IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/bos/wpaper/wp2005-034.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Decentralization, Hierarchies and Incentives: A Mechanism Design Perspective

Author

Listed:
  • Dilip Mookherjee

    (Department of Economics, Boston University)

Abstract

In summary, the most important lacuna of existing theoretical incentive-based literature is that it focuses on costs rather than the benefits of delegation. The latter are difficult to incorporate into traditional contract theory. Perhaps the most important benefit of delegation is the distribution of information processing tasks, but no progress has occurred in theories that marry information processing costs with incentives. Some progress has been possible with communication costs and simple measures of contract complexity, but these need better foundations. What have we learnt from the existing literature? It identifies a number of potential costs of delegation: moral hazard for intermediaries owing to non-coincidence of their own objectives with the principal’s, and their monopsony power over subordinates. These can result in production distortions (insufficient sourcing from subordinates), cascading of information rents across vertical layers, and problems of coordinating different horizontal branches. If agents do not collude, these agency costs of delegation can be avoided if (and only if) the principal can monitor subcontract costs or quantities, if contracts flow down the hierarchy, and agents are risk-neutral. If any one of these conditions do not hold then agency costs cannot be avoided. The only significant problem pertains to vertical control loss; if they can be avoided (i.e., under the above mentioned conditions) then incentive considerations do not complicate horizontal coordination across branches of the hierarchy: ‘group’-based incentive contracts can be designed to costlessly internalize these horizontal externalities. On the other hand, managerial risk aversion or limited capacity for principals to monitor local conditions or agent decisions can cause significant control losses from delegation, that grow with the size and complexity of the organization. This provides an explanation of organizational diseconomies of scale, i.e, why larger firms tend to be more ‘bureaucratic’ and less able to control costs. If agents collude, centralization is also subject to unobserved side contracting among agents, limiting the ability of the principal to moderate ‘control loss’. However, centralization potentially allows greater control over side contracting outcomes by the principal offering outside options to subordinates that limit monopsony power of intermediaries. Depending on the precise distortions engendered, this added dimension of control may or may not be valuable. Overall, the presence of collusion among agents enlarges the range of circumstances where delegation implements optimal allocations. There are numerous open questions and fruitful avenues for future research. I conclude by listing some of these. First, a better understanding of effects of collusion is still needed. The few papers on this topic emerge with different results the intuitive basis for which is not very clear. One hopes a more unified perspective will emerge in due course. There is a need to explore implications of different formulations of side-contracting, e.g., more general assignment of bargaining power within coalitions, or alternative timing assumptions. Baron-Besanko (1999) provide an intriguing model in which agents themselves decide ex ante whether to consolidate themselves into a single entity, a decision which the principal observes and takes into account before offering a contract. In the models we described, the principal can anticipate a particular pattern of side contracting, but cannot observe whether or not the agents actually do side-contract. In contexts with more agents and vertical layers, the possibility of collusion-within-collusion further complicates the analysis. Second, more effort needs to be devoted to explaining the potential benefits of delegation. Models integrating information processing or communication costs with incentive considerations are needed to provide a full-blown theory of the trade-off between centralization and decentralization. This would render the theory useful in applied work assessing the effectiveness of innovative human resource management practices and their complementarity with new information technology. A third possible avenue would consider applications and extensions to contexts involving more productive agents and a richer specification of the production technology. Questions concerning the optimal shape of hierarchies can then be addressed, e.g., tradeoffs between span of control and number of vertical layers, how to group agents within departments, organizational diseconomies of scale, and the advantages of non-hierarchical organizations. One hopes that both theory and empirical datasets regarding these organizational attributes can be developed interactively, permitting better understanding of their productivity implications, and how they respond to changes in market competition or information technology.

Suggested Citation

  • Dilip Mookherjee, 2005. "Decentralization, Hierarchies and Incentives: A Mechanism Design Perspective," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2005-034, Boston University - Department of Economics, revised Sep 2005.
  • Handle: RePEc:bos:wpaper:wp2005-034
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
    1. Check below whether another version of this item is available online.
    2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
    3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. David P. Baron, 1985. "Noncooperative Regulation of a Nonlocalized Externality," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 16(4), pages 553-568, Winter.
    2. Basu, Kaushik & Van, Pham Hoang, 1998. "The Economics of Child Labor," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(3), pages 412-427, June.
    3. Reint Gropp & John Karl Scholz & Michelle J. White, 1997. "Personal Bankruptcy and Credit Supply and Demand," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 217-251.
    4. Michel Poitevin, 2000. "Can the theory of incentives explain decentralization?," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 33(4), pages 878-906, November.
    5. Marschak, Thomas & Reichelstein, Stefan, 1998. "Network Mechanisms, Informational Efficiency, and Hierarchies," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 106-141, March.
    6. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
    7. Patrick Bolton & Mathias Dewatripont, 1994. "The Firm as a Communication Network," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(4), pages 809-839.
    8. Arrunada, Benito & Garicano, Luis & Vazquez, Luis, 2001. "Contractual Allocation of Decision Rights and Incentives: The Case of Automobile Distribution," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(1), pages 257-284, April.
    9. Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2000. "Beyond Computation: Information Technology, Organizational Transformation and Business Performance," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 23-48, Fall.
    10. Alvin E. Roth, 2002. "The Economist as Engineer: Game Theory, Experimentation, and Computation as Tools for Design Economics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(4), pages 1341-1378, July.
    11. Nahum D. Melumad & Dilip Mookherjee & Stefan Reichelstein, 1995. "Hierarchical Decentralization of Incentive Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 26(4), pages 654-672, Winter.
    12. Kaushik Basu, 2003. "The Economics and Law of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 141-157, Summer.
    13. Jean-Jacques Laffont & David Martimort, 1998. "Collusion and Delegation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 29(2), pages 280-305, Summer.
    14. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2002. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization, and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 339-376.
    15. Genicot, Garance, 2002. "Bonded labor and serfdom: a paradox of voluntary choice," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 101-127, February.
    16. Celik, Gorkem, 2009. "Mechanism design with collusive supervision," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(1), pages 69-95, January.
    17. Michel Poitevin, 1995. "Contract Renegotiation and Organizational Design," CIRANO Working Papers 95s-03, CIRANO.
    18. Baliga, Sandeep & Sjostrom, Tomas, 2001. "Optimal Design of Peer Review and Self-Assessment Schemes," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(1), pages 27-51, Spring.
    19. Dilip Mookherjee, 1997. "Wealth Effects, Incentives and Productivity," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development 77, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
    20. Paul Beaudry & Michel Poitevin, 1995. "Contract Renegotiation: A Simple Framework and Implications for Organization Theory," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 28(2), pages 302-335, May.
    21. Jeremy Berkowitz & Michelle J. White, 2004. "Bankruptcy and Small Firms' Access to Credit," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 35(1), pages 69-84, Spring.
    22. Richard J. Gilbert & Michael H. Riordan, 1995. "Regulating Complementary Products: A Comparative Institutional Analysis," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 26(2), pages 243-256, Summer.
    23. Hart, Oliver, 1995. "Firms, Contracts, and Financial Structure," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288817.
    24. Jacques Cremer & Michael H. Riordan, 1987. "On Governing Multilateral Transactions with Bilateral Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 18(3), pages 436-451, Autumn.
    25. David Andolfatto, 2002. "A Theory of Inalienable Property Rights," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(2), pages 382-393, April.
    26. Myerson, Roger B., 1982. "Optimal coordination mechanisms in generalized principal-agent problems," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 67-81, June.
    27. Stiglitz, J.E., 1988. "Sharecropping," Papers 11, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Discussion Paper.
    28. Tirole, Jean, 1986. "Hierarchies and Bureaucracies: On the Role of Collusion in Organizations," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(2), pages 181-214, Fall.
    29. Ilya Segal, 1999. "Complexity and Renegotiation: A Foundation for Incomplete Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(1), pages 57-82.
    30. Casey Ichniowski & Kathryn Shaw, 2003. "Beyond Incentive Pay: Insiders' Estimates of the Value of Complementary Human Resource Management Practices," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(1), pages 155-180, Winter.
    31. Thomas N. Hubbard, 2000. "The Demand for Monitoring Technologies: The Case of Trucking," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(2), pages 533-560.
    32. Fan, Wei & White, Michelle J, 2003. "Personal Bankruptcy and the Level of Entrepreneurial Activity," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(2), pages 543-567, October.
    33. Jean Tirole, 1999. "Incomplete Contracts: Where Do We Stand?," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 67(4), pages 741-782, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Jonathan Treussard, 2005. "Life-Cycle Consumption Plans and Portfolio Policies in a Heath-Jarrow-Morton Economy," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2005-033, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    2. Ulf von Lilienfeld-Toal & Dilip Mookherjee, 2005. "Bankruptcy Law, Bonded Labor And Inequality," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2005-035, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    3. Andreas Roider, 2006. "Delegation of Authority as an Optimal (In)Complete Contract," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 162(3), pages 391-411, September.
    4. Theilen, Bernd, 2009. "Decentralization and the Gains from Monitoring," Working Papers 2072/42863, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Department of Economics.
    5. Theilen, Bernd, 1965-, 2011. "Decentralization of contracts with interim sidecontracting," Working Papers 2072/169684, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Department of Economics.
    6. Dilip Mookherjee, 2008. "The 2007 Nobel Memorial Prize in Mechanism Design Theory," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(2), pages 237-260, June.
    7. Bernd Theilen, 2012. "Decentralization of contracts with interim side-contracting," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 73(4), pages 561-590, October.
    8. Fahad Khalil & Doyoung Kim & Jacques Lawarrée, 2013. "Contracts offered by bureaucrats," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 44(4), pages 686-711, December.
    9. Theilen Bernd, 2009. "Monitoring Gains and Decentralization," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 9(1), pages 1-26, September.
    10. Caillaud, B. & Jullien, B. & Picard, P., 1996. "Hierarchical organization and incentives," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 687-695, April.
    11. Daron Acemoglu & Philippe Aghion & Claire Lelarge & John Van Reenen & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2007. "Technology, Information, and the Decentralization of the Firm," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1759-1799.
    12. Elisabetta Iossa & David Martimort, 2012. "Risk allocation and the costs and benefits of public--private partnerships," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 43(3), pages 442-474, September.
    13. Nicholas Bloom & Luis Garicano & Raffaella Sadun & John Van Reenen, 2014. "The Distinct Effects of Information Technology and Communication Technology on Firm Organization," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 60(12), pages 2859-2885, December.
    14. Stefan Ambec & Michel Poitevin, 2016. "Decision-making in organizations: when to delegate and whom to delegate," Review of Economic Design, Springer;Society for Economic Design, vol. 20(2), pages 115-143, June.
    15. Nicholas Bloom & Raffaella Sadun, 2012. "The Organization of Firms Across Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(4), pages 1663-1705.
    16. Dongsoo Shin & Roland Strausz, 2014. "Delegation and dynamic incentives," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 45(3), pages 495-520, September.
    17. Committee, Nobel Prize, 2016. "Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström: Contract Theory," Nobel Prize in Economics documents 2016-1, Nobel Prize Committee.
    18. Kim, Doyoung & Lawarree, Jacques & Shin, Dongsoo, 2004. "Exit option in hierarchical agency," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 22(8-9), pages 1265-1287, November.
    19. Dostie Benoit & Jayaraman Rajshri, 2012. "Organizational Redesign, Information Technologies and Workplace Productivity," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-41, February.
    20. Axel Gautier & Dimitri Paolini, 2007. "Delegation and Information Revelation," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 163(4), pages 574-597, December.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • L12 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Monopoly; Monopolization Strategies
    • M12 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Personnel Management; Executives; Executive Compensation
    • M54 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Labor Management

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    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:bos:wpaper:wp2005-034. 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: . General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/decbuus.html .

    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.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with 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.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Program Coordinator (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/decbuus.html .

    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.