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Let’s talk: How communication affects contract design

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  • Charness, Gary
  • Brandts, Jordi
  • Ellman, Matthew

Abstract

We study experimentally how the ability to communicate affects the frequency andeffectiveness of flexible and inflexible contracts in a bilateral trade context where sellers canadjust trade quality after observing a post-contractual cost shock and a discretionary buyertransfer. In the absence of communication, we find that rigid contracts are more frequent andlead to higher earnings for both buyer and seller. By contrast, in the presence of communication,flexible contracts are much more frequent and considerably more productive, both for buyers andsellers. Also, both buyer and seller earn considerably more from flexible with communicationthan rigid without communication. Our results show quite strongly that communication, a normalfeature in contracting, can remove the potential cost of flexibility (disagreements caused byconflicting perceptions). We offer an explanation based on social norms.

Suggested Citation

  • Charness, Gary & Brandts, Jordi & Ellman, Matthew, 2012. "Let’s talk: How communication affects contract design," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt6z24s6rv, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt6z24s6rv
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
    2. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2008. "Contracts as Reference Points," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 1-48.
    3. Matthew Ellman & Paul Pezanis-Christou, 2010. "Organizational Structure, Communication, and Group Ethics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2478-2491, December.
    4. Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2011. "Contracts as Reference Points--Experimental Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 493-525, April.
    5. Oprea, Ryan & Charness, Gary & Friedman, Daniel, 2014. "Continuous time and communication in a public-goods experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 212-223.
    6. Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2011. "How do informal agreements and renegotiation shape contractual reference points?," ECON - Working Papers 043, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    7. Cooper, Russell, et al, 1990. "Selection Criteria in Coordination Games: Some Experimental Results," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(1), pages 218-233, March.
    8. Charness, Gary & Dufwenberg, Martin, 2010. "Bare promises: An experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 281-283, May.
    9. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-477, June.
    10. Tom Ross & Russell Cooper & Douglas V. DeJong & Robert Forsythe, 1987. "Selection Criteria in Coordination Games: Some Experimental Results," Carleton Industrial Organization Research Unit (CIORU) 87-04, Carleton University, Department of Economics.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jordi Brandts & Valeska Groenert & Christina Rott, 2012. "The Impact of Advice on Women's and Men's Selection into Competition," Working Papers 663, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    2. GRANDJEAN, Gilles & MANTOVANI, Marco & MAULEON, Ana & VANNETELBOSCH, Vincent, 2014. "Whom are you talking with ? An experiment on credibility and communication structure," CORE Discussion Papers 2014042, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    3. Jordi Brandts & Valeska Groener & Christina Rott, 2012. "The impact of advice on women's and men's selection into competition," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 912.12, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
    4. Andrey Fradkin, 2012. "Do Online Marketplaces Become More Efficient Over Time?," Working Papers 12-24, NET Institute.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Social and Behavioral Sciences; experimental; contracts; bilateral trade; cost shock; discretionary buyer transfer;

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