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On the Writing and the Interpretation of Contracts

  • Steven Shavell

The major theme of this article is that the interpretation of contracts -- their possible amplification, correction, and modification by adjudicators -- is in the interests of contracting parties. The general reasons are (a) that interpretation may improve on otherwise imperfect contracts; and (b) that the prospect of interpretation allows parties to write simpler contracts and thus to conserve on contracting effort. A method of interpretation is defined as a function whose argument is the written contract and whose value is another contract, the interpreted contract, which is what actually governs the parties' joint enterprise. It is shown that interpretation is superior to enforcement of contracts as written, and the optimal method of interpretation is analyzed.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w10094.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10094.

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Date of creation: Nov 2003
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Publication status: published as Shavell, Steven. "On The Writing and The Interpretation Of Contracts," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, 2006, v22(2,Oct), 289-314.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10094
Note: LE
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  1. Oliver Hart & Bengt Holmstrom, 1986. "The Theory of Contracts," Working papers 418, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. Hadfield, Gillian K, 1994. "Judicial Competence and the Interpretation of Incomplete Contracts," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(1), pages 159-84, January.
  3. Kathryn E. Spier, 1992. "Incomplete Contracts and Signalling," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 23(3), pages 432-443, Autumn.
  4. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 1998. "Foundations of Incomplete Contracts," NBER Working Papers 6726, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Anderlini, Luca & Felli, Leonardo, 1998. "Incomplete Contracts and Complexity Costs," MPRA Paper 28483, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  6. Anderlini, Luca & Felli, Leonardo & Postlewaite, Andrew, 2001. "Courts of Law and Unforeseen Contingencies," CEPR Discussion Papers 2835, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Bebchuk, Lucian Ayre & Shavell, Steven, 1991. "Information and the Scope of Liability for Breach of Contract: The Rule of Hadley vs. Baxendale," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(2), pages 284-312, Fall.
  8. Schwartz, Alan & Watson, Joel, 2001. "The Law and Economics of Costly Contracting," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt2wh8m7bv, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  9. Schwartz, Alan, 1992. "Relational Contracts in the Courts: An Analysis of Incomplete Agreements and Judicial Strategies," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 271-318, June.
  10. Dye, Ronald A, 1985. "Costly Contract Contingencies," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 26(1), pages 233-50, February.
  11. William P. Rogerson, 1984. "Efficient Reliance and Damage Measures for Breach of Contract," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(1), pages 39-53, Spring.
  12. Alan Schwartz, 2004. "The Law and Economics of Costly Contracting," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(1), pages 2-31, April.
  13. Pierpaolo Battigalli & Giovanni Maggi, 2002. "Rigidity, Discretion, and the Costs of Writing Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 798-817, September.
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