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Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives

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Listed:
  • Bengt Holmstrom
  • Paul R. Milgrom

Abstract

One of the main findings of the principal-agent literature has been that incentive schemes should be sensitive to all information that bears on the agent's actions. As a manifestation of this principle, incentive schemes tend to take quite complex (non-linear) forms. In contrast, real world schemes are often based on aggregate information with a rather simple structure. This paper considers the optimality of linear schemes that use only aggregated information. The hypothesis is that linear schemes are to be expected in situations where the agent has a rich set of actions to choose from, because richness in action choice allows the agent to circumvent highly nonlinear schemes. We show that optimal compensation schemes are indeed linear functions of appropriate accounting aggregates in a multi-period model where the agent can observe and respond to his own performance over time. Furthermore, when profits evolve according to a controlled Brownian motion (with the agent at the controls) the optimal compensation scheme is linear in profits. The optimal scheme can be computer as if the principal could only choose among linear rules in a corresponding static problem. Applications of this ad hoc principle appear quite promising and are briefly illustrated.

Suggested Citation

  • Bengt Holmstrom & Paul R. Milgrom, 1985. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 742, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:742
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Steven Shavell, 1979. "Risk Sharing and Incentives in the Principal and Agent Relationship," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 55-73, Spring.
    2. Paul R. Milgrom & Robert J. Weber, 1985. "Distributional Strategies for Games with Incomplete Information," Mathematics of Operations Research, INFORMS, vol. 10(4), pages 619-632, November.
    3. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver D, 1983. "An Analysis of the Principal-Agent Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(1), pages 7-45, January.
    4. Bengt Holmstrom, 1979. "Moral Hazard and Observability," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 74-91, Spring.
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