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Interpersonal Authority in a Theory of the Firm

  • Eric Van den Steen

This paper develops a theory of the firm in which a firm's centralized asset ownership and low-powered incentives give the manager, as an equilibrium outcome, interpersonal authority over employees (in a world with open disagreement). The paper thus provides micro-foundations for the idea that bringing a project inside the firm gives the manager control over that project, while explaining concentrated asset ownership, low-powered incentives, and centralized authority as typical characteristics of firms. The paper also leads to new perspectives on the firm as a legal entity and on the relationship between the Knightian and Coasian views of the firm. (JEL D23, L20)

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.100.1.466
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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/aer/data/mar2010/20070558_app.pdf
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 100 (2010)
Issue (Month): 1 (March)
Pages: 466-90

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:100:y:2010:i:1:p:466-90
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.100.1.466
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  1. Hermalin, Benjamin E, 1999. "The Firm as a Noneconomy: Some Comments on Holmstrom," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(1), pages 103-06, April.
  2. Raghuram G. Rajan & Luigi Zingales, 1997. "Power in a Theory of the Firm," NBER Working Papers 6274, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1994. "The Firm as an Incentive System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 972-91, September.
  4. 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.
  5. Philippe Aghion & Jean Tirole, 1994. "Normal and Real Authority in Organizations," Working papers 94-13, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  6. Prendergast, Canice J, 1995. "A Theory of Responsibility in Organizations," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(3), pages 387-400, July.
  7. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2006. "Contracts as Reference Points," ESE Discussion Papers 170, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  8. Aghion, Philippe & Bolton, Patrick, 1992. "An Incomplete Contracts Approach to Financial Contracting," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(3), pages 473-94, July.
  9. Fehr, Ernst & Hart, Oliver & Zehnder, Christian, 2008. "Contracts as Reference Points: Experimental Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 3889, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Muhamet Yildiz, 2003. "Bargaining without a Common Prior-An Immediate Agreement Theorem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(3), pages 793-811, 05.
  11. Birger Wernerfelt, 2002. "Why Should the Boss Own the Assets?," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(3), pages 473-485, 09.
  12. Van den Steen, Eric, 2005. "Too Motivated?," Working papers 18180, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  13. Susan Athey & John Roberts, 2001. "Organizational Design: Decision Rights and Incentive Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 200-205, May.
  14. Qian, Yingyi, 1994. "Incentives and Loss of Control in an Optimal Hierarchy," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(3), pages 527-44, July.
  15. Hart, Oliver, 1995. "Firms, Contracts, and Financial Structure," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288817.
  16. Harrison, J Michael & Kreps, David M, 1978. "Speculative Investor Behavior in a Stock Market with Heterogeneous Expectations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 92(2), pages 323-36, May.
  17. Klein, Benjamin & Crawford, Robert G & Alchian, Armen A, 1978. "Vertical Integration, Appropriable Rents, and the Competitive Contracting Process," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 297-326, October.
  18. Michael D. Whinston, 2003. "On the Transaction Cost Determinants of Vertical Integration," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(1), pages 1-23, April.
  19. Gibbons, Robert, 2005. "Four forma(lizable) theories of the firm?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 200-245, October.
  20. Wernerfelt, Birger, 1997. "On the Nature and Scope of the Firm: An Adjustment-Cost Theory," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70(4), pages 489-514, October.
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