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Vague Terms: Contracting when Precision in Terms is Infeasible


  • Benjamin E. Hermalin


This article considers the consequence of incomplete contracts that arise due to difficulties in precisely describing potentially relevant contingencies. Unlike much of the literature, this article concludes that the resulting incompleteness could often be immaterial with respect to economic efficiency. Indeed, attempts to "improve" matters by increasing the accuracy with which the courts determine which events occurred can, in fact, be welfare reducing, casting doubt on the view that greater judicial accuracy is always beneficial.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin E. Hermalin, 2008. "Vague Terms: Contracting when Precision in Terms is Infeasible," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 164(1), pages 76-94, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:mhr:jinste:urn:sici:0932-4569(200803)164:1_76:vtcwpi_2.0.tx_2-c

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Luca Anderlini & Leonardo Felli, 1994. "Incomplete Written Contracts: Undescribable States of Nature," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(4), pages 1085-1124.
    2. Fudenberg, Drew & Tirole, Jean, 1990. "Moral Hazard and Renegotiation in Agency Contracts," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(6), pages 1279-1319, November.
    3. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver D, 1983. "An Analysis of the Principal-Agent Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(1), pages 7-45, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ola Kvaløy & Trond E. Olsen, 2009. "Endogenous Verifiability and Relational Contracting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 2193-2208, December.
    2. Christoph Engel & Urs Schweizer, 2008. "Editorial Preface," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 164(1), pages 1-3, March.
    3. Ola Kvaløy & Trond E. Olsen, 2016. "Incentive Provision when Contracting is Costly," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 83(332), pages 741-767, October.
    4. Fernando Gomez, 2008. "The Charms of Vagueness in Contracts. Comment," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 164(1), pages 99-105, March.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K12 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Contract Law
    • K41 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Litigation Process
    • D86 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Economics of Contract Law


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