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Why Do Firms Use Incentives that Have No Incentive Effects?

  • Paul Oyer

    (Stanford University)

Firms often pay individuals for group-level, industry-level, or even economy-wide performance when agency theory suggests these contracts provide minimal incentive and lead to inefficient risk bearing. This paper derives a simple model of why firms might choose to implement stock options, profit sharing, and other pay instruments that reward (or penalize) "luck." The model relies on two key assumptions: 1) adjusting the terms of employment contracts is costly to the firm, and 2) agents' outside opportunities are not constant. I explore how firm-performance-based pay will respond to variation in risk aversion, workers' reservation utility, and the correlation between a firm's performance and that of the economy as a whole. I also discuss how the model fits with widely distributed stock options (especially in risky businesses such as high technology), executive compensation, and profit sharing. The model suggests that, while agency theory has focused on incentive compatibility, the often-overlooked participation constraint can help explain many common compensation schemes.

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Paper provided by Econometric Society in its series Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers with number 1440.

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Date of creation: 01 Aug 2000
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Handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:1440
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  1. Alston, Lee J. & Higgs, Robert, 1982. "Contractual Mix in Southern Agriculture since the Civil War: Facts, Hypotheses, and Tests," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(02), pages 327-353, June.
  2. Gibbons, R. & Murphy, K.J., 1989. "Relative Performance Evaluation For Chief Executive Officers," Working papers 532, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. Benjamin E. Hermalin & Michael S. Weisbach, 1996. "Endogenously Chosen Boards of Directors and Their Monitoring of the CEO," Microeconomics 9602001, EconWPA, revised 09 Oct 1996.
  4. Rajesh K. Aggarwal & Andrew A. Samwick, 1999. "Executive Compensation, Strategic Competition, and Relative Performance Evaluation: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 54(6), pages 1999-2043, December.
  5. Milton Harris & Bengt Holmstrom, 1981. "A Theory of Wage Dynamics," Discussion Papers 488, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  6. Robert W Drago & John S. Heywood, 1995. "The Choice of Payment Schemes: Australian Establishment Data," Working papers _006, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
  7. Barro, Jason R. & Barro, Robert J., 1990. "Pay, Performance, and Turnover of Bank CEOs," Scholarly Articles 3451300, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Jean-Charles Rochet & Lars A. Stole, 2002. "Nonlinear Pricing with Random Participation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 277-311.
  9. Legros, Patrick & Matthews, Steven A, 1993. "Efficient and Nearly-Efficient Partnerships," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 599-611, July.
  10. Beaudry, Paul & DiNardo, John, 1991. "The Effect of Implicit Contracts on the Movement of Wages over the Business Cycle: Evidence from Micro Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(4), pages 665-88, August.
  11. Bengt Holmstrom, 1982. "Moral Hazard in Teams," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 324-340, Autumn.
  12. Card, David, 1986. "An Empirical Model of Wage Indexation Provisions in Union Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages S144-75, June.
  13. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
  14. Eric Rasmusen, 1987. "Moral Hazard in Risk-Averse Teams," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 18(3), pages 428-435, Autumn.
  15. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2000. "Do CEOs Set Their Own Pay? The Ones Without Principals Do," NBER Working Papers 7604, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Thomas, Jonathan & Worrall, Tim, 1988. "Self-enforcing Wage Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(4), pages 541-54, October.
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