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Bad incentives put the brakes on firm growth: Evidence from Kenya's matatus: Guest post by Erin Kelley

Development Impact Guest Blogger's picture

This is the third in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
A firm’s success rides heavily on the performance of its employees. It is therefore important that firms design employment contracts that properly incentivize hard work. This becomes more challenging when firms cannot observe the amount of effort employees invest, nor the amount of output they produce. In theory, firms can use monitoring technologies that reveal the performance of their workers more accurately to overcome this constraint (Holmstrom, 1979). In practice, however, the impact of such monitoring technologies on contracts and employee performance is unclear. Managers may not know how to leverage the additional information monitoring technologies reveal. Moreover, weak legal institutions, which prevent companies from credibly sanctioning bad behavior, may limit how useful the new information actually is. 
In my job market paper - co-authored with Gregory Lane and David Schönholzer – we study the impact of moral hazard on labor contracting, employee behavior, and the extent to which improved monitoring affects firm operations. We also establish whether any gains to companies come at the expense of their workers, or society at large. To this end, we implement a randomized control trial where we introduce a monitoring device to 255 firms (vehicle owners) operating in Kenya’s transit industry. We design a novel mobile application that provides information to 125 treatment firms regarding: the location of the vehicle, number of kilometers driven, number of hours the ignition was on, and the number of safety violations incurred (sharp-braking, sharp-turning, over-acceleration and speeding). We confirm that 70% of owners consult the app weekly. This information provides treatment owners with a more precise estimate of what revenue should be, and whether drivers are engaging in behavior that damages the vehicle. This has implications for the owners’ choice of contract and drivers’ behavior, which ultimately impact firm profits/growth. We use daily surveys from vehicle owners and drivers over six-months to track the impact of reducing asymmetric information on these outcomes.

Can incentives lead to sustained impacts? The case of rewarding safe sex.

Damien de Walque's picture
Economists believe that incentives matter and that they can be used for changing people’s behaviors. Incentives are used for encouraging school attendance and performance or for increasing the coverage and quality of health care delivery. But a recurrent question is what happens once the incentives are discontinued? Are the incentives’ effects going to be sustained even after their payment is stopped because individuals would have been nudged towards a different behavior? Or are those effects going to die down and disappear once incentives are removed?

When field studies diverge from lab experiments: the case of incentivized blood donations: Guest post by Mario Macis

Development Impact Guest Blogger's picture
Do economic incentives crowd out individuals’ intrinsic motivation for certain activities that are performed in the absence of explicit rewards, such as volunteering in soup kitchens, recycling, or giving blood? This is an important question with implications for public policy and has been explored on Development Impact with a number of recent posts (here is the latest one from Jed).

What makes bureaucracies work better? Lessons from the Nigerian Civil Service

Markus Goldstein's picture
Given Jed's post last week on thinking through performance incentives for health workers, and the fact that the World Bank is in the throes of a reform process itself, a fascinating new paper from Imran Rasul and Daniel Rogger on autonomy and performance based incentives in Nigeria gives us some other food for thought.   In a nutshell, Rasul and Rogger f

Do financial incentives undermine the motivation of public sector workers? Maybe, but where is the evidence from the field?

Jed Friedman's picture
These past weeks I’ve visited several southern African nations to assist on-going evaluations of health sector pay-for-performance reforms. It’s been a whirlwind of government meetings, field trips, and periods of data crunching. We’ve made good progress and also discovered roadblocks – in other words business as usual in this line of work. One qualitative data point has stayed with me throughout these weeks, the paraphrased words of one clinic worker: “I like this new program because it makes me feel that the people in charge of the system care about us.”

Caution when applying impact evaluation lessons across contexts: the case of financial incentives for health workers

Jed Friedman's picture

These past few weeks I’ve been immersed in reviews of health systems research proposals and it’s fascinating to see the common themes that emerge from each round of proposals as well as the literature cited to justify these themes as worthy of funding.