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Efficient contracting and fair play in a simple principal-agent experiment

  • Anderhub, Vital
  • Gächter, Simon
  • Königstein, Manfred

Modern 'principal-agent theory' has made a lot of progress in proposing theoretical Solutions to agency problems. This paper contributes to a better understanding of behavior in agency situations. In particular, we provide experimental evidence on offered contracts and effort choices in a simple agency game. In line with principal-agent theory we find that in our experiments many contracts proposed by principals are 'incentive compatible' and most agents behave optimally given the terms of the contract. However, in contrast with economic predictions, we find that agents (i) reject 'unfair contracts' and that (ii) given acceptance, their effort choices are to some extent driven by reciprocity. It seems that contract design has to regard an equity constraint that has so far been neglected by contract theory. In fact, most contract offers observed in the experiment aim at fair surplus sharing.

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Paper provided by Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes in its series SFB 373 Discussion Papers with number 1999,82.

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Date of creation: 1999
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Handle: RePEc:zbw:sfb373:199982
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  1. Mathewson, G Frank & Winter, Ralph A, 1985. "The Economics of Franchise Contracts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(3), pages 503-26, October.
  2. Nalbantian, Haig R & Schotter, Andrew, 1997. "Productivity under Group Incentives: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 314-41, June.
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  14. 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.
  15. Bengt Holmstrom & Paul R. Milgrom, 1985. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 742, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  16. Berg, Joyce E, et al, 1986. "Controlling Preferences for Lotteries on Units of Experimental Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 101(2), pages 281-306, May.
  17. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
  18. Fehr, Ernst & Gachter, Simon, 1998. "Reciprocity and economics: The economic implications of Homo Reciprocans1," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(3-5), pages 845-859, May.
  19. Werner Güth & Manfred Königstein & Judit Kovács & Enikõ Zala-Mezõ, 2001. "Fairness Within Firms: The Case Of One Principal And Multiple Agents," Schmalenbach Business Review (sbr), LMU Munich School of Management, vol. 53(2), pages 82-101, April.
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