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Self-interest Through Delegation: An Additional Rationale for the Principal-Agent Relationship

Publication Date:
Jan 2009
Project Programs:
Behavioral Economics

Principal-agent relationships are typically assumed to be motivated by efficiency gains from comparative advantage. However, principals may also delegate tasks to avoid taking direct responsibility for selfish or unethical behavior. We report three laboratory experiments in which principals repeatedly either decide how much money to share with a recipient or hire agents to make sharing decisions on their behalf. Across several experimental treatments, recipients receive significantly less, and in many cases close to nothing, when allocation decisions are made by agents.

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