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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. Cabrales, Antonio & Charness, Gary & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2006. "Competition, Hidden Information and Efficiency: An Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2296, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Chaudhuri, Ananish, 1998. "The ratchet principle in a principal agent game with unknown costs: an experimental analysis," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 291-304, November.
  3. Dearden, J. & Ickes, B.W. & Samuelson, L., 1988. "To Innovate Or Not To Innovate: Incentives And Innovation In Hierarchies," Papers 0-88-1, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  4. Thomas Lemieux & W. Bentley MacLeod & Daniel Parent, 2007. "Performance Pay and Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 13128, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Jay Pil Choi & Marcel Thum, 2000. "The Dynamics of Corruption with the Ratchet Effect," CESifo Working Paper Series 334, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Dillen, M. & Lundholm, M., 1992. "Dynamic Income Taxation, Redistribution, and the Ratchet Effect," Papers 1992-3, Uppsala - Working Paper Series.
  7. Roland, Gerard & Sekkat, Khalid, 2000. "Managerial career concerns, privatization and restructuring in transition economies," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 44(10), pages 1857-1872, December.
  8. Kanemoto, Yoshitsugu & MacLeod, W Bentley, 1992. "The Ratchet Effect and the Market for Secondhand Workers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 10(1), pages 85-98, January.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Puller, Steven L., 2006. "The strategic use of innovation to influence regulatory standards," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 690-706, November.
  12. Barry W. Ickes & Larry Samuelson, 1987. "Job Transfers and Incentives in Complex Organizations: Thwarting the Ratchet Effect," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 18(2), pages 275-286, Summer.
  13. Peter Kuhn & Fernando Lozano, 2008. "The Expanding Workweek? Understanding Trends in Long Work Hours among U.S. Men, 1979-2006," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 311-343, 04.
  14. 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.
  15. Allen, Douglas W. & Lueck, Dean, 1999. "Searching For Ratchet Effects In Agricultural Contracts," Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Western Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 24(02), December.
  16. 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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