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The nature of tournaments

  • Robert Akerlof


  • Richard Holden


This paper characterizes the optimal way for a principal to structure a rank-order tournament in a moral hazard setting (as in Lazear and Rosen in J Polit Econ 89:841–864, 1981). We find that it is often optimal to give rewards to top performers that are smaller in magnitude than corresponding punishments to poor performers. The paper identifies four reasons why the principal might prefer to give larger rewards than punishments: (1) R is small relative to P (where R is risk aversion and P is absolute prudence); (2) the distribution of shocks to output is asymmetric and the asymmetry takes a particular form; (3) the principal faces a limited liability constraint; and (4) there is agent heterogeneity of a particular form. Copyright Springer-Verlag 2012

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Article provided by Springer in its journal Economic Theory.

Volume (Year): 51 (2012)
Issue (Month): 2 (October)
Pages: 289-313

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Handle: RePEc:spr:joecth:v:51:y:2012:i:2:p:289-313
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  1. Anja Schöttner, 2005. "Fixed-Prize Tournaments versus First-Price Auctions in Innovation Contests," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2005-041, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
  2. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-92, July.
  3. Arye L. Hillman & John G. Riley, 1989. "Politically Contestable Rents And Transfers," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 17-39, 03.
  4. Edward P. Lazear & Sherwin Rosen, 1979. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," NBER Working Papers 0401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Kimball, Miles S, 1990. "Precautionary Saving in the Small and in the Large," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(1), pages 53-73, January.
  6. Caplin, Andrew & Nalebuff, Barry, 1991. "Aggregation and Social Choice: A Mean Voter Theorem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(1), pages 1-23, January.
  7. Krishna, Vijay & Morgan, John, 1997. "An Analysis of the War of Attrition and the All-Pay Auction," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 343-362, February.
  8. Kovenock, D. & de Vries, C.G., 1995. "The All-Pay Auction with Complete Information," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 311.95, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  9. Jonathan Levin, 2002. "Multilateral Contracting and the Employment Relationship," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1075-1103.
  10. Edward P. Lazear, 1991. "Labor Economics and the Psychology of Organizations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 89-110, Spring.
  11. Clark, Derek J & Riis, Christian, 1998. "Competition over More Than One Prize," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 276-89, March.
  12. Barut, Yasar & Kovenock, Dan, 1998. "The symmetric multiple prize all-pay auction with complete information," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 627-644, November.
  13. Jewitt, Ian, 1988. "Justifying the First-Order Approach to Principal-Agent Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(5), pages 1177-90, September.
  14. Glazer, Amihai & Hassin, Refael, 1988. "Optimal Contests," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(1), pages 133-43, January.
  15. Barry J. Nalebuff & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1983. "Prices and Incentives: Towards a General Theory of Compensation and Competition," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 14(1), pages 21-43, Spring.
  16. Stergios Skaperdas, 1996. "Contest success functions (*)," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 283-290.
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