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The Response to Incentives and Contractual Efficiency: Evidence from a Field Experiment

  • Harry J. Paarsch
  • Bruce S. Shearer

We investigate the efficiency of piece-rate contracts using data from a field experiment, conducted within a tree-planting firm. During the experiment, the piece rate paid to planters was exogenously increased. Regression methods yield an estimate of the elasticity of output with respect to changes in the piece rate of 0.39. Regression methods are limited in their ability to predict the performance of alternative contracts. Therefore, we apply structural methods to interpret the experimental data. Our structural estimate of the elasticity is 0.37, very close to the regression estimate. Importantly, our structural model is identified without imposing profit maximization. This allows us to evaluate the optimality of the observed contract. We simply measure the profit distance between the observed contract and the profit-maximizing contract, evaluated at the structural parameter estimates. We estimate this distance to be negligible, suggesting that the observed contract closely approximates the expected-profit maximizing contract under asymmetric information. Under complete information, expected profits would increased by approximately fourteen percent, holding expected utility constant.

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Paper provided by CIRPEE in its series Cahiers de recherche with number 0701.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:lvl:lacicr:0701
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  1. Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce S., 2006. "Sorting, Incentives and Risk Preferences: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2227, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
  3. Paarsch, Harry J & Shearer, Bruce, 2000. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(1), pages 59-92, February.
  4. Adam Copeland & Cyril Monnet, 2003. "The welfare effects of incentive schemes," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2003-08, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce S. Shearer, 1999. "The Response of Worker Effort to Piece Rates: Evidence from the British Columbia Tree-Planting Industry," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(4), pages 643-667.
  6. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1991. "Symposium on Organizations and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 15-24, Spring.
  7. Baker, George P, 1992. "Incentive Contracts and Performance Measurement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 598-614, June.
  8. Bruce Shearer, 2004. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages and Incentives: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(2), pages 513-534, 04.
  9. Edward P. Lazear, 1996. "Performance Pay and Productivity," NBER Working Papers 5672, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Ferrall, Christopher & Shearer, Bruce, 1999. "Incentives and Transactions Costs within the Firm: Estimating an Agency Model Using Payroll Records," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(2), pages 309-38, April.
  11. Christensen, Bent Jesper & Kiefer, Nicholas M, 1994. "Measurement Error in the Prototypal Job-Search Model," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(4), pages 618-39, October.
  12. Paarsch, Harry J. & Shearer, Bruce S., 2009. "The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(5), pages 481-494, July.
  13. Craig, Ben & Pencavel, John, 1992. "The Behavior of Worker Cooperatives: The Plywood Companies of the Pacific Northwest," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1083-105, December.
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