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Competition and the Ratchet Effect

  • Gary Charness
  • Peter Kuhn
  • Marie-Claire Villeval

In labor markets, the ratchet effect refers to a situation where workers subject to performance pay choose to restrict their output, because they rationally anticipate that firms will respond to higher output levels by raising output requirements or cutting pay. We model this effect as a multi-period principal-agent problem with hidden information, and study its robustness to labor market competition both theoretically and experimentally. Consistent with our theoretical model, we observe substantial ratchet effects in the absence of competition, which is nearly eliminated when competition is introduced; this is true regardless of whether market conditions favor firms or workers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16325.

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Date of creation: Sep 2010
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Publication status: published as Gary Charness & Peter Kuhn & Marie Claire Villeval, 2011. "Competition and the Ratchet Effect," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(3), pages 513 - 547.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16325
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  1. Roland, Gérard & Sekkat, Khalid, 1996. "Managerial Career Concerns, Privatization and Restructuring in Transition Economies," CEPR Discussion Papers 1363, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  7. Choi, Jay Pil & Thum, Marcel, 2003. "The dynamics of corruption with the ratchet effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(3-4), pages 427-443, March.
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  9. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 2004. "Do Labour Market Conditions Affect Gift Exchange? Some Experimental Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 684-708, 07.
  10. Lemieux, Thomas & MacLeod, W. Bentley & Parent, Daniel, 2007. "Performance Pay and Wage Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 2850, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  12. S. Bucovetsky, 2003. "Efficient Migration and Income Tax Competition," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 5(2), pages 249-278, 04.
  13. Dalen, Dag Morten, 1995. "Efficiency-improving investment and the ratchet effect," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(8), pages 1511-1522, October.
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  15. Macleod, W.B. & Kenemoto, Y., 1990. "The Ratchet Effect And The Market For Second-Hand Workers," Cahiers de recherche 9027, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative, CIREQ.
  16. Freixas, Xavier & Guesnerie, Roger & Tirole, Jean, 1985. "Planning under Incomplete Information and the Ratchet Effect," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 173-91, April.
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