Optimally empty promises and endogenous supervision

With Kareen Rozen

Abstract: We study optimal contracting in teams with peer monitoring and moral hazard, featuring stylized aspects of production environments with complex tasks. Agents have many opportunities to shirk, task-level monitoring is needed to provide useful incentives, and because it is difficult to write individual performance into formal contracts, incentives are provided informally, using wasteful sanctions like guilt and shame, or slowed promotion. These features give rise to optimal contracts with “empty promises” and endogenous supervision structures. Agents optimally make more promises than they intend to keep, leading to the concentration of supervisory responsibility in the hands of one or two agents.

Working paper 1/16/2012