We study a fiscal policy model in which the government is present-biased towards public spending. Society chooses a fiscal rule to trade off the benefit of committing the government to not overspend against the benefit of granting it flexibility to react to privately observed shocks to the value of spending. Unlike prior work, we examine rules under limited enforcement: the government has full policy discretion and can only be incentivized to comply with a rule via the use of penalties which are joint and bounded. We show that optimal incentives must be bang-bang. Moreover, under a distributional condition, the optimal rule is a maximally enforced deficit limit, triggering the maximum feasible penalty whenever violated. Violation optimally occurs under high enough shocks if and only if available penalties are weak and such shocks are relatively unlikely. We derive comparative statics showing how rules should be calibrated to features of the environment.
A principal privately contracts with a set of agents who then simultaneously make a binary decision. Each contract specifies an individual allocation and the information the agent is given about a fundamental state and other agents' contracts. We study the principal's optimal scheme that induces a desired action profile as the unique rationalizable outcome. Our main result reduces this multiagent problem to a two-step procedure where information is designed agent-by-agent: the principal chooses a fundamental-state-contingent distribution over agent rankings and, separately for each agent, the agent's information about the realized ranking and fundamental states. We illustrate with a team-production application.
We study rules based on instruments versus targets. Our application is a New Keynesian economy where the central bank has non-contractible information about aggregate demand shocks and cannot commit to policy. Incentives are provided to the central bank via punishment which is socially costly. Instrument-based rules condition incentives on the central bank’s observable choice of policy, whereas target-based rules condition incentives on the outcomes of policy, such as inflation, which depend on both the policy choice and realized shocks. We show that the optimal rule within each class takes a threshold form, imposing the worst punishment upon violation. Target-based rules dominate instrument-based rules if and only if the central bank’s information is sufficiently precise, and they are relatively more attractive the less severe the central bank’s commitment problem. The optimal unconstrained rule relaxes the instrument threshold whenever the target threshold is satisfied.
A principal incentivizes a team of agents to work by privately offering them bonuses contingent on team success. We study the principal's optimal incentive scheme that implements work as a unique equilibrium. This scheme leverages rank uncertainty to address strategic uncertainty. Each agent is informed only of a ranking distribution and his own bonus, the latter making work dominant provided that higher-rank agents work. If agents are symmetric, their bonuses are identical. Thus, discrimination is strictly suboptimal, in sharp contrast with the case of public contracts (Winter 2004). We characterize how agents' ranking and compensation vary with asymmetric effort costs.
A principal faces an agent who is better informed but biased toward higher actions. She can verify the agent’s information and specify his permissible actions. We show that if the verification cost is small enough, a threshold with an escape clause (TEC) is optimal: the agent either chooses an action below a threshold or requests verification and the efficient action above the threshold. For higher costs, however, the principal may require verification only for intermediate actions, dividing the delegation set. TEC is always optimal if the principal cannot commit to inefficient allocations following the verification decision and result.
A firm raises capital from multiple investors to fund a project. The project succeeds only if the capital raised exceeds a stochastic threshold, and the firm offers payments contingent on success. We study the firm's optimal unique-implementation scheme, namely the scheme that guarantees the firm the maximum payoff. This scheme treats investors differently based on size. We show that if the distribution of the investment threshold is log-concave, larger investors receive higher net returns than smaller investors. Moreover, higher dispersion in investor size increases the firm's payoff. Our analysis highlights strategic risk as an important potential driver of inequality.
A manager who learns privately about a project over time may want to delay quitting it if recognizing failure/lack of success hurts his reputation. In the banking industry, managers may want to roll over bad loans. How do distortions depend on expected project quality? What are the effects of releasing public information about quality? A key feature of banks is that managers learn about project quality from bad news, i.e., a default. We show that in such an environment, distortions tend to increase with expected quality and imperfect information about quality. Results differ if managers instead learn from good news.
We study contests for innovation with learning about the innovation’s feasibility and opponents’ outcomes. We characterize contests that maximize innovation when the designer chooses a prize-sharing scheme and a disclosure policy. A “public winner-takes-all” contest dominates public contests—where any success is immediately disclosed—with any other prize-sharing scheme as well as winner-takes-all contests with any other disclosure policy. Yet, jointly modifying prize sharing and disclosure can increase innovation. In a broad class of mechanisms, it is optimal to share the prize with disclosure following a certain number of successes; under simple conditions, a “hidden equal-sharing” contest is optimal.
We present a novel theory of the employment relationship. A manager can invest in attention technology to recognize good worker performance. The technology may break and is costly to replace. We show that as time passes without recognition, the worker's belief about the manager's technology worsens and his effort declines. The manager responds by investing, but this investment is insufficient to stop the decline in effort and eventually becomes decreasing. The relationship therefore continues deteriorating, and a return to high performance becomes increasingly unlikely. These deteriorating dynamics do not arise when recognition is of bad performance or independent of effort.
This paper studies a model of long-term contracting for experimentation. We consider a principal–agent relationship with adverse selection on the agent’s ability, dynamic moral hazard, and private learning about project quality. We find that each of these elements plays an essential role in structuring dynamic incentives, and it is only their interaction that generally precludes efficiency. Our model permits an explicit characterization of optimal contracts.
A principal can make an investment anticipating a repeated relationship with an agent, but the agent may appropriate the returns through ex post bargaining. I study how this holdup problem and efficiency depend on the contracting environment. When investment returns are observable, informal contracts ex post can be more efficient than formal contracts, as they induce higher investment ex ante: the principal invests not only to generate direct returns, but also to improve relational incentives. Unobservability of returns increases the principal's ability to appropriate the returns but reduces her ability to improve incentives. The optimal information structure depends on bargaining power.
The question of how to develop a relationship is central to business and management. This is especially true when the environment is characterized by informational asymmetries and subjectivity, as for example in management consulting. This article presents a model of relationship building inspired by the consultant–client relationship. Consistent with the evidence, it shows that consultants and clients optimally start with low-risk, low-return projects, and move up to high-risk, high-return projects over time as they accumulate relationship capital. The probability of conflict and breakup is decreasing over the course of the relationship, but may jump when a higher-risk project is adopted.