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Promises in contract design

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  • Charness, Gary
  • Du, Ninghua
  • Yang, Chun-Lei
  • Yao, Lan

Abstract

In this paper, we propose a new channel of contract design to boost efficiency. If deviating from one's own words induces a self-imposed moral burden, the optimal contracting procedure with regard to cheap talk shall assign the responsibility for installing the nonbinding promise in the contract to whoever has the residual right to break such promise, in the spirit of Grossman and Hart (1986) and Hart and Moore (1990). To study whether a worker's own promise of effort level governs his real choice of effort in a gift exchange game, we implement four treatments in our experiments by varying two factors: (1) who (the firm or the worker) takes the position of the proposer to propose the contract and (2) whether the proposed contract includes a nonbinding specification of the worker's effort level. Our key finding is that when it is the worker who proposes the contract and the contract includes the worker's promised effort level, both the worker's actual effort choice and the aggregate profits are significantly higher than in each of the other three treatments (and there is little difference in worker effort otherwise).

Suggested Citation

  • Charness, Gary & Du, Ninghua & Yang, Chun-Lei & Yao, Lan, 2013. "Promises in contract design," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 194-208.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:64:y:2013:i:c:p:194-208
    DOI: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2013.07.012
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Armin Falk & David Huffman & W. Bentley Macleod, 2015. "Institutions and Contract Enforcement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(3), pages 571-590.
    3. Valeria Faralla & Guido Borà & Alessandro Innocenti & Marco Novarese, 2018. "Promises in Group Decision Making," Labsi Experimental Economics Laboratory University of Siena 051, University of Siena.
    4. Cadsby, C. Bram & Du, Ninghua & Song, Fei & Yao, Lan, 2015. "Promise keeping, relational closeness, and identifiability: An experimental investigation in China," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 120-133.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Promise; Contract design; Gift exchange; Experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

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