 2010
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:20891

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Keywords: Relational contracts; experimental economics;

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  1. Baker, George & Gibbons, Robert & Murphy, Kevin J, 1994. "Subjective Performance Measures in Optimal Incentive Contracts," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(4), pages 1125-56, November.
  2. Kreps, David M. & Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John & Wilson, Robert, 1982. "Rational cooperation in the finitely repeated prisoners' dilemma," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 245-252, August.
  3. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  4. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  5. Jonathan Levin, 2000. "Relational Incentive Contracts," Working Papers 01002, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  6. Sergio G. Lazzarini, 2004. "Order with Some Law: Complementarity versus Substitution of Formal and Informal Arrangements," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(2), pages 261-298, October.
  7. Wu, Steven Y. & Roe, Brian E., 2007. "Discretionary Latitude and Relational Contracting," IZA Discussion Papers 2879, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Klein, Benjamin & Leffler, Keith B, 1981. "The Role of Market Forces in Assuring Contractual Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 615-41, August.
  9. Schmidt, Klaus M. & Schnitzer, Monika, 1995. "The interaction of explicit and implicit contracts," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 193-199, May.
  10. Frey, Bruno S, 1997. "A Constitution for Knaves Crowds Out Civic Virtues," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(443), pages 1043-53, July.
  11. Martin Brown & Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr, 2004. "Relational Contracts and the Nature of Market Interactions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(3), pages 747-780, 05.
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