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Long-Term Relationships Governed by Short-Term Contracts


  • Vincent P. Crawford

    (University of California)


This paper studies the effect of contract duration on the incentive to make relationship-specific investments, when' the parties to the relationship are rational. with perfect information and perfect foresight. and contracts are costlessly enforceable and complete, except that short-term contracts do not allow commitments to actions taken beyond the contract period. Whether contracting for less than the entire life of the relationship suffices for efficient relationship-specific investment is shown to depend on whether parties need their relationship for consumption-smoothing, and on the predominance. in the efficient plan. of investment that involves sunk costs over investment that does not. In the absence of asymmetric-information incentive problems. the duration of contracts affects investment decisions only when the relationship plays a consumption-smoothing role, and then only when efficiency requires mainly sunk-cost investment. In this case. short-term contracting has a general, but not universal, tendency to make parties invest too little in their relationship.

Suggested Citation

  • Vincent P. Crawford, 1986. "Long-Term Relationships Governed by Short-Term Contracts," Working Papers 585, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:indrel:205

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    1. repec:pri:indrel:dsp01dr26xx382 is not listed on IDEAS
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    1. repec:bla:manchs:v:85:y:2017:i:3:p:295-319 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Skaperdas, Stergios & Syropoulos, Constantinos, 1996. "Can the shadow of the future harm cooperation?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 355-372, May.
    3. Macleod, W.B. & Malcomson, J.M., 1989. "Efficient Specific Investments, Incomplete Contracts, And The Role Of Market Alternatives," Papers 8946, Tilburg - Center for Economic Research.
    4. Jonathan Thomas & Tim Worrall, 1994. "Foreign Direct Investment and the Risk of Expropriation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 61(1), pages 81-108.
    5. Darlene C. Chisholm, 1993. "Asset Specificity and Long-Term Contracts: The Case of the Motion-Pictures Industry," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 143-155, Spring.
    6. Hans K. Hvide & Eirik Gaard Kristiansen, 2012. "Management of Knowledge Workers," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(4), pages 815-838.
    7. Jonker N. & Grip A. de, 1999. "Do employees with Flexible Contracts receive less Training?," ROA Research Memorandum 001, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
    8. Sergei Guriev & Dmitriy Kvasov, 2005. "Contracting on Time," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1369-1385, December.
    9. Holmstrom, Bengt R. & Tirole, Jean, 1989. "The theory of the firm," Handbook of Industrial Organization,in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 61-133 Elsevier.
    10. Tribo Gine, José Antonio, 1997. "Long-term and short-term labor contracts versus long-term and short-term debt financial contracts," DEE - Working Papers. Business Economics. WB 7027, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Departamento de Economía de la Empresa.
    11. Didier Fouarge & Andries Grip & Wendy Smits & Robert Vries, 2012. "Flexible Contracts and Human Capital Investments," De Economist, Springer, vol. 160(2), pages 177-195, June.
    12. Zylbersztajn, Decio & Lazzarini, Sergio G., 2005. "On the survival of contracts: assessing the stability of technology licensing agreements in the Brazilian seed industry," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 103-120, January.
    13. Zhu, Tian, 2000. "Holdups, simple contracts and information acquisition," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 42(4), pages 549-560, August.
    14. Donni, Olivier, 2014. "Over-investment in marriage-specific capital," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 34-43.
    15. de Meza, David & Lockwood, Ben, 2004. "Too Much Investment : A Problem Of Coordination Failure," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 703, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    16. Marin, Dalia, 1990. "Tying in International Trade," Munich Reprints in Economics 3114, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    17. Laure Durand-Viel & Bertrand Villeneuve, 2016. "Strategic Capacity Investment under Hold-up Threats: The Role of Contract Length and Width," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 84(3), pages 313-339, June.
    18. Roumasset, J., 1995. "The nature of the agricultural firm," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 161-177, March.
    19. Bac, Mehmet, 2001. "To invest or screen efficiently: a potential conflict in relationships governed by incomplete contracts," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 19(3-4), pages 567-588, March.

    More about this item


    contract theory; bargaining theory;

    JEL classification:

    • D29 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Other
    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution


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