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Optimal contracts, adverse selection and social preferences: An experiment

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  • Antonio Cabrales
  • Gary Charness

Abstract

It has long been standard in agency theory to search for incentive-compatible mechanisms on the assumption that people care only about their own material wealth. However, this assumption is clearly refuted by numerous experiments, and we feel that it may be useful to consider nonpecuniary utility in mechanism design and contract theory. Accordingly, we devise an experiment to explore optimal contracts in an adverse-selection context. A principal proposes one of three contract menus, each of which offers a choice of two incentive-compatible contracts, to two agents whose types are unknown to the principal. The agents know the set of possible menus, and choose to either accept one of the two contracts offered in the proposed menu or to reject the menu altogether; a rejection by either agent leads to lower (and equal) reservation payoffs for all parties. While all three possible menus favor the principal, they do so to varying degrees. We observe numerous rejections of the more lopsided menus, and approach an equilibrium where one of the more equitable contract menus (which one depends on the reservation payoffs) is proposed and agents accept a contract, selecting actions according to their types. Behavior is largely consistent with all recent models of social preferences, strongly suggesting there is value in considering nonpecuniary utility in agency theory.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 478.

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Date of creation: Jun 2000
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Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:478

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Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

Related research

Keywords: Adverse selection; contract theory; experiment; principal-agent problem; Leex;

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Cited by:
  1. Angelova, Vera & Güth, Werner & Kocher, Martin G., 2012. "Co-employment of permanently and temporarily employed agents," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 48-58.
  2. Gary Charness & Martin Dufwenberg, 2006. "Promises and Partnership," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(6), pages 1579-1601, November.
  3. Charness, Gary & Dufwenberg, Martin, 2003. "Promises & Partnership," Research Papers in Economics 2003:3, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
  4. Sandra Maximiano & Randolph Sloof & Joep Sonnemans, 2004. "Gift Exchange in a Multi-worker Firm," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 04-100/1, Tinbergen Institute.
  5. Gächter, Simon & Thöni, Christian, 2010. "Social comparison and performance: Experimental evidence on the fair wage-effort hypothesis," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 531-543, December.
  6. Harbring, Christine & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2005. "How Many Winners Are Good to Have? On Tournaments with Sabotage," IZA Discussion Papers 1777, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Joel Sobel, 2009. "Generous actors, selfish actions: markets with other-regarding preferences," International Review of Economics, Springer, vol. 56(1), pages 3-16, March.

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