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Inflexible Rules in Incentive Problems


  • Lewis, Tracy R
  • Sappington, David E M


In practice, contracts generally involve "standard terms" or "rules," allowing for variations only under "exceptional" circumstances. The authors develop a simple model in which optimal contracts display this feature, even in the absence of transactions costs and bounded rationality. Rules arise when an agent has "countervailing incentives" to misrepresent his private information. These incentives are optimally created by endowing the agent with a critical factor of production ex ante. The implications of the findings are examined in three different settings: (1) regulating the activities of a firm that also participates in unregulated markets; (2) labor contracting involving mobility restrictions; and (3) legal contracting with provisions for renegotiation. Copyright 1989 by American Economic Association.

Suggested Citation

  • Lewis, Tracy R & Sappington, David E M, 1989. "Inflexible Rules in Incentive Problems," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 69-84, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:79:y:1989:i:1:p:69-84

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jonathan Eaton & Mark Gersovitz & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1991. "The Pure Theory of Country Risk," NBER Chapters,in: International Volatility and Economic Growth: The First Ten Years of The International Seminar on Macroeconomics, pages 391-435 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Peter H. Lindert & Peter J. Morton, 1989. "How Sovereign Debt Has Worked," NBER Chapters,in: Developing Country Debt and the World Economy, pages 225-236 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    3. Bulow, Jeremy & Rogoff, Kenneth, 1989. "A Constant Recontracting Model of Sovereign Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(1), pages 155-178, February.
    4. Jonathan Eaton & Mark Gersovitz, 1981. "Debt with Potential Repudiation: Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 48(2), pages 289-309.
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    6. Obstfeld, Maurice, 1986. "Capital mobility in the world economy: Theory and measurement," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 55-103, January.
    7. Kletzer, Kenneth M, 1984. "Asymmetries of Information and LDC Borrowing with Sovereign Risk," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 94(374), pages 287-307, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kerschbamer, Rudolf & Maderner, Nina, 1998. "Are Two a Good Representative for Many?," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 90-104, November.
    2. Baiman, Stanley & Rajan, Madhav V., 2002. "Incentive issues in inter-firm relationships," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 213-238, April.
    3. Cigno, Alessandro & Luporini, Annalisa & Pettini, Anna, 2003. "Transfers to families with children as a principal-agent problem," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(5-6), pages 1165-1177, May.
    4. Gaudet, Gerard & Lasserre, Pierre & Van Long, Ngo, 1998. "Real investment decisions under adjustment costs and asymmetric information," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 71-95, September.
    5. Noldeke, Georg & Samuelson, Larry, 2007. "Optimal bunching without optimal control," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 134(1), pages 405-420, May.
    6. Masahiro Watabe, 2016. "A characterization of implementability of decision rules via a menu of three-part tariffs," Eurasian Economic Review, Springer;Eurasia Business and Economics Society, vol. 6(3), pages 459-479, December.
    7. Pitchik, Carolyn, 2009. "Budget-constrained sequential auctions with incomplete information," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 928-949, July.
    8. Regan, Laureen & Tennyson, Sharon, 1996. "Agent Discretion and the Choice of Insurance Marketing System," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(2), pages 637-666, October.
    9. Roberto Burguet & R. McAfee, 2009. "License prices for financially constrained firms," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 178-198, October.
    10. Georg Noldeke & Larry Samuelson, 2004. "Decomposable Principal-Agent Problems," Microeconomics 0410004, EconWPA.
    11. Koessler, Frédéric & Martimort, David, 2012. "Optimal delegation with multi-dimensional decisions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 147(5), pages 1850-1881.
    12. Alan Schwartz & Joel Watson, "undated". "The Law and Economics of Costly Contracting," Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy Working Paper Series yale_lepp-1004, Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy.
    13. Lichtenberg, Erik, 2001. "Tenancy and Soil Conservation in Market Equilibrium," 2001 Annual meeting, August 5-8, Chicago, IL 20489, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    14. Inderst, Roman, 2004. "Contractual distortions in a market with frictions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 116(1), pages 155-176, May.
    15. Inderst, Roman, 2002. "Contract design and bargaining power," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 171-176, January.
    16. Friedman, Henry L., 2014. "Implications of power: When the CEO can pressure the CFO to bias reports," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 117-141.
    17. Naoki Kojima, 2009. "Imperfect competition in differentiated credit contract markets," Annals of Finance, Springer, vol. 5(2), pages 175-187, March.
    18. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-877, October.
    19. Alan Schwartz, 2004. "The Law and Economics of Costly Contracting," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(1), pages 2-31, April.
    20. Danau, Daniel & Vinella, Annalisa, 2010. "Multi-agent contracting with countervailing incentives and limited liability," SIRE Discussion Papers 2010-13, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
    21. Escobar, Juan F. & Pulgar, Carlos, 2017. "Motivating with simple contracts," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 192-214.
    22. Armstrong, Mark & Sappington, David E.M., 2007. "Recent Developments in the Theory of Regulation," Handbook of Industrial Organization, Elsevier.

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