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Use and Abuse of Authority

Author

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  • Bartling, Björn
  • Fehr, Ernst
  • Schmidt, Klaus M.

Abstract

Employment contracts give a principal the authority to decide flexibly which task his agent should execute. However, there is a tradeoff, first pointed out by Simon (1951), between flexibility and employer moral hazard. An employment contract allows the principal to adjust the task quickly to the realization of the state of the world, but he may also abuse this flexibility to exploit the agent. We capture this tradeoff in an experimental design and show that principals exhibit a strong preference for the employment contract. However, selfish principals exploit agents in one-shot interactions, inducing them to resist entering into employment contracts. This resistance to employment contracts vanishes if fairness preferences in combination with reputation opportunities keep principals from abusing their power, leading to the widespread, endogenous formation of efficient long-run employment relations. Our results inform the theory of the firm by showing how behavioral forces shape an important transaction cost of integration – the abuse of authority – and by providing an empirical basis for assessing differences between the Marxian and the Coasian view of the firm, as well as Alchian and Demsetz’s (1972) critique of the Coasian approach.

Suggested Citation

  • Bartling, Björn & Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2012. "Use and Abuse of Authority," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 391, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:trf:wpaper:391
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Martin Brown & Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr, 2012. "Competition And Relational Contracts: The Role Of Unemployment As A Disciplinary Device," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 887-907, August.
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    4. Robert Gibbons, 2010. "Transaction-Cost Economics: Past, Present, and Future?," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 112(2), pages 263-288, June.
    5. Casey Ichniowski & Kathryn Shaw, 2003. "Beyond Incentive Pay: Insiders' Estimates of the Value of Complementary Human Resource Management Practices," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(1), pages 155-180, Winter.
    6. Ernst Fehr & Oliver Hart & Christian Zehnder, 2011. "Contracts as Reference Points--Experimental Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 493-525, April.
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    12. Bartling, Björn & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2012. "Reference Points in Renegotiations: The Role of Contracts and Competition," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 385, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    theory of the firm; transaction cost economics; authority; power abuse; employment relation; fairness; reputation;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • D86 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Economics of Contract Law
    • M5 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics

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