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Incomplete Contracts and Strategic Ambiguity


  • B. Douglas Bernheim
  • Michael D. Whinston


Why are observed contracts so often incomplete in the sense that they leave contracting parties' obligations vague or unspecified? Traditional answers to this question invoke transaction costs or bounded rationality. In contrast, the authors argue that such incompleteness is often an essential feature of a well-designed contract. Specifically, once some aspects of performance are unverifiable, it is often optimal to leave other verifiable aspects of performance unspecified. The authors explore the conditions under which this occurs, and investigate the structure of optimal contracts when these conditions are satisfied. Copyright 1998 by American Economic Association.
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Suggested Citation

  • B. Douglas Bernheim & Michael D. Whinston, 1997. "Incomplete Contracts and Strategic Ambiguity," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1787, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1787

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert G. King & Ross Levine, 1993. "Finance and Growth: Schumpeter Might Be Right," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 717-737.
    2. Ross Levine, 1997. "Financial Development and Economic Growth: Views and Agenda," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(2), pages 688-726, June.
    3. Rajan, Raghuram G & Zingales, Luigi, 1998. "Financial Dependence and Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(3), pages 559-586, June.
    4. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1998. "Law and Finance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(6), pages 1113-1155, December.
    5. Marco Pagano & Fabio Panetta & and Luigi Zingales, 1998. "Why Do Companies Go Public? An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 53(1), pages 27-64, February.
    6. Rajan, Raghuram G & Zingales, Luigi, 1995. " What Do We Know about Capital Structure? Some Evidence from International Data," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 50(5), pages 1421-1460, December.
    7. Boycko, Maxim & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W., 1997. "Privatizing Russia," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262522284, July.
    8. Franco Modigliani & Enrico Perotti, 1997. "Protection of minority interest and the development of security markets," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(7-8), pages 519-528.
    9. repec:hrv:faseco:30724330 is not listed on IDEAS
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