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Incentive design under loss aversion

  • David de Meza
  • David C. Webb

Compensation schemes often reward success but do not penalize failure. Fixed salaries with stock options or bonuses have this feature. Yet the standard principal–agent model implies that pay is normally monotonically increasing in performance. This paper shows that, under loss aversion, there will be intervals over which pay is insensitive to performance, with the use of carrots but not sticks is frequently optimal, especially when risk aversion is low and reference income is endogenous. A further benefit of capping losses, for example through options, is to discourage reckless behavior by executives seeking to resurrect their fortunes.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24523/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 24523.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: 16 May 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:24523
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE Library Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HD, U.K.
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Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/

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  1. Kachelmeier, Steven J & Shehata, Mohamed, 1992. "Examining Risk Preferences under High Monetary Incentives: Experimental Evidence from the People's Republic of China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1120-41, December.
  2. Thaler, Richard H, et al, 1997. "The Effect of Myopia and Loss Aversion on Risk Taking: An Experimental Test," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 647-61, May.
  3. Stephen A. Ross, 2004. "Compensation, Incentives, and the Duality of Risk Aversion and Riskiness," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 59(1), pages 207-225, 02.
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  7. Sugden, Robert, 2003. "Reference-dependent subjective expected utility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 111(2), pages 172-191, August.
  8. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried, 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," NBER Working Papers 9813, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
  10. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  11. Bebchuk, Lucian A. & Fried, Jesse M., 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt81q3136r, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  12. Mas-Colell, Andreu & Whinston, Michael D. & Green, Jerry R., 1995. "Microeconomic Theory," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195102680.
  13. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried & David I. Walker, 2001. "Executive Compensation in America: Optimal Contracting or Extraction of Rents?," NBER Working Papers 8661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1997. "Are CEOs Really Paid Like Bureaucrats?," NBER Working Papers 6213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Jack Knetsch & Fang-Fang Tang & Richard Thaler, 2001. "The Endowment Effect and Repeated Market Trials: Is the Vickrey Auction Demand Revealing?," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 4(3), pages 257-269, December.
  16. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
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