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Agents With and Without Principals


  • Marianne Bertrand

    (Princeton University, CEPR and NBER)

  • Sendhil Mullainathan

    (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER)


Who sets CEO pay? Our standard answer to this question has been shaped by principal agent theory: shareholders set CEO pay. They use pay to limit the moral hazard problem caused by the low ownership stakes of CEOs. Through bonuses, options, or long term contracts, shareholders can motivate the CEO to maximize firm wealth. In other words, shareholders use pay to provide incentives, a view we refer to as the contracting view. An alternative view, championed by practitioners such as Crystal (1991), argues that CEOs set their own pay. They manipulate the compensation committee and hence the pay process itself to pay themselves what they can. The only constraints they face may be the availability of funds or more general fears, such as not wanting to be singled out in the Wall Street Journal as being overpaid. We refer to this second view as the skimming view. In this paper, we investigate the relevance of these two views.

Suggested Citation

  • Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2000. "Agents With and Without Principals," Working Papers 809, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:indrel:430

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bengt Holmstrom, 1979. "Moral Hazard and Observability," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 74-91, Spring.
    2. Rajesh K. Aggarwal & Andrew A. Samwick, 1999. "The Other Side of the Trade-off: The Impact of Risk on Executive Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(1), pages 65-105, February.
    3. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1986. "Large Shareholders and Corporate Control," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages 461-488, June.
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    More about this item


    CEO pay; shareholders; bonus; options; long term contracts; compensation committee;

    JEL classification:

    • N97 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth


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