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An Institutional Theory of Public Contracts: Regulatory Implications

Pablo T. Spiller

University of California, Berkeley - Business & Public Policy Group

August 2008

NBER Working Paper No. w14152

The fundamental feature of private contracting is its relational nature. When faced with unforeseen or unexpected circumstances, private parties, as long as the relation remains worthwhile, adjust their required performance without the need for costly renegotiation or formal recontracting. Public contracting, on the other hand, seems to be characterized by formalized, standardized, bureaucratic, rigid procedures. Common wisdom sees public contracts as generally more inflexible, requiring more frequent formal renegotiation, having a higher tendency to litigate, and providing weaker incentives. In sum, public contracts are perceived to be less "efficient." In this paper I develop a theory of public contracting that accommodates these stark differences between private and public contracting. The thrust of the paper is that these differences arise directly because of the different hazards present in public and purely private contracts, which directly impact the nature of the resulting contractual forms. A fundamental corollary of this result is that the perceived inefficiency of public or governmental contracting is simply the result of contractual adaptation to different inherent hazards, and as such is not directly remediable. Finally, I apply the main insights from the general framework developed here to understand the characteristics of concession contracts.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

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Date posted: August 18, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Spiller, Pablo T., An Institutional Theory of Public Contracts: Regulatory Implications (August 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w14152. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1231682

Contact Information

Pablo T. Spiller (Contact Author)
University of California, Berkeley - Business & Public Policy Group ( email )
545 Student Services Building
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-642-1502 (Phone)
510-642-2826 (Fax)
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