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Strategic Incomplete Contracts: Theory and Experiments


  • Erkal, Nisvan

    () (University of Melbourne)

  • Wu, Steven Y.

    () (Purdue University)

  • Roe, Brian E.

    () (Ohio State University)


We develop a model of strategic contractual incompleteness that identifies conditions under which principals might omit even costlessly verifiable terms. We then use experiments to test comparative statics predictions of the model. While it is well known that verifiability imperfections can limit complete contracting, researchers know less about how the degree of imperfection affects endogenous incompleteness, particularly with repeat trading. In our baseline treatment with perfect verifiability, subjects overwhelmingly used complete contracts to conduct trades, achieving nearly first best outcomes. In our partial verifiability treatment with a reduced set of verifiable performance levels, the results reversed and parties relied heavily on incomplete contracts that omitted even costlessly verifiable terms. However, the efficacy of incomplete contracts in outperforming available complete contracts depends critically on the continuation probability of repeat trading. With a small continuation probability, incomplete contracts did no better than complete contracts while exposing parties to considerable strategic uncertainty.

Suggested Citation

  • Erkal, Nisvan & Wu, Steven Y. & Roe, Brian E., 2014. "Strategic Incomplete Contracts: Theory and Experiments," IZA Discussion Papers 8704, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8704

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    More about this item


    incomplete contract; relational contract; endogenous incompleteness; informal incentives; experimental economics;

    JEL classification:

    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D86 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Economics of Contract Law
    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • L14 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation
    • L24 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Contracting Out; Joint Ventures
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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