The Rent Extraction-Efficiency Trade-Off

1. The Optimal Contract Under Asymmetric Information 

The major technical difficulty of problem jP k, and more generally of incentive theory, is to determine which of the many constraints imposed by incentive com- patibility and participation are the relevant ones, i.e., the binding ones at the optimum of the principal’s problem.

A first approach could be to apply the Lagrangian techniques to problem jP k, once one has checked that the problem is concave. Even in this two-type model the number of constraints calls for a more practical route, where the modeler first guesses which are the binding constraints and checks ex post that the omitted constraints are indeed strictly satisfied. In a well-behaved incentive problem, this route is certainly more fruitful. In our very simple model, such a strategy provides a quick solution to the optimization problem. Moreover, it turns out to be more useful to build the economic intuition behind this model.

Let us first consider contracts without shutdown, i.e., such that q¯ > 0. The ability  of  the  θ-agent  to  mimic  the  θ¯-agent  implies  that  the  θ-agent’s  participation constraint (2.23) is always strictly satisfied. Indeed, (2.24) and (2.21) immediately imply (2.23). If a menu of contracts enables an inefficient agent to reach his status quo utility level, it will also be the case for an efficient agent who can produce at a lower cost. Second, (2.22) also seems irrelevant because, as guessed from Section 2.3, the difficulty comes from a θ-agent willing to claim that he is inefficient rather than the reverse.

This simplification in the number of relevant constraints leaves us with only two  remaining  constraints,  the  θ-agent’s  incentive  constraint  (2.21)  and  the  θ¯-agent’s participation constraint (2.24). Of course, both constraints must be binding at the optimum of the principal’s problem (P). Suppose it is not so. Assume first that  U¯ = ε > 0.  Then  the  principal  can  decrease  U¯ by  ε and  consequently  also (from (2.21)) U  by ε and gain ε. Therefore, U¯ = 0  is optimal. Also if U  = Δθq¯ + ε, ε > 0,  the  principal  can  decrease  U  by  ε and  gain  vε.  U  = Δθq¯ is  also  optimal. Hence, we must have

Substituting (2.25) and (2.26) into (2.20), we obtain a reduced program (P’) with outputs as the only choice variables

Compared with the full information setting, asymmetric information alters the principal’s optimization simply by the subtraction of the expected rent that has to be given up to the efficient type. The inefficient type gets no rent, but the efficient type θ gets the information rent that he could obtain by mimicking the inefficient type  θ¯.  This  rent  depends  only  on  the  level  of  production  requested  from  this inefficient type.

Since the expected rent given up does not depend on the production level q of the efficient type, the maximization of (P’) calls for no distortion away from the first-best for the efficient type’s output, namely

However, maximization with respect to q¯ yields

Increasing the inefficient agent’s output by an infinitesimal amount dq increases allocative efficiency in this state of nature. The principal’s expected payoff is improved by a term equal to the left-hand side of (2.28) times dq. At the same time, this infinitesimal change in output also increases the efficient agent’s infor- mation rent, and the principal’s expected payoff is diminished by a term equal to the right-hand side above times dq.

At the second-best optimum, the principal is neither willing to increase nor to decrease the inefficient agent’s output, and (2.28) expresses the important trade-off between efficiency and rent extraction which arises under asymmetric information. The expected marginal efficiency gain (resp. cost) and the expected marginal cost (resp. gain) of the rent brought about by an infinitesimal increase (resp. decrease) of the inefficient type’s output are equated.

To validate our approach based on the sole consideration of the efficient type’s incentive constraint, it is necessary to check that the omitted incentive constraint of  an  inefficient  agent  is  satisfied,  i.e., .  This  latter  inequality follows from the monotonicity of the second-best schedule of outputs since we have .

For further references, it is useful to summarize the main features of the optimal contract (assuming that it is a contract without shutdown).

Proposition 2.1: Under asymmetric information, the optimal menu of contracts entails:

  • No output distortion for the efficient type with respect to the first-best, qSB = q. A downward output distortion for the inefficient type, q¯SB < q¯* with

  • Only the efficient type gets a positive information rent given by

  • The second-best  transfers  are  respectively  given  by and

2. A Graphical Representation of the Second-Best Outcome 

Starting from the complete information optimal contract (A, B) that is not incen- tive  compatible,  we  can  construct  an  incentive  compatible  contract  (B, C) with the same production levels by giving a higher transfer to the agent producing q (figure 2.4). The contract C is on the θ-agent’s indifference curve passing through B. Hence, the θ-agent is now indifferent between B and C. (B, C) becomes an incentive-compatible menu of contracts. The rent that is given up to the θ-firm is now  Δθq¯*.

Rather  than  insisting  on  the  first-best  production  level  q¯*  for  an  inefficient type, the principal prefers to slightly decrease q¯ by an amount dq. By doing so, expected efficiency is just diminished by a second-order term since q¯*  is  the  first-best  output  that  maximizes  efficiency  when  the  agent  is  inefficient. Instead, the information rent left to the efficient type diminishes to the first-order (Δθdq). Of course, the principal stops reducing the inefficient type’s output when a further decrease would have a greater efficiency cost than the gain in reducing the information rent it would bring about. The optimal trade-off finally occurs at (ASB, BSB) as shown in figure 2.5.

Figure 2.4: Rent Needed to Implement the First-Best Outputs

Figure 2.5: Optimal Second-Best Contracts ASB and BSB

3. Shutdown Policy 

If  the  first-order  condition  in  (2.29)  has  no  positive  solution,  q¯SB   should  be  set  at zero. We are in the special case of a contract with shutdown. BSB coincides with 0 and ASB with A in figure 2.5. No rent is given up to the θ-firm by the unique non- null  contract  (t, q) offered  and  selected  only  by  agent  θ.  The  shutdown  of  the agent  occurs  when  θ = θ¯.  With  such  a  policy,  a  significant  inefficiency  emerges because the inefficient type does not produce. The benefit of such a policy is that no rent is given up to the efficient type.

More generally, such a shutdown policy is optimal when

or, noting that q = qSB, when

The left-hand side of (2.32) represents the expected cost of the efficient type’s rent due to the presence of the inefficient one when the latter produces a positive amount  q¯SB.  The  right-hand  side  of  (2.32)  represents  instead  the  expected  benefit from transacting with the inefficient type at the second-best level of output. Shut- down of the inefficient type is optimal when this expected benefit is lower than the expected cost.

Remark: Looking again at the condition (2.29), we see that shutdown is never desirable when the Inada condition S'(0) = +∞ is satisfied and limq→0 S(q)q = 0. First, q¯SB  defined by (2.29) is necessarily strictly positive.  Second,  note  that  we  can  rewrite as which is strictly positive since S(q) − S'(q)q is strictly increasing with q when S < 0 and is equal to zero for q = 0. Hence, efficient type does not occur.

The shutdown policy is also dependent on the status quo util- ity levels. Suppose that, for both types, the status quo utility level is U0 > 0. Then (2.32) becomes (dividing by 1 − v)

Therefore, for r large enough, shutdown occurs14 even if the Inada condition S(0) = +∞ is satisfied. Note that this case also occurs when the agent has a strictly positive fixed cost F > 0 (to see that, just set U0 = F ).

Coming back to the principal’s problem (P), the occurrence of shutdown can also be interpreted as saying that the principal has, on top of the agent’s production, another choice variable to solve the screening problem. This extra variable is the subset of types, which are induced to produce a positive amount. Reducing the subset of producing agents obviously reduces the rent of the most efficient type. In our two-type model, exclusion of the least efficient type may thus be optimal.

Source: Laffont Jean-Jacques, Martimort David (2002), The Theory of Incentives: The Principal-Agent Model, Princeton University Press.

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