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Contracts as reference points � experimental evidence

Listed author(s):
  • Ernst Fehr
  • Oliver Hart
  • Christian Zehnder

In a recent paper, Hart and Moore (2008) introduce new behavioral assumptions that can explain long term contracts and important aspects of the employment relation. However, so far there exists no direct evidence that supports these assumptions and, in particular, Hart and Moore�s notion that contracts provide reference points. In this paper, we examine experimentally the behavioral forces stipulated in their theory. The evidence confirms the model�s prediction that there is a tradeoff between rigidity and flexibility in a trading environment with incomplete contracts and ex ante uncertainty about the state of nature. Flexible contracts � which would dominate rigid contracts under standard assumptions � cause a significant amount of shading on ex post performance while under rigid contracts much less shading occurs. Thus, although rigid contracts rule out trading in some states of the world, parties frequently implement them. While our results are broadly consistent with established behavioral concepts, they cannot easily be explained by existing theories. The experiment appears to reveal a new behavioral force: ex ante competition legitimizes the terms of a contract, and aggrievement and shading occur mainly about outcomes within the contract.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 393.

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Date of creation: Nov 2008
Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:393
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  1. Charness, Gary B & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences With Simple Tests," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0dc3k4m5, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  2. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2008. "Contracts as Reference Points," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 1-48.
  3. Bj�rn Bartling & Urs Fischbacher, 2008. "Shifting the Blame: On Delegation and Responsibility," TWI Research Paper Series 32, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universit�t Konstanz.
  4. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., . "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Chapters in Economics, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  5. Margin Dufwenberg & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "A Theory of Sequential Reciprocity," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000090, David K. Levine.
  6. Hart, Oliver & Moore, John, 1990. "Property Rights and the Nature of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1119-1158, December.
  7. Oliver Hart & Sanford Grossman, 1985. "The Costs and Benefits of Ownership: A Theory of Vertical and Lateral Integration," Working papers 372, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  8. Falk, Armin & Fischbacher, Urs, 2001. "A Theory of Reciprocity," CEPR Discussion Papers 3014, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. Linda Babcock & George Loewenstein, 1997. "Explaining Bargaining Impasse: The Role of Self-Serving Biases," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 109-126, Winter.
  10. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  11. Guth, Werner & Schmittberger, Rolf & Schwarze, Bernd, 1982. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 367-388, December.
  12. Colin F. Camerer & Richard H. Thaler, 1995. "Anomalies: Ultimatums, Dictators and Manners," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 209-219, Spring.
  13. Greiner, Ben, 2004. "An Online Recruitment System for Economic Experiments," MPRA Paper 13513, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  14. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
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