The Cooperative Firm as Monitored Credit
We develop a financial-contracting theory of the cooperative fim where production requires three generic tasks: working, managing, and monitoring. Workers provide an intermediate input (or labor directly); managers convert the workers' input into a final output; and directors monitor managers. We model the cooperative firm by letting the workers act also as directors. We show how bundling the labor and monitoring tasks can expand the scope for equilibrium market activity, even when doing so results in a strictly positive deadweight loss. Our theory provides new insight with respect to a substantial theoretical and empirical literature on the "life cycle" of worker-managed firms, and with respect to a complementary body of anecdotal evidence on the causes of worker buyouts and cooperative "degeneration". Our theory is also consistent with differences between the board compensation policies of cooperative firms, where members typically receive little more than travel and per-diem reimbursements, and of investor-owned firms, where members receive substantial pay often based in part on firm financial performance.
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