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Caring About Sunk Costs: A Behavioral Solution to Holdup Problems with Small Stakes

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  • Lorne Carmichael
  • W. Bentley MacLeod

Abstract

Economics students need to be taught that opportunity costs are important for optimal decision making but that sunk costs are not. Why should this be? Presumably these students have been making optimal decisions all their lives, and the concepts should be easy for them. We show that caring about sunk costs can help agents achieve efficient investments in a simple team production environment. Furthermore, the solution we propose is uniquely efficient if the environment is sufficiently complex. Hence, in addition to explaining contract form and ownership (Williamson, 1975; Hart, 1995), studies of the holdup problem may also provide insights into observed behavior in day-today bilateral bargaining problems. Copyright 2003, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Lorne Carmichael & W. Bentley MacLeod, 2003. "Caring About Sunk Costs: A Behavioral Solution to Holdup Problems with Small Stakes," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(1), pages 106-118, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:19:y:2003:i:1:p:106-118
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Buchheit, Steve & Feltovich, Nick, 2010. "Experimental evidence of a sunk–cost paradox: a study of pricing behavior in Bertrand–Edgeworth duopoly," SIRE Discussion Papers 2010-124, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
    2. MacLeod, W. Bentley, 2011. "Great Expectations: Law, Employment Contracts, and Labor Market Performance," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
    3. Farmer, Amy & Pecorino, Paul, 2004. "Pretrial settlement with fairness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 287-296, July.
    4. Troger, Thomas, 2002. "Double Auctions, Ex-Post Participation Constraints, and the Hold-Up Problem," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt5qv060md, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
    5. Sylvain Chassang & Christian Zehnder, 2013. "Contracting Without a Plan: A Theory of Informal Justice," Working Papers 1456, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Econometric Research Program..
    6. Oxoby, Robert J. & Spraggon, John, 2008. "Mine and yours: Property rights in dictator games," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 65(3-4), pages 703-713, March.
    7. Daniel Friedman & Kai Pommerenke & Rajan Lukose & Garrett Milam & Bernardo Huberman, 2007. "Searching for the sunk cost fallacy," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(1), pages 79-104, March.
    8. Siemens, Ferdinand von, 2005. "Bargaining under Incomplete Information, Fairness, and the Hold-Up Problem," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 57, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    9. Mukesh Eswaran & Hugh M. Neary, 2016. "The Evolutionary Logic Of Honoring Sunk Costs," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 54(2), pages 835-846, April.
    10. repec:bla:jemstr:v:25:y:2016:i:4:p:958-989 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. H. Lorne Carmichael & W. Bentley Macleod, 2006. "Welfare Economics with Intransitive Revealed Preferences: A Theory of the Endowment Effect," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 8(2), pages 193-218, May.
    12. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2006. "Contracts as Reference Points," NBER Working Papers 12706, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Dawid, Herbert & MacLeod, W. Bentley, 2008. "Hold-up and the evolution of investment and bargaining norms," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 26-52, January.
    14. R. Preston Mcafee & Hugo M. Mialon & Sue H. Mialon, 2010. "Do Sunk Costs Matter?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(2), pages 323-336, April.
    15. Foss, Nicolai J., 2003. "Bounded rationality in the economics of organization: "Much cited and little used"," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 245-264, April.
    16. Thomas Lemieux & W. Bentley MacLeod & Daniel Parent, 2012. "Contract Form, Wage Flexibility, and Employment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(3), pages 526-531, May.
    17. Robert Evans, 2008. "Simple Efficient Contracts in Complex Environments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(3), pages 459-491, May.
    18. Chassang, Sylvain & Zehnder, Christian, 2016. "Rewards and punishments: informal contracting through social preferences," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 11(3), September.
    19. Troger, Thomas, 2002. "Double Auctions, Ex-Post Participation Constraints, and the Hold-Up Problem," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt3f2509gz, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
    20. Siemens, Ferdinand von, 2005. "Bargaining under Incomplete Information, Fairness, and the Hold-Up Problem," Discussion Papers in Economics 518, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    21. Kohei Daido & Takeshi Murooka, 2016. "Team Incentives and Reference-Dependent Preferences," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 25(4), pages 958-989, December.

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