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Theories of behavior in principal-agent relationships with hidden action

  • Keser, Claudia
  • Willinger, Marc

In a laboratory experiment, we investigate behavior in a principal–agent situation with moral hazard. We evaluate the predictive success of two theories. One is the standard agency theory, which assumes that the agent will accept any contract offer that satisfies his participation constraint, typically requiring zero expected utility. The other is the “fair-offer†theory suggested by Keser and Willinger [2000. Principals’ principles when agents’ actions are hidden. International Journal of Industrial Organization 18 (1), 163–185], which requires that the principal provide full insurance against losses to the agent and leave him a share of at most 50% of the generated surplus. The treatment variable of our experiment is the cost of effort. As effort costs increase, expected net surplus of a contract decreases. We observe that fair-offer theory generally predicts observed contract offers better than standard agency theory. However, the predictive success of the fair-offer theory decreases, while the one of standard agency theory increases with decreasing expected net surplus.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal European Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 51 (2007)
Issue (Month): 6 (August)
Pages: 1514-1533

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Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:51:y:2007:i:6:p:1514-1533
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/eer

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  1. Vital Anderhub & Simon Gaechter & Manfred Koenigstein, . "Efficient Contracting and Fair Play in a Simple Principal-Agent Experiment," IEW - Working Papers 018, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  2. 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.
  3. Selten, Reinhard, 1991. "Properties of a measure of predictive success," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 153-167, April.
  4. Englmaier, Florian & Wambach, Achim, 2010. "Optimal incentive contracts under inequity aversion," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 312-328, July.
  5. Keser, Claudia & Willinger, Marc, 2000. "Principals' principles when agents' actions are hidden," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 163-185, January.
  6. Georg Kirchsteiger & Ernst Fehr & Simon Gächter, 1997. "Reciprocity as a contract enforcement device: experimental evidence," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5911, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  7. Werner Güth & Wolfgang Klose & Manfred Königstein & Joachim Schwalbach, 1998. "An experimental study of a dynamic principal-agent relationship," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(4-5), pages 327-341.
  8. Cachon, Gerard P & Camerer, Colin F, 1996. "Loss-Avoidance and Forward Induction in Experimental Coordination Games," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(1), pages 165-94, February.
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