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How Do Informal Agreements And Revision Shape Contractual Reference Points?

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  • Ernst Fehr
  • Oliver Hart
  • Christian Zehnder

Abstract

The notion of contracts as reference points provides the basis for a deeper understanding of important phenomena such as the employment contract, vertical integration, firm scope, authority, and delegation. Previous experiments lend support to this notion but they ignore realistic aspects of trading relationships such as informal agreements and ex-post renegotiation or revision. Here we show that the central behavioral mechanism underlying contractual reference points is robust to such considerations. Our data reveal that informal agreements can mitigate the trade-off between rigidity and flexibility but they do not fully resolve the problem of misaligned reference points. Our experiments also show that contract revision is a more nuanced process than the previous literature has recognized. We find, for example, that it is sometimes better for parties to write a simple (rigid) contract and then revise it ex post if needed, rather than to anticipate and include future contingencies in a (flexible) contract from the outset.

Suggested Citation

  • Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2015. "How Do Informal Agreements And Revision Shape Contractual Reference Points?," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 1-28, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jeurec:v:13:y:2015:i:1:p:1-28
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/jeea.12098
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
    2. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2008. "Contracts as Reference Points," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 1-48.
    3. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    4. Oliver Hart & Bengt Holmstrom, 2010. "A Theory of Firm Scope," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(2), pages 483-513.
    5. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
    6. Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2008. "Contracts as reference points � experimental evidence," IEW - Working Papers 393, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    7. 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.
    8. Eric Maskin & John Moore, 1999. "Implementation and Renegotiation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(1), pages 39-56.
    9. Ernst Fehr & Lorenz Goette & Christian Zehnder, 2009. "A Behavioral Account of the Labor Market: The Role of Fairness Concerns," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 355-384, May.
    10. Dufwenberg, Martin & Kirchsteiger, Georg, 2004. "A theory of sequential reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 268-298, May.
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    13. Hoppe, Eva I. & Schmitz, Patrick W., 2011. "Can contracts solve the hold-up problem? Experimental evidence," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 186-199, September.
    14. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
    15. Raghuram G. Rajan, 2012. "Presidential Address: The Corporation in Finance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 67(4), pages 1173-1217, August.
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    18. Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2009. "Contracts, Reference Points, and Competition-Behavioral Effects of The Fundamental Transformation," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 561-572, 04-05.
    19. Oliver Hart, 2009. "Hold-up, Asset Ownership, and Reference Points," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 267-300.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Committee, Nobel Prize, 2016. "Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström: Contract Theory," Nobel Prize in Economics documents 2016-1, Nobel Prize Committee.
    2. Claudia M. Landeo & Kathryn E. Spier, 2016. "Stipulated Damages as a Rent-Extraction Mechanism: Experimental Evidence," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 172(2), pages 235-273, June.
    3. Aghion, Philippe & Dewatripont, Mathias & Legros, Patrick & Zingales, Luigi (ed.), 2016. "The Impact of Incomplete Contracts on Economics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199826216.
    4. repec:eee:pubeco:v:156:y:2017:i:c:p:34-47 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Andreas Hack & Frauke Bieberstein & Nils D. Kraiczy, 2016. "Reference point formation and new venture creation," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 447-465, March.
    6. Eduard Marinov, 2016. "The 2016 Nobel Prize in Economics," Economic Thought journal, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences - Economic Research Institute, issue 6, pages 97-149.
    7. Claudia M. Landeo & Kathryn E. Spier, 2016. "Stipulated Damages as a Rent-Extraction Mechanism: Experimental Evidence," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 172(2), pages 235-273, June.
    8. Emin Karagözoğlu & Kerim Keskin, 2015. "A Tale of Two Bargaining Solutions," Games, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(2), pages 1-14, June.
    9. Schmidt, Klaus, 2017. "The 2016 Nobel Memorial Prize in Contract Theory," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 19, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    10. Maija Halonen-Akatwijuka & Oliver Hart, 2015. "Continuing Contracts," Bristol Economics Discussion Papers 15/665, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK, revised 12 Oct 2016.
    11. repec:aea:aecrev:v:107:y:2017:i:7:p:1731-52 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Maija Halonen-Akatwijuka & Oliver Hart, 2015. "Short-term, Long-term, and Continuing Contracts," NBER Working Papers 21005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. repec:eee:jeborg:v:145:y:2018:i:c:p:176-201 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Bartling Björn & Grieder Manuel & Zehnder Christian, 2014. "Does competition justify inequality?," ECON - Working Papers 158, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Nov 2015.

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