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Competition and Relational Contracts: The Role of Unemployment as a Disciplinary Device

Author

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  • Brown, Martin

    () (Swiss National Bank)

  • Falk, Armin

    () (briq, University of Bonn)

  • Fehr, Ernst

    () (University of Zurich)

Abstract

When unemployment prevails, relations with a particular firm are valuable for workers. As a consequence, a worker may adhere to an implicit agreement to provide high effort, even when performance is not third-party enforceable. But can implicit agreements – or relational contracts – also motivate high worker performance when the labor market is tight? We examine this question by implementing an experimental market in which there is an excess demand for labor and the performance of workers is not third-party enforceable. We show that relational contracts emerge in which firms reward performing workers with wages that exceed the going market rate. This motivates workers to provide high effort, even though they could shirk and switch firms. Our results thus suggest that unemployment is not a necessary device to motivate workers. We also discuss how market conditions affect relational contracting by comparing identical labor markets with excess supply and excess demand for labor. Long-term relationships turn out to be less frequent when there is excess demand for labor compared to a market characterized by unemployment. Surprisingly though, this does not compromise market performance.

Suggested Citation

  • Brown, Martin & Falk, Armin & Fehr, Ernst, 2008. "Competition and Relational Contracts: The Role of Unemployment as a Disciplinary Device," IZA Discussion Papers 3345, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3345
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Jeffrey V. Butler & Enrica Carbone & Pierluigi Conzo & Giancarlo Spagnolo, 2012. "Reputation and Entry," EIEF Working Papers Series 1215, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Nov 2012.
    2. Björn Bartling & Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 2012. "Use and abuse of authority: A behavioral foundation of the employment relation," ECON - Working Papers 098, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    3. Gary Bolton & Axel Ockenfels & Peter Werner, 2016. "Leveraging social relationships and transparency in the insider game," Journal of the Economic Science Association, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 2(2), pages 127-143, November.
    4. Sliwka, Dirk & Werner, Peter, 2016. "How Do Agents React to Dynamic Wage Increases? An Experimental Study," IZA Discussion Papers 9855, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Charness, Gary & Du, Ninghua & Yang, Chun-Lei & Yao, Lan, 2013. "Promises in contract design," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 194-208.
    6. Bartling, Björn & Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2012. "Use and Abuse of Authority," Discussion Papers in Economics 14243, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    7. Kocher, Martin G. & Luhan, Wolfgang J. & Sutter, Matthias, 2012. "Testing a forgotten aspect of Akerlof’s gift exchange hypothesis: Relational contracts with individual and uniform wages," Discussion Papers in Economics 12816, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    8. Gose, Karina & Sadrieh, Abdolkarim, 2014. "Strike, coordination, and dismissal in uniform wage settings," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 145-158.
    9. Klaus M. Schmidt, 2011. "Social Preferences and Competition," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 43, pages 207-231, August.
    10. Nora Vogt, 2015. "Environmental Risk Negatively Impacts Trust and Reciprocity in Conservation Contracts: Evidence from a Laboratory Experiment," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 62(3), pages 417-431, November.
    11. Robert Dur & Jan Tichem, 2012. "Social Relations and Relational Incentives," CESifo Working Paper Series 3826, CESifo Group Munich.
    12. Ernst Fehr & Martin Brown & Christian Zehnder, 2009. "On Reputation: A Microfoundation of Contract Enforcement and Price Rigidity," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(536), pages 333-353, March.
    13. Werner, Peter & Bolton, Gary & Ockenfels, Axel, 2013. "How managerial wage transparency may reduce shareholder returns Evidence from an experiment," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79766, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    14. Vogt, Nora & Reeson, Andrew F. & Bizer, Kilian, 2013. "Communication, competition and social gift exchange in an auction for public good provision," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 11-19.
    15. Jean Beuve & Claudine Desrieux, 2016. "Repeated interactions and endogenous contractual incompleteness," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 80(1), pages 125-158, January.
    16. Robert Dur & Jan Tichem, 2015. "Altruism and Relational Incentives in the Workplace," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(3), pages 485-500, September.
    17. Elwyn Davies & Marcel Fafchamps, 2017. "When No Bad Deed Goes Punished: Relational Contracting in Ghana versus the UK," NBER Working Papers 23123, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Holger Herz & Armin Schmutzler & André Volk, 2016. "Cooperation and Mistrust in Relational Contracts," ECON - Working Papers 233, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    19. Martin G. Kocher & Wolfgang J. Luhan & Matthias Sutter, 2012. "Testing a forgotten aspect of Akerlof�s gift exchange hypothesis: Relational contracts with individual and uniform wages," Working Papers 2012-02, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    20. Marta Troya-Martinez, 2017. "Self-Enforcing Trade Credit," Working Papers w0240, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).
    21. Englmaier, Florian & Segal, Carmit, 2016. "Morale, Relationships, and Wages: An Experimental Study," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145662, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    22. Elwyn Davies & Marcel Fafchamps, 2015. "When No Bad Deed Goes Punished: A Relational Contracting Experiment in Ghana," CSAE Working Paper Series 2015-08, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    23. Schram, Arthur & Brandts, Jordi & Gërxhani, Klarita, 2010. "Information, bilateral negotiations, and worker recruitment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(8), pages 1035-1058, November.
    24. repec:eee:indorg:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:333-357 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    relational contracts; involuntary unemployment;

    JEL classification:

    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments

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