IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Complexity and Contract


  • W. Bentley Macleod


[fre] Il est communément admis que l'incomplétude des contrats peut provenir de l'impossibilité de se préparer à toutes les contingences futures d'une relation contractuelle (cf. Williamson 1975). Dans ce papier, nous montrons que le fait qu'une telle incomplétude contraigne, ou non, l'efficacité contractuelle est très dépendant des hypothèses concernant le processus de traitement de l'incertitude. Nous montrons que, quand les agents doivent répondre à une contingence imprévue avant d'être capables de renégocier le contrat, la complexité contractuelle est alors une contrainte sans issue. Ce cas est celui du "hold up ex post". Deuxièmement, il est suggéré que l'importance des activités multi-tâches peut constituer une mesure de la complexité contractuelle. Quand la complexité est faible, un contrat contingent est efficace. Alors qu'une évaluation subjective des performances des contractants est plus efficace quand la complexité est élevée. Dans ce dernier cas, le contrat optimal pour prévenir le hold up ex post est fondé sur l'aptitude des êtres humains à produire des jugements subjectifs qui sont dans certains cas plus appropriés que des mesures explicites des performances. De plus, l'efficacité du contrat n'est pas sensible à l'erreur humaine en elle-même, mais est une fonction croissante de la corrélation des jugements entre les parties contractantes. [eng] It is well known that contract incompleteness can arise from the impossibility of planning for all future contingencies in a relationship (e.g. Williamson (1975)). In this paper it is shown that whether or not such incompleteness constrains the efficiency of the contract is very sensitive to assumptions concerning the timing of the resolution of uncertainty. It is shown that when agents must respond to an unforeseen contingency before being able to renegotiate the contract, then contract complexity is a binding constraint, a case that is called ex post hold-up. Secondly, it is suggested that the amount of multitasking can provide a measure of contract complexity. When complexity is low, contingent contracting is efficient, while subjective performance evaluation is more efficient when complexity is high. In this case the optimal contract for ex post hold-up is based upon the ability of humans to make subjective judgments that are in some cases more informative than explicit performance measures. Moreover, the efficiency of the contract is not sensitive to human errorperse, but is an increasing function of the correlation in judgments between the contracting parties.

Suggested Citation

  • W. Bentley Macleod, 2000. "Complexity and Contract," Revue d'Économie Industrielle, Programme National Persée, vol. 92(1), pages 149-178.
  • Handle: RePEc:prs:recind:rei_0154-3229_2000_num_92_1_1044
    Note: DOI:10.3406/rei.2000.1044

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Massimo Egidi, 1995. "Routines, Hierarchies of Problems, Procedural Behaviour: Some Evidence fom Experiments," CEEL Working Papers 9503, Cognitive and Experimental Economics Laboratory, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
    2. Egidi, Massimo & Narduzzo, Alessandro, 1997. "The emergence of path-dependent behaviors in cooperative contexts," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 677-709, October.
    3. George Loewenstein & Richard H Thaler, 2003. "Anomalies: Intertemporal Choice," Levine's Working Paper Archive 618897000000000784, David K. Levine.
    4. Cohen, Michael D, et al, 1996. "Routines and Other Recurring Action Patterns of Organizations: Contemporary Research Issues," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(3), pages 653-698.
    5. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Azar, Pablo D. & Micali, Silvio, 0. "Computational principal agent problems," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society.
    2. Surajeet Chakravarty, 2005. "Resolving Contractual Disputes: Arbitration vs Mediation," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 05/117, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    3. Pierpaolo Battigalli & Giovanni Maggi, 2008. "Costly contracting in a long-term relationship," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 39(2), pages 352-377.
    4. Nicolai J. Foss, 2010. "Bounded Rationality and Organizational Economics," Chapters,in: The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics, chapter 14 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    5. Alan Schwartz & Joel Watson, "undated". "The Law and Economics of Costly Contracting," Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy Working Paper Series yale_lepp-1004, Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy.
    6. Alan Schwartz, 2004. "The Law and Economics of Costly Contracting," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(1), pages 2-31, April.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:prs:recind:rei_0154-3229_2000_num_92_1_1044. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Equipe PERSEE). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.