Friday, April 24, 2009

Behavioral contract design; Steve Leider

Steve Leider defended his dissertation last week. He's an eclectic experimenter, but among his varied interests is how insights from psychology might change our view of contract design. In particular, if people are nicer than the standard economic model supposes (e.g. more inclined to reciprocate favors, more inclined to keep promises and uphold social norms), how might that change our views of how contracts might function, and therefore how they should be structured?

Among his papers, the following best exemplify that part of his work.

Norms and Contracting (with Judd Kessler) (Job Market Paper) Abstract: We argue that agents create norms specific to their relationships, particularly through the contracts they establish. We build a theory of how the enforceable and unenforceable aspects of a contract determine the norm, and how norms impact behavior. We then demonstrate experimentally that even totally incomplete contracts (i.e. contracts with no enforceable restriction on actions) move behavior substantially towards the first best in a variety of games. A contract with only unenforceable agreements is often more effective than a contract with only enforceable restrictions. Combining enforceable restrictions with an unenforceable agreement is frequently no more effective (and sometimes strictly less effective) than an unenforceable agreement alone. Consistent with our modeling approach that violating the norm creates disutility, many subjects often choose not to make unenforceable agreements, despite earnings substantially higher payoffs with the agreement.

Directed Altruism and Enforced Reciprocity in Social Networks (with Markus M. Mobius, Tanya Rosenblat, and Quoc-Anh Do) [Forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics] Abstract: We conduct online field experiments in large real-world social networks in order to decompose prosocial giving into three components: (1) baseline altruism towards randomly selected strangers, (2) directed altruism that favors friends over random strangers, and (3) giving motivated by the prospect of future interaction. Directed altruism increases giving to friends by 52 percent relative to random strangers, while future interaction effects increase giving by an additional 24 percent when giving is socially efficient. This finding suggests that future interaction affects giving through a repeated game mechanism where agents can be rewarded for granting efficiency-enhancing favors. We also find that subjects with higher baseline altruism have friends with higher baseline altruism.

Contractual and Organizational Structure with Reciprocal Agents (with Florian Englmaier) [Submitted] Abstract: Empirically, compensation systems generate substantial effort despite weak monetary incentives. We consider reciprocal motivations as a source of incentives. We solve for the optimal contract in the basic principal-agent problem and show that reciprocal motivations and explicit performance-based pay are substitutes. A firm endogenously determines the mix of the two sources of incentives to best induce effort from the agent. Analyzing extended versions of the model allows us to examine how organizational structure impacts the effectiveness of reciprocity and to derive specific empirical predictions. We use the UK-WERS workplace compensation data set to confirm the predictions of our extended model.

Gift Exchange in the Lab and in the Field - It is not (only) how much you give ... (with Florian Englmaier) Abstract: We build on the theoretical results from our companion paper, Englmaier and Leider (2008), that an important aspect in determining the effectiveness of gift exchange relations is the ability of the agent to “repay the gift” to the principal. To test this hypothesis, we conduct a real effort laboratory experiment and a field experiment where we vary the effect of the agent’s effort on the principal’s payoff. Furthermore we collect additional information that allows us to control for the agents’ effort costs and whether they can be classified as reciprocal or not. From our model we derive nontrivial predictions about which is the marginal agent in terms of ability affected by our experimental variation and how different types of individuals, selfish and reciprocal, will react to it. The experimental data lend support to our hypotheses.

Steve's email address will have a "" in it starting next semester, when he starts work at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Welcome to the club, Steve.

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