Explicit versus implicit contracts for dividing the benefits of cooperation
Experimental evidence has accumulated highlighting the limitations of formal and explicit contracts in certain situations, and has identified environments in which informal and implicit contracts are more efficient. This paper documents the superior performance of explicit over implicit contracts in a new partnership environment in which both contracting parties must incur effort to generate a joint surplus, and one (“strong”) agent controls the surplus division. In the treatment in which the strong agent makes a non-binding, cheap talk “bonus” offer to the weak agent, this unenforceable promise doubles the rate of joint high effort compared to a baseline with no promise. The strong agents most frequently offered to split the gains of the high effort equally, but actually delivered this amount only about one-quarter of the time. An explicit and enforceable contract offer performs substantially better, increasing the frequency of the most efficient outcome by over 200% relative to the baseline.
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