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A Comparison of Cardinal Tournaments and Piece Rate Contracts with Liquidity Constrained Agents

Abstract and Figures

A celebrated result in the theory of tournaments is that relative performance evaluation (tournaments) is a superior compensation method to absolute performance evaluation (piece rate contracts) when the agents are risk-averse, the principal is risk-neutral or less risk-averse than the agents and production is subject to common shocks that are large relative to the idiosyncratic shocks. This is because tournaments get closer to the first best by filtering common uncertainty. This paper shows that, surprisingly, tournaments are superior even when agents are liquidity constrained so that transfers to them cannot fall short of a predetermined level. The rationale is that, by providing insurance against common shocks through a tournament, payments to the agents in unfavorable states increase and payments in favorable states decrease which enables the principal to satisfy tight liquidity constraints for the agents without paying any ex ante rents to them, while simultaneously providing higher-power incentives than under piece rates. The policy implication of our analysis is that firms should adopt relative performance evaluation over absolute performance evaluation regardless of whether the agents are liquidity (wealth) constrained or not.
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Tournaments and Liquidity Constraints for the Agents
Kosmas Marinakis
Theofanis Tsoulouhas
Department of Economics
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8110
September 4, 2008
Abstract. A celebrated result in the theory of tournaments is that relative performance evaluation (tour-
naments) is a superior compensation method to absolute performance evaluation (piece rate contracts) when
the agents are risk-averse, the principal is risk-neutral or less risk-averse than the agents and production is
subject to common shocks that are large relative to the idiosyncratic shocks. This is because tournaments
get closer to the rst best by ltering common uncertainty. This paper shows that, surprisingly, tourna-
ments are superior even when agents are liquidity constrained so that transfers to them cannot fall short
of a predetermined level. The rationale is that, by providing insurance against common shocks through a
tournament, payments to the agents in unfavorable states increase and payments in favorable states decrease
which enables the principal to satisfy tight liquidity constraints for the agents without paying any ex ante
rents to them, while simultaneously providing higher-power incentives than under piece rates.
Keywords: Piece rates, tournaments, liquidity constraints.
JEL Codes: D82, D21.
Acknowledgments: We are grateful to Metin Balikcioglu for comments on an earlier draft, and to
Elias Dinopoulos, Duncan Holthausen, Charles Knoeber, Wally Thurman and the participants of the 2008
conference on Tournaments, Contests and Relative Performance Evaluation at North Carolina State Uni-
versity, the 2008 c onfe rence on Research in Economic Theory and Econometrics in Naxos, Greece, and the
2008 Econometric Society European Meetings in Milan, Italy, for useful suggestions.
1. Introduction
Even though linear contracts are only a proxy of the theoretically optimal non-linear con-
tracts, they are popular in several occupations or industries (e.g., sales, physician contracts
with HMOs, contracts between processors and farmers, and faculty raises), partly because
they are simple to design and easy to implement and enforce.
1
The most common linear
contracts are the piece rate contract and the cardinal tournament. Under the piece rate
contract each agent is evaluated according to his absolute performance or according to his
performance against a predetermined standard, while under the tournament each agent is
evaluated relative to the performance of his peers. In particular, under both schemes each
agent receives a base payment and a bonus payment, but the bonus payment is determined
by absolute performance in piece rates and by relative performance in tournaments.
2
Fol-
lowing the footsteps of Lazear and Rosen (1981), Green and Stokey (1983), Nalebu¤ and
Stiglitz (1983) and others, the comparison of these two alternative evaluation methods has
been the subject of current literature (Tsoulouhas (1999), Wu and Ro e (2005 and 2006),
Marinakis and Tsoulouhas (2007) and Tsoulouhas and Marinakis (2007)). This comparison
is important because it allows us to contrast the ciency of absolute performance evaluation
against relative performance evaluation.
Absent liquidity considerations, when agents are risk averse and production is subject to
su¢ ciently large common shocks, the tournament is a superior incentive scheme to the piece
rate. This is because the tournament uses the information generated by the performance of
the group of participating agents as a whole, while the piece rate does not. Speci…cally, if
the disturbance in the output of each agent is correlated with the disturbances in the output
of the other agents, the information contained in the average production can be very useful
to the principal in creating a contract which is a step closer to the First Best. Moreover,
under the tournament, if the principal is risk-neutral or is less risk-averse than the agent,
an insurerinsured relationship can be developed between principal and agent allowing for
a Pareto improvement of the contract. That is, the principal will er insurance to the
risk averse agent by ltering away the common shock from his responsibility. Insurance will
make the agent more tolerant to a higher-power incentive scheme and, therefore, the agent
is expected to increase his ort level.
1
To some extend, the non-linearity of the theoretically optimal contract is due to the fact that contracts
accomodate all possible events. Holmström and Milgrom (1987), however, have argued that schemes that
adjust compensation to account for rare events may not provide correct incentives in ordinary high probability
circumstances.
2
The base payment ensu res agent participation and the bonus provides incentives to perform. Under
tournament an agent receives a bonus if his performance is above that of his peers, and a penalty otherwise.
1
One might conjecture that the superiority of tournaments over piece rates may not
survive under liquidity constraints. Marinakis and Tsoulouhas (2007) have shown that the
optimality of tournaments over piece rates breaks down when the risk-neutral principal is
subject to a limited liability (bankruptcy) constraint, which limits the payments a principal
can make, provided that the liquidation value of the principal’s enterprise is su¢ ciently
small. This is so because tournaments increase payments in unfavorable states, but these
are the states in which the limited liability constraint comes into play. The intuition is
that contracts with risk neutrality and limited liability for the principal look very much like
those that would have been obtained with risk aversion. In other words, if the principal is
concerned about the allocation of pro…t across states, he will no longer er insurance against
common shocks via tournaments and will resort to piece rate contracts or xed performance
standards. This paper investigates the optimality of tournaments over piece rates when the
agent, instead, is subject to a liquidity constraint which introduces ex post limitations on
the minimum payment the agent can accept or the maximum penalty that can be imposed
on him (Innes 1990, 1993a and 1993b). The liquidity constraint prevents the principal from
compensating the agent by an amount smaller than a predetermined level in all states of
nature.
The models used by Lazear and Rosen (1981), Green and Stokey (1983), Meyer and
Vickers (1997) and others, allow the payments to the agents to be negative. In particular,
under both the piece rate and the tournament payment schemes, if the agents produced a
su¢ ciently low output they would usually have to pay the principal. Thus, according to
the standard literature, if the production of an agent is su¢ ciently low the principal will
penalize the agent by imposing a negative compensation and acquire whatever output the
agent produced. This is certainly inconsistent with what we observe in reality.
The liquidity constraint is partly an institutional constraint on contracts. It is imposed
by law for several industries in numerous countries. Such legislation aims at removing the
burden of excessive penalties imposed on agents for negative outcomes beyond their control,
rather than at maximizing social welfare. However, a liquidity constraint for the agent
may alter the choice the principal makes between tournaments and absolute performance
contracts. This can be due to a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are in favor of
tournaments and some are in favor of piece rates. First, by increasing payments to the agents
in unfavorable states, tournaments are more likely to satisfy tight liquidity constraints for the
agents. Second, by providing insurance, tournaments may satisfy the liquidity constraints
for the agents without paying rents to them. This is so because tournaments increase the
compensation to the agents in unfavorable states but they reduce the payments in favorable
states. By contrast piece rates may pay the agents ex ante rents when the liquidity constraints
2
are tight (i.e., when the minimum required payment to the agents is high), which reduces
the principal’s pro…t. If piece rates pay ex ante rents to the agents, they could be dominant
over tournaments from the principals perspective only if implemented ort under piece
rates were higher. But, in general, tournaments allow the principal to implement higher-
power incentives than piece rates, which enhances the dominance of tournaments. Third,
agents may be unable to pay for insurance especially in low states of nature if the liquidity
constraints are tight, which works against tournaments. Fourth, the attitude of the principal
and the agents toward risk may change. Liquidity constraints may make the agents more
tolerant to risk, in the sense that if the agents know that their liability is limited, they may
become indi¤erent among the range of states over which the liquidity constraint is binding.
This is certainly in accord with La¤ont and Martimort (2002) who state (see p.121):
A limited liability constraint on transfers implies higher-powered incentives for
the agent. It is almost the same as what we would obtain by assuming that
the agent is a risk lover. The limited liability constraint on transfers somewhat
convexi…es the agent’s utility function.
On the other hand, the liquidity constraints for the agents are expected to make the principal
care about the allocation of payments and, hence, pro…t across states to satisfy the liquidity
constraints and ensure agent participation. When the principal b ecomes less tolerant to risk,
while agents simultaneously become more tolerant to risk and, therefore, they are not willing
to pay enough for insurance, the principal may nd it suboptimal to er insurance to the
agent through a tournament and may resort to piece rates again. Thus, in all, it is not a
priori clear if tournaments, which are normally superior over piece rates when production
is subject to common shocks, maintain their superiority under liquidity constraints for the
agents.
Our analysis shows that, surprisingly, in the presence of su¢ cient common uncertainty
a principal contracting with risk averse agents will prefer to er a tournament even when
agents are liquidity constrained. This nding is diametrically opposite to the result for the
case when the principal, instead, is subject to limited liability. The rationale for this result
follows directly from the discussion above. It turns out that by providing insurance against
common shocks through a tournament, so that payments to the agents in unfavorable states
increase and payments in favorable states decrease, the principal can satisfy tight liquidity
constraints for the agents without paying any ex ante rents to them while simultaneously
providing them with higher-power incentives than under piece rates. The individual ratio-
nality constraints for the agents are always binding under tournaments, whereas under piece
rates they are non-binding (that is, the agents receive ex ante rents) when the liquidity
3
constraints for the agents are really tight (that is, when the minimum payment required to
satisfy the liquidity constraints is high). This nding establishes our claim that the principal
can satisfy tight liquidity constraints for the agents without paying any ex ante rents to
them under tournament. Our second claim, that the principal can implement higher-power
incentives under tournament, follows from the fact that the piece rate contract cannot be
de…ned for a piece rate larger than one (in the sense that the principal would not make an
er such that marginal cost exceeded marginal revenue) whereas the tournament is de…ned
for a larger bonus factor. The larger the minimum payment satisfying an agent’s liquidity
constraint, the higher the power of incentives the principal provides. In other words, the
principal counterbalances the increase in the base payment, which is required to satisfy the
liquidity constraint, with higher-power incentives in order to curb agent rents and in order
to reduce the likelihood that output is low. Tournaments provide the principal with added
exibility in the determination of this power when the liquidity constraints are really tight.
On the other hand, regardless of whether the principal ers a piece rate or a tournament,
the liquidity constraints for the agents are non-binding (that is, in some sense, agents receive
ex post rents) when the minimum payment required to satisfy the liquidity constraints is
low. In that case, the analysis is similar to the benchmark case in Lazear and Rosen (1981),
Green and Stokey (1983) and Nalebu¤ and Stiglitz (1983), and tournaments are optimal
under su¢ cient common uncertainty.
The empirical application that stems from our analysis is that rms should adopt relative
performance evaluation via tournaments over absolute performance evaluation via piece rates
regardless of whether the agents are liquidity (wealth) constrained or not. This nding
enhances the generality of the results obtained in Lazear and Rosen (1981), Green and Stokey
(1983) and Nalebu¤ and Stiglitz (1983). For instance, in the case of processor companies
contracting with farmers who most often are liquidity constrained, processors need not fear
that the farmers’liquidity issues detract from the superiority of tournaments.
3
Even though the issue we analyze has been largely overlooked by the current tour-
nament literature, the introduction of liquidity constraints on the agent side is not novel.
Bhattacharya and Guasch (1988) examine the ciency of tournaments with heterogeneous
agents. They argue that tournaments that are based on comparisons across ability levels
are more cient than tournaments that are based on comparisons within cohorts of similar
ability agents. However, this result is reversed when agents are subject to limited liability
(liquidity) constraints, because tournaments with comparisons across cohorts are more likely
to lead to negative payments. Kim (1997) analyzes a setting with a risk neutral principal and
a risk neutral agent when the agent’s liability is limited. He shows that the optimal contract
3
Wealth constraints can certainly be a c once rn in contracts for salesmen as well.
4
is a bonus contract in which the principal and the agent share the output, and the agent
receives an additional xed bonus only when output is greater than some predetermined
level. Demougin and Garvie (1991) examine two forms of constraints for risk neutral agents:
non-negativity constraints for the transfers to the agents and ex post individual rationality
constraints for the agents. They show that the principal cannot implement the First Best
and agents earn informational rents. Courty and Marschke (2002) analyze a framework with
liquidity constraints and budget balancing. They show that when the di¤erence in agent
budgets is large enough, the liquidity and budget balancing constraints bind, thereby re-
ducing the ectiveness of incentives. Demougin and Fluet (2003) focus on examining the
cost of providing incentives through rank-order tournaments when agents care about the
fairness of their pays relative to that of others, and agents are subject to limited liabil-
ity which makes rents possible. They show that the presence of more envious contestants
reduces the principals cost of providing incentives, when rents must be paid, because the
agents will motivate themselves to perform even with lower rents from the principal. Kräkel
(2007) analyzes a model with risk-neutral agents who are subject to limited liability, but
face no common uncertainty in‡icted on their productive activities, to make the point that
the Lazear and Rosen (1981) nding of equal incentive ciency for piece rates and for
rank-order tournaments does not necessarily carry over when limited liability is introduced.
In particular, piece rates dominate tournaments if idiosyncratic risk is high. This is an in-
tuitive result because, even absent limited liability, a tournament would be suboptimal by
introducing idiosyncratic noise from the activity of other agents onto the payment to any
given agent. Therefore, the introduction of limited liability should not change that, but
it should change the speci…cation of the piece rate. Namely, given risk-neutrality, limited
liability should entail a move from the "selling the enterprise to the agent" solution (i.e., a
piece rate of 1) to a piece rate of less than one, because the liquidity constraint prevents
the sale of the enterprise to the agent. We di¤er from Kräkel in a numb er of important
respects. We assume the existence of su¢ cient common uncertainty which provides scope
for tournaments. We also assume that agents are risk-averse to incorporate the insurance
aspect of tournaments, and we show that tournaments in our setting are dominant over piece
rates with or without limited liability. Last but not least, note that similar to Lazear and
Rosen (1981), Green and Stokey (1983), Nalebu¤ and Stiglitz (1983) and Malcomson (1984)
we are not looking for the optimal contract, instead, we contrast the ciency properties of
absolute to relative performance evaluation.
Section 2 presents our model, section 3 presents the benchmark case without liquidity
constraint and section 4 presents our results when the agents are liquidity constraint. Section
5 determines the dominant compensation scheme and section 6 concludes.
5
2. Model
A principal signs a contract with n homogeneous agents.
4
Each agent i produces output
according to the production function x
i
= a + e
i
+ + "
i
, where a is the agent’s known
ability, e
i
is his ort, is a common shock and "
i
is an idiosyncratic shock. The idiosyncratic
shocks, "
i
; and the common shock follow independent distributions. Each agent’s e¤ort and
the subsequent realizations of the shocks are private information to him, but the output
obtained is publicly observed. The principal compensates agents for their ort based on their
outputs by using a piece rate contract or a tournament. Agent preferences are represented
by a CARA utility function u(w
i
; e
i
) = exp
w
i
+
1
2a
e
2
i
;where the agent’s co cient
of absolute risk aversion is set equal to 1 for simplicity. The cost of ort is measured in
monetary units. Each agent has a reservation utility exp(u).
3. Piece Rates and Tournaments without Liquidity Constraints
We start by deriving the optimal contractual variables for the piece rate and the tournament
without liquidity constraints for the agents. We assume that the total production distur-
bance, "
i
+ ; follows a normal distribution with zero mean and variance equal to c=
p
2;
and the idiosyncratic shock, "
i
; follows a normal distribution with zero mean and variance
equal to d=
p
2.
5
The piece rate contract (R) is the payment scheme in which the compensation to the
i
th
agent is w
i
= b
R
+
R
x
i
, where (b
R
;
R
) are the contractual variables to be determined
by the principal. The principal determines these parameters by backward induction. Thus,
the principal calculates each agents expected utility
EU
R
= exp
b
R
R
(a + e
i
) +
e
2
i
2a
+
2
R
c
2
p
2
: (1)
To ensure the compatibility of the contract with agent incentives to perform, the principal
calculates the ort level that maximizes (1). First order conditions yield
6
e
i
= a
R
: (2)
4
Agent heterogenity has been examined in a number of recent papers. Konrad and Kovenock (2006)
examine discriminating contests with stochastic contestant abilities. Ganuza and Hauk (2006) analyze c om-
petition in tournaments with cost di¤erentiation among the contestants. Tsoulouhas et al (2007) consider
CEO contests that are open to heterogeneous outsider contestants. Kolmar and Sisak (2007) analyze discrim-
inating contests among heterogeneous contestants. Bhattacharya and Guasch (1988) allow for agents who
are heterogeneous ex ante. Instead, Tsoulouhas and Marinakis (2007) analyze ex post agent heterogeneity
to make the point that agent heterogeneity compromises the insurance function of tournaments. Münster
(2007) examines sabotage in a model with heterogeneous contestants.
5
As will become obvious in the remaining analysis, this assumption on the variance simpli…es the expo-
sition.
6
Note that the concavity of the utility function implies that rst order conditions are su¢ cient.
6
To ensure the compatibility of the contract with agent incentives to participate, the
principal selects the value of the base payment, b
R
, that satis…es the agent’s individual
rationality constraint with equality so that the agent receives no rents but still accepts the
contract. The agents individual rationality constraint satis…es EU
R
= exp(u), where
EU
R
is determined by (1) and (2). Solving for b
R
implies
b
R
= u +
c
p
2
a
2
2
R
a
R
: (3)
Thus, by choosing the piece rate
R
, the principal can precisely determine the agent’s ort
because the agent will optimally set his ort according to (2). In addition, by setting b
R
in
accordance with (3) the principal can induce agent participation at least cost. That is, agent
incentives to perform are only determined by the piece rate
R
, whereas agent incentives to
participate are determined by the base payment b
R
.
Given conditions (2) and (3) the principal maximizes his expected total pro…t
ET
R
=
P
n
i=1
[Ex
i
Ew
i
] = n
a + a
R
c
p
2
+ a
2
2
R
u
: (4)
The solution to this problem satis…es
R
=
a
a +
c
p
2
: (5)
Condition (3) then implies
b
R
= u
a
2
2
c
p
2
+ 3a
h
c
p
2
+ a
i
2
: (6)
Given conditions (5) and (4) expected pro…t per agent is
E
R
= a +
1
2
a
2
a +
c
p
2
u: (7)
The tournament (T) is the payment scheme in which the compensation to each agent is
determined by a relative performance evaluation. Speci…cally, w
i
= b
T
+
T
(x
i
x); where
x is the average output obtained by all agents and (b
T
;
T
) are the contractual variables to
be determined by the principal. Under a tournament the agent’s expected utility is
EU
T
= exp
b
T
T
n 1
n
(a + e
i
) +
T
1
n
j6=i
(a + e
j
) +
e
2
i
2a
+
1
2
n 1
n
2
T
d
p
2
: (8)
7
The ort level that maximizes (8) satis…es
e
i
=
n 1
n
a
T
: (9)
Further, the individual rationality constraint EU
T
= exp(u) implies
b
T
= u +
1
2
n 1
n
n 1
n
a +
d
p
2
2
T
: (10)
Then, given conditions (9) and (10), the principal maximizes expected total pro…t
ET
T
= n
a +
n 1
n
a
T
1
2
n 1
n
n 1
n
a +
d
p
2
2
T
u
: (11)
The solution to the principals maximization problem satis…es
T
=
a
n1
n
a +
d
p
2
; (12)
therefore,
b
T
= u +
1
2
a
2
a +
n
n1
d
p
2
: (13)
Given (12) and (11) expected pro…t per agent is
E
T
= a +
1
2
a
2
a +
n
n1
d
p
2
u: (14)
By comparing (4) to (14) it can easily be shown that
E
T
> E
R
,
n
n 1
d < c; (15)
that is, tournaments are superior when total uncertainty is large relative to the idiosyncratic
uncertainty (equivalently, when common uncertainty is relatively large) and when the number
of agents is large. This so because tournaments eliminate common uncertainty but they add
the average individual noise of others. It is also straightforward to show that
T
>
R
(16)
and
b
T
> b
R
: (17)
8
The rationale behind (17) is that the expected bonus payment under tournament is zero,
whereas that under piece rate is positive. Therefore, agents expect to be compensated for
ort through the base payment in a tournament. The intuition behind (16) is that the
principal implements higher-power incentives when common uncertainty is removed from
the responsibility of the agent under tournament.
4. Piece Rates and Tournaments with Liquidity Constraints
Next we turn to the case with liquidity constraints for the agents. The liquidity constraint
is
w
i
w; (18)
where w is the minimum p ermissible payment. The liquidity constraints for the agents
necessitate a support for the production shocks which is bounded below and above. The
support must be bounded below so that in the worst possible output state the liquidity
constraints are still satis…ed (obviously they cannot be satis…ed with an output space which
is unbounded below). For a similar reason, the support must be bounded above to eliminate
the case when the payment under tournament is below the minimum required to satisfy
the liquidity constraint when average output is unbounded above.
7
With b ounded support
for the production shocks one might expect that the First Best is always implementable by
punishing the agent severely for outcomes outside the support (see p. 140 in Bolton and
Dewatripont (2004)). Note, however, that the liquidity constraints of the agents prevent
severe punishment of them.
The requirement of bounded support eliminates unbounded distributions such as the
normal we used in section 3 (which is typically used in the literature for the setting without
liquidity constraints). The normal distribution is necessary to obtain a closed form solution
for the case without liquidity constraints. Further, a truncated normal distribution pro-
vides neither a closed form solution nor a numerical one. However, we were able to obtain
signi…cant insight through a numerical analysis by assuming that the idiosyncratic and the
common shocks follow independent uniform distributions, in which case the sum of these
shocks follows a triangular distribution. Speci…cally, the idiosyncratic shocks, "
i
; follow in-
dependent uniform distributions with support [d; d] and, therefore, the total production
shock, v
i
"
i
+ ; follows a triangular distribution with density f(), the support of which
is assumed to be [c; c] with zero mean. The following lemmata apply to piece rates and
tournaments with liquidity constraints.
7
An alternative approach would be to consider a modi…cation of the payment schemes such that the
agent still receives the minimum payment required to satisfy his liquidity constraint, w; speci…cally, consider
maxfw; w
i
g whe re w
i
is determined by the scheme. However, the analysis in this case is intractable.
9
Lemma 1 Under piece rates, when the agents are subject to liquidity constraints in addition
to individual rationality constraints, at least one of the individual rationality and the liquidity
constraints for each agent binds depending on the values of parameters w, u, a and c.
Proof. The proof is straightforward by noting that if both constraints were non-binding,
then, the principal would reduce the payments to the agent until one of the two constraints
became binding (that is, until the agent received no rents in an ex ante or in an ex post
sense). As shown in section 3, solving without the liquidity constraint for each agent (in which
case the individual rationality constraint is obviously binding) implies that the contractual
variables (b
R
;
R
) satisfy conditions (6) and (5) and therefore the payment w
i
may or may not
satisfy the liquidity constraint in all states depending on the values of parameters w, u , a and
c. Therefore, when the individual rationality constraint is binding, the liquidity constraint is
binding or non-binding (the latter when w is relatively low). Solving without the individual
rationality constraint (in which case the liquidity constraint is obviously binding in the lowest
possible state) implies that the payments to the agent may or may not satisfy the individual
rationality constraint depending on the values of parameters w, u, a and c again. Therefore,
when the liquidity constraint is binding the individual rationality constraint is binding or
non binding (the latter when w is relatively large).
Lemma 2 Under tournaments, when the agents are subject to liquidity constraints in ad-
dition to individual rationality constraints, and assuming that the regularity condition (n
1)a > nd holds, the individual rationality constraint for each agent is always binding and
the liquidity constraint for each agent is binding or non-binding depending on the values of
parameters w, u, a and d.
Proof. First, similar to Lemma 1, the two constraints cannot simultaneously be non-binding.
Solving without the individual rationality constraint (in which case the liquidity constraint
is obviously binding in the lowest possible state) implies that b
T
= w +
T
d. This is so
because w
i
= b
T
+
T
(x
i
x) = w and, given that "
i
2 [d; d], if the number of agents is
su¢ ciently large x
i
x
D
! uniform[d; d]: Then, since the principal’s pro…t per agent is
i
= x
i
b
T
= a w +
n1
n
a d
T
+ + "
i
, it follows that expected pro…t per agent
is E
T
= a w +
n1
n
a d
T
. To maximize this expected pro…t the principal chooses
the maximum
T
that satis…es the individual rationality constraint with equality so that the
agent accepts the contract. Therefore, the individual rationality constraint is always binding.
As shown in section 3, solving without the liquidity constraint (in which case the individual
rationality constraint is obviously binding) implies that the contractual variables (b
T;
T
)
satisfy (13) and (12) and therefore the payment w
i
may or may not satisfy the liquidity
10
constraint in all states depending on the values of parameters w, u, a and d. Therefore,
when the individual rationality constraint is binding, the liquidity constraint is binding or
non binding (the latter when w is relatively low).
Note that the regularity condition (n 1)a > nd requires that agents are of su¢ ciently high
ability. The proof of Lemma 2, then, shows that the principal’s pro…t is increasing in the
bonus factor
T .
The rationale why the individual rationality constraint is always binding
for the tournament case but not for the piece rate case is that pro…t is decreasing in the piece
rate
R
. Therefore, unlike the tournament case in which the principal bene…ts by increasing
the bonus factor
T
until it yields no rents to the agent, in the piece rate case the principal
may prefer to provide the agent with rents in order to increase his prot. Thus, there is
a fundamental di¤erence between tournaments and piece rates in this respect, which drives
the results in our paper.
We start by analyzing the piece rate case. The piece rate scheme can be written as
w
i
= b
R
+
R
(a + e
i
+ v
i
) : As Lemma 1 indicates, the individual rationality constraint
can b e binding or not. Because of this, the procedure for determining the contractual
variables is somewhat di¤erent than the one we followed above for the case without liquidity
constraints (without liquidity constraints the individual rationality constraints are always
binding). With liquidity constraints, we determine the base payment b
R
through these
constraints, and the piece rate
R
from the pro…t maximizing condition. Then we check
whether this solution satises the individual rationality constraints.
Clearly, if the payment satises the liquidity constraint (18) in the lowest possible state,
then, it satises the constraint in all states because the payment scheme is increasing in the
state. Therefore, if the constraint is binding in the lowest state, then it is non-binding in all
states. From the agent’s perspective, given that the principal controls incentives through the
payment scheme, the worst state is the one in which the principal provides him no incentives
to perform and the production state turns out to be the worst, that is, e
i
= 0 and v
i
= c.
In the remaining analysis we focus on the case when the liquidity constraint is binding in
the lowest possible state.
8
Therefore, the principal will set
b
R
= w
R
(a c) : (19)
8
Recall that the liquidity constraint is an institutional constraint which prohibits penalizing the agent
for obtaining a low output, and it should hold regardless of whether the contract is optimal or not. The
agent’s optimal response under the contract should not be included in the calculation of the required base
wage, because we cannot assume the optimal contract in setting up the constraint. Instead, the cons traint
determines th e agent’s optimal response under contract and the optimal contract.
11
The expected utility for the agent is
EU
i
=
Z
c
c
exp (
R
v
i
) f(v
i
)dv
i
exp
w
R
c
R
e
i
+
e
2
i
2a
: (20)
To provide correct incentives to the agent, the principal calculates the ort level e
i
that
maximizes (20). First order conditions yield
Z
c
c
exp (
R
v
i
) f(v
i
)dv
i
exp
w
R
c
R
e
i
+
e
2
i
2a
R
+
e
i
a
= 0 (21)
and, because
Z
c
c
exp (
R
v
i
) f(v
i
)dv
i
and exp
w
R
c
R
e
i
+
e
2
i
2a
cannot be equal to
zero, it follows that
e
i
= a
R
: (22)
The principal’s pro…t per agent is
i
= (1
R
) x
i
b
R
= a + a
R
a
2
R
w
R
c +
(1
R
) v
i
. Then the expected pro…t per agent is
E
R
= a + a
R
a
2
R
w
R
c: (23)
Maximizing the expected pro…t with respect to
R
yields
R
=
a c
2a
: (24)
Hence, given the contractual variables and the optimal ort level for the agent, the expected
pro…t per agent is
E
R
=
5
4
a +
1
4
c
2
a
1
2
c w: (25)
Note that condition (25) indicates that the principal will make an er only if w is relatively
low, otherwise production is unpro…table.
Given conditions (19) and (24), the individual rationality constraint requires
Z
c
c
exp
a c
2a
v
i
f(v
i
)dv
i
exp
w
3
4
c +
5
8
c
2
a
+
1
8
a
exp(u): (26)
Clearly, (26) may or may not hold, depending on the values of parameters w, u, a and c. If
it holds, then the contractual variables to be ered by the principal satisfy (19) and (24).
If (26) do es not hold, that is, if
R
in (24) violates the individual rationality constraint, then
the individual rationality constraint is binding. In this case,
R
must be determined through
the individual rationality constraint with equality. Given (20), (22) and the density function
12
for v
i
, the individual rationality constraint is written as
Z
c
c
exp (
R
v
i
)
c jv
i
j
c
2
dv
i
exp
1
2
a
2
R
R
c
exp(w) = exp(u): (27)
Given that c > 0; (27) is equivalent to
[1 + exp (2
R
c) 2 exp (
R
c)] exp (
R
c)
2
R
c
2
exp
1
2
a
2
R
R
c
exp(u w) 1 = 0: (28)
A closed form solution for
R
is impossible to obtain from (28). As a result we have to rely on
computational methods in order to determine the piece rate values
R
which are individually
rational. Our computations proceed as follows: We derive the contractual variables from
equations (19) and (24) assuming that the liquidity constraint is binding in the lowest state
and ignoring the individual rationality constraint. Then we check if the individual rationality
constraint (26) is satis…ed by the solution (in which case it is non-binding) or if it is violated
(in which case it is binding). If (26) is found to be binding, then the piece rate
R
is derived
by the solution of (28) using a Newton algorithm and b
R
is still determined by (19). In this
case, when we have multiple solutions for
R
, we keep the one maximizing the principal’s
pro…t. If (26) is found to be non-binding we keep the solutions from equations (19) and (24).
Next, we turn to the tournament case. Recall that under the tournament the compensa-
tion to each agent is w
i
= b
T
+
T
(x
i:
x) ; which can be written as w
i
= b
T
+
T
(e
i
e) +
T
#
i
; where #
i
"
i
"; with e denoting the average ort and " denoting the average
idiosyncratic shock. Given that the agents are homogeneous, the contract is uniform for all
agents and the optimal ort level is equal in equilibrium for all agents. Thus, the compen-
sation to each agent can be expressed as w
i
= b
T
+
T
#
i
: As shown in the proof of Lemma
2,
b
T
= w +
T
d: (29)
Similar to piece rates, if the liquidity constraint is binding in the lowest state, then it is
non-binding in all states, because the payment under tournament is also increasing in the
state. The agent’s expected utility is
EU
i
=
Z
d
d
exp (
T
#
i
) f(#
i
)d#
i
exp
w
T
d
T
n 1
n
e
i
+
T
1
n
n
j=1
j6=i
e
j
+
e
2
i
2a
:
(30)
The ort level that maximizes the agent’s expected utility satises
Z
d
d
exp (
T
#
i
) f(#
i
)d#
i
exp
w
T
d
T
n 1
n
e
i
+
T
1
n
n
j=1
j6=i
e
j
+
e
2
i
2a
13
T
n 1
n
+
e
i
a
= 0: (31)
Because the product of the rst two terms in the equation cannot be equal to zero, it follows
that
e =
n 1
n
a
T
: (32)
Given Lemma 2, which states that the individual rationality constraint is always binding
under tournaments with liquidity constraints, the principal chooses the value of the piece
rate
R
that satis…es the agent’s individual rationality constraint with equality. Thus, (29)
and (32) imply
EU
i
=
Z
d
d
exp (
T
#
i
) f(#
i
)d#
i
exp
w
T
d +
1
2
n 1
n
2
a
2
T
!
= exp(u):
(33)
Note that in equilibrium x
i
x = #
i
D
! uniform[d; d], when the number of agents is
su¢ ciently large. Hence,
Z
d
d
exp (
T
#
i
) f(#
i
)d#
i
converges to
Z
d
d
exp (
T
#
i
)
1
2d
d#
i
=
exp (
T
d) exp (
T
d)
2
T
d
(34)
Then, (33) becomes
exp (
T
d) exp (
T
d)
2
T
d
exp
w
T
d +
1
2
n 1
n
2
a
2
T
!
= exp(u) ,
, exp
1
2
n 1
n
2
a
2
T
T
d
!
exp(u w) =
2
T
d
exp (
T
d) exp (
T
d)
: (35)
Clearly, similar to the piece rate case, equation (35) has no closed form solution. A solution
can only be obtained by computational methods (recall that we use a Newton algorithm).
The principal’s pro…t per agent is
i
= x
i
b
T
= aw +
n1
n
a d
T
+"
i
+: Hence, given
the optimal base payment and the optimal ort level for the agent, the expected prot per
agent is
E
T
= a w +
n 1
n
a d
T
: (36)
where
T
can only be determined numerically by solving (35).
5. The Dominant Contract Under Liquidity Constraints
The principal’s decision about which compensation scheme to er depends entirely on ex-
14
pected prots. Clearly, under both schemes, expected pro…ts decline when a liquidity con-
straint is introduced in addition to the other constraints. Our analysis indicates that these
pro…ts decline faster under piece rates as the liquidity constraint becomes tighter. The in-
tuition behind our result is that the liquidity constraint distorts the agent’s incentives to
perform because it reduces the penalty the principal can impose for unfavorable outcomes.
Therefore, the principal needs to provide higher-power incentives. By ltering common
shocks from the responsibility of the agent, tournaments make the agent more tolerant to
higher-power incentives, hence, it is easier for the principal to implement higher-power incen-
tives under tournament than under piece rates. Moreover, the piece rate
R
cannot exceed 1
(i.e., because marginal cost cannot exceed marginal revenue). By contrast, the bonus factor
T
can exceed 1 which enables the implementation of higher-power incentives.
Figure 1 illustrates that tournaments are dominant over piece rates when liquidity con-
straints are introduced. In particular, panel (a) shows that expected pro…t is always strictly
larger under tournament regardless of the value of w, that is, regardless of how tight the
liquidity constraint is. Note that in our numerical analysis we assume that condition (15)
holds, that is, we assume that common uncertainty is su¢ ciently large relative to the idiosyn-
cratic uncertainty. For the case without liquidity constraints expected pro…ts per agent are
calculated by using conditions (7) and (14). For the case with binding liquidity constraints
expected pro…ts per agent are calculated by using condition (23) where
R
is determined
either by (24) or by the numerical solution of (28), and condition (36) where, again,
T
is
determined numerically by (35). Obviously, for the range over which the liquidity constraint
is non-binding, expected pro…t is at and independent of w. We con…rmed this result for all
possible values of common uncertainty that satisfy condition (15). A su¢ cient increase in
the minimum permissible wage w decreases the expected pro…t under both schemes, but it
does so much faster under piece rates. In fact, piece rates cannot be de…ned at all after a
critical value of w is passed (see point B in panel (a)), because the principal needs to o¤er
a piece rate larger than 1 to provide correct incentives to the agent. However, given that
R
cannot exceed 1, piece rates cannot be de…ned.
9
In interpreting the results depicted in
Figure 1, note that for w in the range up to A the individual rationality constraint under
piece rates is binding and the liquidity constraint is non-binding. For w in the AB range the
individual rationality constraint under piece rates is binding or non-binding and the liquid-
ity constraint is binding. Under tournaments, the individual rationality constraint is always
binding (see Lemma 2). Lastly, for w in the range up to C the limited liability constraint
under tournament is non-binding.
Panel (b) indicates that the base payment is always larger under tournament, but it
9
In other words, the principal does not nd it pro…table to make an er that the agent will accept.
15
Figure 1: The expected prot p er agent and the contractual variables for the piece rate
contract and the tournament.
16
increases with w, that is, when the minimum acceptable payment increases the base payment
must also increase to provide correct incentives to the agent to participate. Further, panel
(c) indicates that both the piece rate
R
and the bonus factor
T
increase when w increases.
There are two reasons for this: First, because the base payment increases when w increases,
the principal must provide the agents with higher-power incentives in order to exert more
ort and make up in lost pro…t due to the increase in the base payment. Second, when w
increases, the principal provides the agents with higher-power incentives in order to minimize
the likelihood that output is low and the principal is forced by the liquidity constraint to pay
the minimum acceptable wage to the agent when, absent the constraint, it would have been
optimal to pay less or impose a penalty. Again, note that piece rates are not de…ned for a piece
rate above 1, whereas under tournaments the principal can continue to provide incentives to
the agents through a bonus factor larger than 1, which explains the increased dominance of
tournaments over piece rates for large values of the minimum acceptable payment w.
6. Conclusion
A familiar result in the principal-agent literature is that when agents are risk averse and
production is subject to relatively large common shocks the tournament is a superior com-
pensation scheme to the piece rate. The superiority of tournaments over piece rates may not
survive under liquidity constraints. Prior research (for instance, Marinakis and Tsoulouhas
(2007) for limited liability on the principal) would lead someone to expect the same result
even when limited liability is imposed on the agent instead of the principal. In addition,
one might also expect that limited liability would make the agents more tolerant to risk (in
the sense that liquidity constraints convexify the agent’s utility function) and the principal
less tolerant to risk (in the sense that the principal cares about the allocation of payments
across states in order to satisfy the liquidity constraints). The reduced interest of agents in
getting insurance, as well as the reduced ability of the principal to provide it, might also
diminish the scope for tournaments. However, there is a fundamental di¤erence between
limited liability on the principal side and limited liability on the agent side. Under limited
liability for the principal, the agents cannot be suckered by the prospect of payments the
principal cannot make, therefore, the principal introduces a constraint to provide correct
incentives to the agents. The constraint puts a maximum on the payment to the agents in
low states and, hence, the solution looks like that if the principal were risk averse. Under
liquidity constraints for the agents, instead, the agents will not sign a contract with the
principal unless it satises these constraints and the principal incorporates the constraints
to make sure that the agents participate. The constraints put a minimum on the payments
to the agents in low states. Our analysis builds on this fact to show that in the presence
of common uncertainty a principal contracting with risk averse agents will prefer to er a
17
tournament even when agents are liquidity constrained.
The rationale for our result is that by providing insurance against common shocks
through a tournament, so that payments to the agents in unfavorable states increase and
payments in favorable states decrease, the principal can satisfy tight liquidity constraints for
the agents without paying any ex ante rents to them while simultaneously providing them
with higher-power incentives than under piece rates. The larger the minimum payment
satisfying an agent’s liquidity constraint, the higher the power of incentives the principal
provides. In other words, the principal counterbalances the increase in the base payment,
which is required to satisfy the liquidity constraint, with higher-power incentives in order
to curb agent rents and in order to reduce the likelihoo d that output is low. Tournaments
provide the principal with added exibility in the determination of this power.
18
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20
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... However unlike, for example, in Marinakis and Tsoulouhas (2012) whose main objective is the welfare comparison of cardinal tournaments and piece rates with liquidity constraint agents, we deal with the regulation of a piece-rate tournament where only the tournament bonus is constrained to be non-negative whereas the piece rate can vary freely. In addition, our analysis is focused on the heterogeneity of agent types which is critical in understanding the origins and the political economy behind the proposed regulatory policy, whereas Marinakis and Tsoulouhas (2012) assume homogenous, yet risk-averse agents. ...
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Economics has much to do with incentives--not least, incentives to work hard, to produce quality products, to study, to invest, and to save. Although Adam Smith amply confirmed this more than two hundred years ago in his analysis of sharecropping contracts, only in recent decades has a theory begun to emerge to place the topic at the heart of economic thinking. In this book, Jean-Jacques Laffont and David Martimort present the most thorough yet accessible introduction to incentives theory to date. Central to this theory is a simple question as pivotal to modern-day management as it is to economics research: What makes people act in a particular way in an economic or business situation? In seeking an answer, the authors provide the methodological tools to design institutions that can ensure good incentives for economic agents. This book focuses on the principal-agent model, the "simple" situation where a principal, or company, delegates a task to a single agent through a contract--the essence of management and contract theory. How does the owner or manager of a firm align the objectives of its various members to maximize profits? Following a brief historical overview showing how the problem of incentives has come to the fore in the past two centuries, the authors devote the bulk of their work to exploring principal-agent models and various extensions thereof in light of three types of information problems: adverse selection, moral hazard, and non-verifiability. Offering an unprecedented look at a subject vital to industrial organization, labor economics, and behavioral economics, this book is set to become the definitive resource for students, researchers, and others who might find themselves pondering what contracts, and the incentives they embody, are really all about.
Article
This article analyzes the role of competitive compensation schemes (in which pay depends on relative performance) in economies with imperfect information. These compensation schemes have desirable risk, incentive, and flexibility properties; they provide for an automatic adjustment of rewards and incentives in response to common changes in the environment. When environmental uncertainty is large, such schemes are shown to be preferable to individualistic reward structures; in the limit, as the number of contestants becomes large, expected utility may approach the first-best (perfect information) level. We study the design of contests, including the optimal use of prizes versus punishments and absolute versus relative performance standards. The analysis can also be viewed as a contribution to the multiagent, single-principal problem.
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We analyze if and how multi-prize Tullock contests can be used to guarantee efficient contributions to a public good when agents are heterogenous both with respect to the costs of production of the public good and with respect to the utility from its consumption. With two types of individuals, efficiency can be guaranteed if the following conditions are met: (i) the contest designer can use at least two prizes different from zero, (ii) there is a sufficient number of individuals of each type or types are sufficiently similar and (iii) the reservation utility of the individuals resulting from non-participation is sufficiently low. For a large class of problems it turns out that the optimal prize structure is not monotonic.
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We develop a stylized model of horizontal and vertical competition in tournaments with two competing firms. The sponsor cares not only about the quality of the design but also about the design location. A priori not even the sponsor knows his preferred design location, which is only discovered once he has seen the actual proposals. We show that the more efficient firm is more likely to be conservative when choosing the design location. Also, to get some differentiation in design locations, the cost difference between contestants can be neither too small nor too big. Therefore, if the sponsor mainly cares about the design location, participation in the tournaments by the two lowest-cost contestants cannot be optimal for the sponsor.
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Relative performance schemes such as tournaments are commonly used in markets for a variety of livestock and processing commodities, while explicit versions of these schemes are rarely used in markets for fresh fruits and vegetables and specialty grains. We show how contracts for these latter commodities do in fact provide relative performance incentives, albeit indirectly, via a payment mechanism that depends on market prices. In such contracts, compensation is often an increasing function of revenue; this implements a relative performance scheme by making each grower's payment an increasing function of his own output but a decreasing function of other's output. Copyright 2001, Oxford University Press.
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We estimate willingness to pay (WTP) to operate under two types of contracts—tournaments (Ts) and fixed performance-standard contracts (F). Our results are consistent with the notion that subjects having social preferences for fairness and care about risk. That is, when subjects experience greater inequity under tournaments relative to fixed performance contracts, or experience greater revenue risk under tournaments, the gap between WTP for fixed performance and tournament contracts increases, ceteris paribus. Our results provide an explanation for grower dissatisfaction with tournament compensation schemes independent of possible concerns regarding opportunistic behavior by integrators.
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Using experimental economics, we compare the efficiency and welfare effects of tournaments and fixed performance contracts. Our subjects (agents) were generally better off under fixed performance contracts, but the advantage of the fixed performance contract disappears if the relative magnitude of the standard deviation of the common shock exceeds a critical value. Efficiency wise, agents tend to exert higher effort under fixed performance contracts, on average. Additionally, an increase in the common shock standard deviation appeared to be associated with lower effort under tournaments. Our results shed light on the potential impact of legislative proposals to ban tournament contracts. Copyright 2005, Oxford University Press.